Through SWRLS/CILIP I recently had the chance to visit the Library at BBC Bristol. The Library consists of the main Information and Archives, and the Natural History Unit.
The archives are mainly multimedia; they do have some books and journals but these are kept in closed stacks. They keep an archive of footage for two reasons; so that it can be re-used, and so that footage that is filmed for a programme but not used in the final version can be kept.
All of the staff to whom we spoke emphasised that the archives were in a massive period of change, mainly technological. As filming and production have developed, the format in which material arrives into the archives has changed, and they are moving towards digitising material so that is it available at researchers’ desktops, enabling them to do their own searching through the archives.
It was fascinating to gain an insight into the world of the Natural History Unit archives. It is such an amazing and precious collection; one example being that a certain species of frog has only ever been filmed once before it became extinct, and the only existing copy of that tape is in this archive! The NHU archive currently contains about 100000 VHS, and they are looking to digitise all of these eventually, becoming a tapeless archive. They have so far digitised only Planet Earth, and we were shown the database in which these digitised copies are stored and catalogued, which is fairly easy to use and thus accessible to researchers and any other non-LIS staff who might need to use it. Digitising the rest of the collection and adding it to the database is going to be a massive and lengthy job; Planet Earth alone took 5 people working on the project full-time 3 years to complete!
Aside from digitisation, the biggest challenge faced by the NHU archive at the moment is the format of the material that they are receiving into the archive; they are sent films on hard-drives which contain large amounts of material requiring accurate and detailed metadata to ensure that everything contained within them is discoverable.
Information and Archives is also facing challenges. As well as the multimedia material itself, there is often a lot of paperwork associated with the programmes made at Bristol i.e. compliance and clearing forms which also need to be stored and easily retrievable. In order to respond to this challenge, the librarians have recently become media managers, and they try to ensure that there is a media manager within each production team as soon as a programme is commissioned, so that they can liaise effectively with the team, advising on what needs to be done from an I&A point of view and finding out what the Archive is likely to be receiving. This in itself has been quite challenging, but they are starting to see positive results, and they now have production managers telephoning to ask why they haven’t yet got a media manager for their team!
Similar to the situation of the NHU archive, another challenge faced by Information and Archives is the format of the material that they receive. Whilst they are receiving material in modern formats, the Archive also contains older material in sometimes out-dated formats, and they need to have the knowledge and equipment to be able to access any of this material; they not only have the challenge of adapting to new technologies, but of remembering how to use the old ones.
We were shown the catalogue, and the work that the team is currently doing to turn it into something more accessible. We were also shown some of the databases that they subscribe to; these include databases to search for experts who would be willing to appear on television or radio, to find music to accompany programmes, and to find out how to pronounce things! Additionally, a database makes all programmes from 2007 onwards available on all staff computers. They also subscribe to some databases more familiar to those of us in other sectors, such as Nexis. The research and reference role of Information and Archives has transformed over time; while it used to be very much about doing research for production, it is now about centralising material and training people to do their own research.
I really enjoyed finding out about the work of a sector about which I knew nothing. It was interesting to discover the specific challenges faced by the BBC Library, and I was also struck by how similar some of them are to those faced by other libraries; for example, the efforts made by the media managers to effectively liaise with production teams by becoming embedded in them is very similar to the ways in which many academic librarians are trying to improve liaison with academic departments by forging closer links, and sometimes becoming embedded in the curriculum. I came away with a good knowledge of the work done by a library in the media sector, as well as the main issues that they have to deal with, and the ways in which these challenges are different and similar to those faced by other sectors.