Archive and Library Services

The applications described above are all concerned with general forms of record dissemination. Although the widest use of the archive may be encouraged by such forms of propagation, the main task of collecting centres is to serve the needs of individual users.

In preparing a collection of oral history recordings for public access, the cassette format offers the audio reference medium best suited to the needs of the collecting institution and its users. Cassettes provide the cheapest format on which to hold recorded sound. They also give good security against damage which can be caused by inexperienced handling, as compared with the alternative open reel tape. To the advantages of economy and security can be added convenience and ease of use; cassettes and related playback equipment are more or less fool proof and listeners can be left to their own devices with relative impunity. Supervision and servicing of visitors by archive staff is, therefore, kept to a minimum.

Obviously a much more valuable service can be provided when copies of archive recordings can be made available outside the archive, than if the tapes can only be heard on the premises of the collecting centre. As microreproduction, in the form of film and fiche, has greatly facilitated the dissemination of printed and documentary records, the cassette offers similar advantages of miniaturisation and economy for audio sources. To take maximum advantage of recent developments in tape technology, the standardisation of archive units is recommended. That is to say that the collecting centre should fix a standard format for holding all of its recorded interviews (30 minutes is a convenient unit for reel or cassette recording and copying) and then ensure that any subsequent copies made for general working or public reference purposes are identical in length and content to the archive master. The administrative problems of selecting and costing material are greatly eased when the copies to be made are of a uniform length. This kind of standardisation also makes the copying process technically very much more straightforward, rapid and economic. High speed transfer equipment can produce copy tapes in a fraction of the actual running time of an item, provided the archive material is catalogued and held in a standard form that makes it unnecessary for technical staff to have to listen to the recordings which are being copied.

There is one dilemma for collecting centres which are concerned to meet the needs of every user, but yet are dealing with requests that are individual and may be unique. A teacher, for example, may want a copy tape which would involve selecting and copying short extracts from a great many reels, to produce a recording specially designed to meet his particular need. Even if such a customer can afford to pay the realistic cost of providing this kind of edited tape, the archive itself may not be able to afford the time necessary to prepare it.

The policy of the sound archive on which this publication is based is to provide only copies of whole reels. These reels are standard fifteen or thirty minute units, and the availability only of tapes limited to these running times seems to be generally acceptable to most users. The alternative, of providing short extracts, would have to be accompanied by a price supplement set at least 50% above the cost of a comparable length of material copied straight as complete units. This differential reflects the very much more labour intensive nature of selective copying.

A transcript copying service is so similar to documentary and printed photocopying services that it merits no special consideration, except in the context of which of the two oral history formats users will most commonly seek. The experience of a general sound archive, serving a wide variety of users, is that the recordings are rather more frequently used than the transcripts. But given the predilections of a sound archive, committed to its particular medium, that is perhaps to be expected. As a contribution to the omnipresent oral history debate about the status and use of transcripts as against recordings, this experience cannot be conclusive. What can be said with certainty, and proven by users' requisition forms, is that there is a significant demand for well recorded and organised tapes as well as for their typed facsimiles.

In providing an effective service for researchers, and -in the long term - for reducing the demand which the administration of such services makes on staff time, the publication of catalogues for circulation and use outside the collecting centre generally repays the cost of their preparation. An institution which is entirely dependent on in-house finding aids to provide subject access to its collection, will only be ab1c to make its materials available to users who are able to visit the repository. This obviously imposes a severe limitation on the potential use of the collection.

While the catalogues may be costly in staff time to prepare, developing them closely along the lines of the internal catalogue format can minimise the amount of rewriting or editing work involved. Once available they provide a convenient means for dealing with many internal user requests; they greatly limit the need to make separate 1ists, to deal with individual enquiries; they enable the researcher to establish whether the centre holds material relevant to his interests and would therefore be worth visiting; if a lending or sales service is offered, they can facilitate requisition or purchase without the need to visit; and -if they bring together all material on a particular subject -they provide a form of functional classification of the collection that can reduce indexing burdens within the archive.

Access and use are the life blood of collecting institutions. They represent the ends to which the processes described in the preceding chapters of this publication should be directed. It is therefore appropriate that An Archive Approach to Oral History concludes at such a point.