Friday, May 19, 2017

Association for Recorded Sound Collections, 2017

Matthew Barton, president of ARSC
Last year ARSC (The Association for Recorded Sound Collections) celebrated their 50th anniversary and I absent-mindedly forgot to make a mention of recognition on this blog. This past weekend ARSC held their 51st annual conference so I hope to rectify that oversight with a brief review. Every year the event is held in a different city in the United States and this year's conference, May 11 to 13, was held in San Antonio, Texas. As this was an opportunity for me to see The Alamo which was located across the street from the hotel (literally), and try authentic Texas steak, I took advantage of the conference by sight-seeing as any tourist would do.

The conference plays host to more than 250 attendees, the majority are curators of special collections for recorded sound across the country. Syracuse University, Indiana University, the University of Texas and the Library of Congress are all represented, among many others. Here the casual attendee can hobnob with special collectors who conduct online auction houses, editors of national magazines and scholarly journals, and private collectors with extensive databases of warehousing. As expected when I attended the Radio Preservation Task Force last year, I was probably the only old-time radio researcher at this conference. Almost everyone was an archivist or wholesale collector. Just attending one of these events is a chance to make connections and exchange contact information with good folks who are trying to make an effort to transfer archival holdings to digital form. For the few people in this hobby who research old-time radio programs of the 1930s through the 1950s, I am shocked I am the only one in attendance. 


Many of the slideshow presentations report with status updates on the digitization efforts of major holdings in academic institutions. Very uplifting, for sure. Presentations included such subjects as "Expert Transfer Techniques: A Special Focus on Mechanical Discs," "Analysis of Audio Restoration Software Plugins and Programs" and "Modeling Metadata for Sound Archives." Geeky stuff for those who know what metadata is, but there were some fascinating subjects such as John Tefteller's presentation of long-lost Marx Brothers recordings, with samples and snippets of recently discovered "list" recordings, and Steve Smolian's recent discoveries of Victor Herbert's recording career. 

Of extreme interest, with video captured on my smartphone, was the slide show presentation by Tim Brooks who discussed the limitations and restrictions of how to deal with copyrights in the age of digital scholarship. Tim laid down the basic ABCs and rules for use of copyrighted audio materials in videos, presentations and exhibits, for digital dissemination of musical scholarship. I shared this video on a number of Facebook groups with the hope that it clarifies the misconceptions collectors have with copyrights.

Attending the conference was beneficial for a number of reasons, besides exchanging contacts (i.e. networking). Here I discovered archives I did not know existed, including what vintage radio broadcasts are housed at archives across the nation, how some libraries are using Amazon web services for streaming and storage, the question of speed is variable, conversation of scale, the recent processing of such collections as the Gloria Swanson papers/recordings and the Fulton Lewis Jr. collection, preservation assessments and intellectual value, how libraries create subclasses of performance, and (for me, at least) the acquisition of copies of a radio program titled Bill Scott, Forest Ranger (1946-1947) which I never knew existed.

(Left to Right) Tim Brooks, Sammy Jones and Bruce Epperson

I met William Robert Vanden Dries, who was kind enough to share with me his 2014 dissertation, "Collaborative Practices Employed by Collectors, Creators, Scholars and Collecting Institutions for the Benefit of Recorded Sound Collections." A superb 140-page scholarly analysis between the diversity and collaboration between collectors and archivists, a must-read for anyone who is into the hobby of old-time radio. As verified in his thesis and during one of the seminars, librarians do not look at collectors as vultures, but as custodians and are appreciative of their efforts. That said, at fan gatherings consisting primarily of collectors there seems a sense of animosity against library archives that (in the minds of collectors) are hoarding recordings and restricting access. Many collectors with large collections have at one time or another considered donating their vast holdings to a university or college library but then hesitated with the fear that such collections will gather dust for centuries. One of the slideshow presentations this weekend clarified, from a librarian's view, the necessity of a detailed inventory and cataloging system. The setback to vast holdings is the lack of proper labels or inventory needed to process the collection so they can be made available for researchers. As stated by Allison Bohm McClanahan of Indiana University, "If there is an inventory, they will be made available quickly. Your stuff will be processed efficiently."

Next year's event will be held in my back yard, Baltimore, Maryland, so I look forward to attending next year's event. For those curious to attend such a conference and cannot wait until May, there will be another Radio Preservation Task Force conference in Washington, D.C., in November. Details can be found here:

For more information about ARSC, including information about becoming a member, click here:

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