By Holly Rose McGee, Pacifica Archivist
While processing the 2,000 recordings for the NHPRC project, we came across a problem that has been haunting us here at the archives for quite a while…what to do with legacy-cataloged episodes of a series that haven’t been given sequential series numbering (i.e. KZ0463.01, KZ0463.02, etc.)? Over the years, different people assigned call numbers in our collection, and policies changed or were not always in place, so we often find situations where episodes from the same series have completely unrelated call numbers (i.e. KZ0463 and BB2239 could both be episodes of the same series).
If you’re not an archivist or hardcore researcher, you might wonder why this is such a monumental problem that has to keep going on the back-burner for further thought. The reason is access. One of the three main tenants of archiving is to provide access to the materials of which we are custodians.
The other tenants of archiving are preservation—which is what the grant is for, so we’re on top of that. Check. The other is organizing information. Here is where we hit the snag.
Ask any archivist, and they will tell you that nothing brings them more joy than seeing their data neatly organized, whether it’s a list of digital file names or sequentially-numbered banker’s boxes with uniform box labels. Numbering items in our collections it not just a fetish; it’s necessary for grouping related information together. Good organization actually improves access.
So fine, good, we solved it! Take all of the old call numbers that were assigned haphazardly and renumber them so that they’re all part of the same series call number! Right? Not so fast…
Keeping access in mind, what would happen if we were to change an item’s legacy call number? Our archivist Jolene expressed her fear of a “ripple effect.” If we change our call number here, what consequences would that have for other instantiations of the item inside and outside of the archive?
We’ve been digitally preserving our recordings for years, in partnership with many organizations, including UC Berkeley and the Internet Archive. If we changed our call numbers here, that could affect someone who discovers our content through an outside source.
We also decided to run a couple of test searches on two randomly selected recordings. The first was BC2584 “How to organize your workplace”, an episode of the WBAI series “Women’s studies.” I soon found out that Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary holds a copy in their library, and that the BC call number is registered in their system as one of its access points. Another search was for KZ1919 “A tribute to Audre Lorde,” which was an episode of the “Lesbian sisters” series run on KPFK. And we found that program and its call number in the University of California at Riverside collection.
What about those collection items which have not been digitized, but instantiations exist outside of the walls of our building? Before there was an official Pacifica Radio Archives with professional archivists, there was the Pacifica Tape Service. Many of the programs broadcast on the Pacifica stations were offered for sale on cassette tape from the Pacifica Tape Service, who at some point, assigned call numbers to the tapes.
Not only would we potentially be changing access points in other institutions’ collections with our new call numbers, but we’d also be destroying an access point for the individuals out in the world who purchased tapes from our tape service! No institution or individual is more important than any other, great or small. Access is access, and access will not be denied!
Once the “ripple effect” began to reveal itself to us, we quickly realized that renumbering is simply not a blanket option with all legacy data. Moving forward, we decided to not renumber these cataloged items to all sit together on the shelf or on the server in the same series, even though we know it helps access and is very satisfying! We can concatenate randomly numbered episodes through their PBCore Series Title. And since our Keyword search field scans the fields for call number, title, series title, and description, all related programs should be easily findable.
Whew! This is a big item off of my to-do list. Have you run across a similar situation in your archive? How did YOU solve it?