Posts Tagged ‘ archives ’


I know it seems like I haven’t posted since February, but I’ve actually got a backlog of entries that I just haven’t had a chance to put up yet.  I’ll be getting this up today (all related to LIS 599: KM) and back-dating them.

Also expect in the next week or so a blog post for HUCO 510: Theory of Humanities Computing.  Haven’t quite decided what to write about yet, but I would like to somehow incorporate this article about Bruce Sterling’s library getting archived, and his comments on digital preservation.

Also: How could I forget to mention my Day of DH blog?  That went up on March 18, and was actually completed on March 25.


LOC – Lost and Found

Recently the Library of Congress (LOC) discovered some 68 British teleplays from the 1950s and 1960s in its collection that had previously been considered lost [1].  This story should bring to mind a host of questions: where did they keep the “lost” records?  How did they not know they were there?  How did they discover them?  At first blush, I find it odd that the Library of Congress (LOC), arguably the most influential library authority in the world, can “discover” supposedly lost records among its own holdings (suggesting that its own archivists were unaware of the existence of such records).

Some clarification: the teleplays were considered “lost” by the British Film Institute (BFI) (; the BBC did not have an archival policy for its television broadcasts until 1978 [2], and are missing copies of programmes from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  However during that period WNET/Thirteen in New York (today known as PBS) acquired and stored copies of a number of these programmes, and later donated them along with many other American broadcasts to the LOC.  The LOC stored them within the massive collection housed by its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) (  So the teleplays weren’t so much “lost” as no one thought to look there.

WHERE: A little digging reveals that the “lost” teleplays have been kept at the Packard Campus, a state-of-the-art facility for the preservation of audiovisual media [3].  Digital copies have been made and repatriated into the hands of the BFI, while the originals will remain at the Packard Campus facility.

HOW: What is most curious about this story is how the “lost” teleplays were found at all.  An independent researcher stumbled across a couple BBC programmes in the WNET/Thirteen (NET) collection, and realized that it might contain more British broadcasts from that period.  How did he come up with a list of lost programmes?  He consulted a web database of lost UK shows created by a group of volunteers and avid fans of “vintage television” [4].  By running the titles from the database against those in the NET collection, the researcher identified 68 matching records.  If not for the scrupulous record-keeping of those avid fans, those 68 teleplays would have remained lost.

I’m left with a few feelings about this: first, a renewed appreciation for anyone with enough enthusiasm for a subject to maintain a database of “lost” knowledge; second, a sense of awe for the LOC and the substantial resources at its disposal—I imagine most archives can only wish they had the capacity to store and maintain a collection for decades without ever fully assessing its nature and value; and third, puzzlement that the BFI or BBC never thought to inquire after the missing broadcasts at the LOC.

Finally, a list of the different kind of “records” involved in this story:

  1. the teleplays themselves
  2. the LOC record-keeping system or catalogue for the NET collection
  3. the paper records at the BBC and other UK television networks indicating which programmes were never retained
  4. the database records created by Kaleidoscope, compiled from other disparate records, and representing an index of all lost UK television shows


[1] Library of Congress. (2010, September 15) Library of Congress Discovers Lost British TV Treasures [Press Release]. Retrieved from

Kaleidoscope – The Classic Television Organisation. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Raymond, M.  (2010, September 22) By Jove, It’s a Video Treasure Trove! Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

[2] The BBC Television Archive – An interview with Adam Lee, BBC archive expert. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Wiping. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

Sometime in the mid-1970’s the BBC adopted an official archiving policy and began consistently saving copies of its broadcasts.  It seems likely that this occurred in conjunction with or as a result of an audit of their film archive in 1978 that revealed 108 missing episodes of “Doctor Who” in particular, as well as a number of other missing programmes that were either never preserved or erased due to “wiping”, a common practice in the 1960’s and 1970’s whereby videotapes were reused and destroyed after multiple uses.  As Adam Lee describes in the interview mentioned above, prior to the change in policy television was not considered a permanent medium, where once a broadcast was transmitted it was considered finished, rather like a theatre performance.

[3] Raymond, M.  (2010, September 22) By Jove, It’s a Video Treasure Trove! Library of Congress Blog. Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

The Packard Campus – A/V Conservation (Library of Congress). (n.d.) Retrieve September 25, 2010 from

[4] Kaleidoscope – The Classic Television Organisation. (n.d.) Retrieved September 25, 2010 from

The database can be accessed from: