Pre­serv­ing the sounds

Jamaica Gleaner - - ARTS & EDUCATION - – In­for­ma­tion com­piled by Shar­ifa Bal­four, as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor, Na­tional Mu­seum Ja­maica

IN THE not-so-dis­tant past, im­ages in the form of pho­to­graphs and recorded sound and film were con­sid­ered to be lux­u­ries that could only be ac­cessed by the mi­nor­ity, but as time pro­gressed, and tech­nol­ogy with it, au­dio­vi­sual ma­te­ri­als be­came more wide­spread, which al­lowed a larger cross­sec­tion of so­ci­ety to record what it deemed to be im­por­tant.


Oc­to­ber 27 is recog­nised as

World Day for Au­dio­vi­sual Her­itage. This day was cho­sen by UNESCO (the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional,

Sci­en­tific and

Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion) in

2005 to raise aware­ness of the sig­nif­i­cance of and preser­va­tion risks re­lated to recorded sound and au­dio­vi­sual doc­u­ments, which in­clude film, sound and video record­ings, and ra­dio and tele­vi­sion pro­grammes.

Events to com­mem­o­rate this day are held in many coun­tries and are or­gan­ised by na­tional and re­gional sound and film ar­chives, broad­cast­ers, mu­se­ums, and li­braries. In Ja­maica, there are a few in­sti­tu­tions that have and main­tain au­dio­vi­sual col­lec­tions. These in­clude the Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica, the Ja­maica In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice (JIS), the Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Com­pany of Ja­maica (PBCJ) and the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies Mona Ar­chives.


In 2018, the theme for World Day for Au­dio­vi­sual Her­itage was ‘Your Story is Mov­ing’. Ac­cord­ing to UNESCO, “This theme al­lows for plenty of scope for a wide va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties based on sto­ries that are pre­served in au­dio­vi­sual ar­chives – peo­ple’s sto­ries or nar­ra­tives that en­able her­itage to be passed on to the next gen­er­a­tion.

“At the same time, the theme also in­vokes the emo­tional con­nec­tions and mean­ings peo­ple may de­rive from ap­pre­ci­at­ing au­dio­vi­sual her­itage. It en­livens such her­itage as a shared story, bind­ing peo­ple in a com­mon hu­man­ity, mov­ing them, so to speak, to higher lev­els of un­der­stand­ing of and re­spect for the other.”

Ac­cord­ing to li­brar­ian and Head of De­part­ment of Au­dio­vi­sual and Mi­cro­graphic Ser­vices at the Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica Yu­lande Lind­say, the au­dio­vi­sual col­lec­tion of the Na­tional Li­brary, which was of­fi­cially formed in 1998, con­sists of close to 60,000 au­dio­vi­sual records.

These records are di­vided into cat­e­gories such as film and sound, au­dio, and the mov­ing im­age col­lec­tion. All of the records, discs, video cas­settes, films, reel-to-reel au­dio tapes, films, and phono­graphic record­ings in this col­lec­tion high­light some as­pect of Ja­maica’s tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble his­tory and cul­ture.

While this col­lec­tion con­tin­ues to grow, the li­brary is now fac­ing some se­ri­ous chal­lenges with not only the col­lec­tion of ma­te­rial, but the staffing of the li­brary with ad­e­quately trained in­di­vid­u­als. Since its in­cep­tion, the li­brary has out­grown its home at 12 East Street, and stor­age, along with dam­age to ma­te­rial caused by mois­ture and the pass­ing of time, are some of the main con­cerns. An­other is­sue fac­ing the col­lec­tion is the ob­so­les­cence of tech­nol­ogy used by the li­brary to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion from records and other ma­te­ri­als. These de­vices are re­ferred to as ‘play back’ ma­chines. One of the largest and most ex­pen­sive is­sues faced by the li­brary is the acquisition of equip­ment and soft­ware are needed for the digi­ti­sa­tion of the col­lec­tion. Shock­ingly, even the small­est types of equip­ment can cost the li­brary mil­lions of dol­lars and of­ten re­quire spe­cially trained per­sons to op­er­ate the equip­ment and train the mu­seum’s staff. Digi­ti­sa­tion is paramount in the preser­va­tion of the au­dio­vi­sual col­lec­tion as these col­lec­tions con­tain some of the pri­mary records of the is­land’s his­tory of the 20th and 21st cen­turies. Un­for­tu­nately, that her­itage is now en­dan­gered be­cause sound record­ings and mov­ing im­ages can be de­lib­er­ately de­stroyed or ir­re­triev­ably lost as a re­sult of ne­glect, de­cay, and tech­no­log­i­cal ob­so­les­cence.


Even though the li­brary is cur­rently fac­ing many chal­lenges, one would be happy to note that the au­dio­vi­sual de­part­ment is cur­rently en­gaged in a digi­ti­sa­tion project to digi­tise the en­tire film and sound col­lec­tion to pro­vide greater ac­cess to the au­dio­vi­sual her­itage and as part of its ef­fort to con­serve the orig­i­nal doc­u­ments for pos­ter­ity.

It is also note­wor­thy that the au­dio­vi­sual de­part­ment of the Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica has con­sis­tently sought to sup­ply footage and au­dio ma­te­rial to es­teemed or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the BBC (British Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion) and The Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies. The col­lec­tion is heav­ily used by re­searchers from around the world.

An­other im­por­tant repos­i­tory of Ja­maica’s ma­te­rial her­itage, Na­tional Mu­seum Ja­maica, also has a grow­ing col­lec­tion of ob­so­lete au­dio­vi­sual tech­nol­ogy. One might think that col­lect­ing these ob­jects is use­less and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, how­ever, the col­lec­tion of these ob­jects al­lows us to main­tain a phys­i­cal mem­ory bank of the de­vel­op­ment and use of tech­nol­ogy not only within Ja­maica, but on an in­ter­na­tional level.

One very im­por­tant ob­ject cur­rently housed in the Na­tional Col­lec­tion is a vinyl record that was pro­duced by B Tate Doc­u­men­tary un­der the Lon­don House record la­bel for the Van­guard Lo­cal Chap­ter of the U.N.I.A. (Uni­ver­sal Ne­gro Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion), the brain­child of Na­tional Hero the Rt. Ex­cel­lent Mar­cus Gar­vey and African Com­mu­ni­ties League (A.C.L).

The record is en­ti­tled ‘Ex­pla­na­tion of the Ob­jects of the Uni­ver­sal Ne­gro Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion.’ Vinyl records are an ana­logue sound­stor­age medium in the form of a flat disc with an in­scribed, mod­u­lated spi­ral groove.

The groove usu­ally starts near the pe­riph­ery and ends near the cen­tre of the disc. The phono­graph disc record was the pri­mary medium used for mu­sic and sound re­pro­duc­tion through­out the 20th cen­tury. Phono­graph records are gen­er­ally de­scribed by their di­am­e­ter in inches (12-inch, 10-inch, 7-inch) and the ro­ta­tional speed in rev­o­lu­tions per minute (33 1/3rpm, 78rpm, 45rpm). The one pic­tured is 45rpm.

Digi­tis­ing a record such as the one pic­tured is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant be­cause it gives us an in­depth view of the life, be­liefs, and prac­tices of the UNIA and its mem­bers out­side of Ja­maica. It also al­lows us to ex­plore the ways in which UNIA mem­bers dis­sem­i­nated in­for­ma­tion out­side of print ma­te­rial.

Us­ing a method such as record­ing en­sured that even mem­bers who could not read as well as visu­ally im­paired per­sons were able to re­ceive in­for­ma­tion about the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Digi­tis­ing a record of such im­por­tance en­sures that the con­tents of the record would be avail­able for many gen­er­a­tions to come.

Sources: In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tions and In­sti­tu­tions (IFLA) – web­site

Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica

San Diego State Uni­ver­sity Li­brary Web­site – Au­dio Vis­ual Ma­te­rial

UNESCO- Mul­ti­me­dia Ar­chives and eSer­vices – Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion – web­site

UNESCO – Pro­mot­ing dig­i­tal preser­va­tion of cul­tural her­itage in the Caribbean

UNESCO – World Day for Au­dio­vi­sual Her­itage


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