THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

9 posts categorized "Web"

29 January 2016

Audiovisual archives and the Web

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This is the text of a talk I gave on 29 January 2016 at the Institute of Historical Research's 'The Production of the Archive' conference. The conference sought to "bring together historians, archivists and scholars from other cognate disciplines to explore shared understandings of the nature of the archive, which is highly topical as archives shift from the traditional fixity of text to the fluidity of multi-faceted digital objects."

Websites

Good afternoon. My name is Luke McKernan, and I am Lead Curator for News & Moving Image at the British Library. I’m going to talk about something that has interested me for some while, which is the changing scale of audiovisual archiving. I'm going to do so by looking at two things: YouTube, and web archiving. I'll conclude by considering how historical enquiry and archival care may combine to understand the audiovisual archives we are building for ourselves now.

Film archiving traditionally has been a painstaking business. When films were produced on film, then the objective was to acquire adequate materials to enable the archivist to reproduce the film as closely as possible to the form in which it was originally produced, ideally from an original negative. There were many challenges for the film archivist. National film archives did not really get underway until the 1930s, meaning that much of the first 40 years of cinema was destined to be lost. In the United Kingdom, there is no legal deposit legislation in place for film, so film archivists have had to go out to producers, distributors and collectors to obtain suitable film copies, and not everything has been collected. This is also a costly business, since filmstock is expensive, and bulky, requiring specialist storage conditions as well as specialist equipment to ensure its long-term survival.

The situation, from a statutory point of view, is a little better for television, since a national television archive was enshrined in the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Videotape is also cheaper than film. The expense of film, combined with the distribution models to cinemas, constrained what could be produced, and consequently what could be archived. Television had a different distribution model, one which allowed it to broadcast content non-stop across multiple channels, but the medium for capturing this - tape – was adequate to the task. Very broadly speaking, our moving image archives were able to meet the challenge of archiving much of what was produced, assuming that they were resourced properly to do so.

Over the past ten years, the picture has changed utterly. What has changed it is YouTube, founded in April 2005, and what it has changed relates to scale, content, description, discovery and expectations of access.

Firstly scale. There are just under one million films and television programmes held by the BFI National Archive, the UK’s national moving image collection, collected over eight decades.. By wild contrast, I estimate that there have been 2.7 billion videos uploaded to YouTube since 2005. 400 hours of video are added to the site every minute. There are some film collections out there who haven’t managed to collect more than 400 hours of content in years. In one year in the UK, there are approximately 700 films given a cinema release, 6,000 physical videos published, and about 600,000 television programmes broadcast (excluding repeats). It is not known what proportion of YouTube’s possible 2.7 billion is British in origin, but the number is certain to dwarf that produced by traditional means. Does this render the traditional film archive meaningless, or reductively niche?

Kanefinger

Citizen Kane vs Charlie Bit My Finger

So, secondly, content. Vast amounts of this online content is what might be termed trivia: ephemeral videos of skateboarding pets of the kind that would never have been acquired by a film archive, nor even conceived of as a type of film production before the YouTube era. But is it trivia? How are we to judge what a moving image should be? Is the understanding of it as an art medium, of the kind best revered in a cinematheque, now something absurdly narrow? What, intrinsically, is the difference between, say Citizen Kane and Charlie Bit My Finger? Perhaps we should only look at the numbers – unless it is the numbers that are scaring us, and we prefer to cling to old certainties.

When it comes to description, things become problematic. The metadata for videos on YouTube and other video platforms is generally very poor. What metadata there is relates chiefly to when and in what form the video was uploaded to the site, with additional, often entirely random classification terms added by the uploader. The traditional archive puts far greater value on the specificity of the objects in its care.

Discovery and expectations of access are where the deep change lies. YouTube gives you everything, or at least it appears to do so. Access to moving images traditionally has been exclusive, even challenging. The films have been hard to track down, expensive to access, difficult to share. Now anything you can think of is there instantly, arranged in channels or discoverable individually. If a video is not there, it is effectively invisible, not worthy of consideration. A false sense of permanence has been inculcated - that every video is there, and that every video will always be there, with the concomitant reaction by many scholars that if a video is not on YouTube then it is not worth bothering, or necessary, to seek it elsewhere.

But not only is YouTube not infinite, but it is also shedding content on a massive scale. An unknown number of videos is taken down from the site every day, because of copyright infringement, or changing priorities of some publishers, or the embarrassment of those who have decided to hide away some of their youthful indiscretions.

 No figure has ever been supplied by YouTube on just how much disappears from the site, but I can give a personal example. I manage a website, called BardBox, which curates original Shakespeare videos to be found on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms. They are videos of all kinds: original creations, mashups, fan videos, animations, actualities - representative of the broad mix of YouTube genres.  Recently I had a spring-clean of the site to check out how many of the videos were still active, and a quarter was no longer there. Has 25% of YouTube disappeared?

Is YouTube an archive? It is and it isn't. It is a repository for cultural content, which it maintains even if the videos are subsequently withdrawn, and although the files it holds are of a lower resolution than the original videos. It provides access. The scale of what is maintains is unprecedented, utterly dwarfing all that preceded it. It seems to be there for the long term. What it fails to provide is certainty. If it is an archive, it is a new kind of archive, one with built-in impermanence, a vast repository for uncertain times.

Legaldeposit

Legal Deposit UK Web Archive

Now let us turn to web archives, which is where the British Library’s interest comes in. In 2013 non-print Legal Deposit legislation was passed which enabled the British Library, working with the other legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland, to begin archiving the UK web. There are around 4 million websites in the UK, and most of these we take an archival snapshot of once a year. The result is some 2.5 billion web pages in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. The British Library promotes itself as having some 150 million objects in its collection, but that refers to physical objects and is of increasing irrelevance in a digital age. Numerically speaking, it might be more sensible to describe the British Library as a large digital archive, with a few books on the side.

The 2013 Legal Deposit act excluded video and sound, for a variety of reasons. In practice this means that we do not archive websites which are predominantly video and audio-based, such as YouTube, or iPlayer. But if an audio or video file is incidental to the purpose of a website or webpage, then it can be collected. The result of this can be seen in the figures for the moving image collection that I manage. The conventional collection – which is a mixture of news and sound-based videos – numbers around 100,000 titles. If I add videos gathered incidentally through web archiving, the number rises to half a million. A further 40,000 videos is added every month, so that by this time this year we will have a collection of a million videos.

The situation is similar for sound. The Library holds the national sound archive, a collection of some 6.5 million recordings. In probably no more than four years time, there will be more sounds in the web archive than there are in the traditional sound archive.

What then is an audiovisual archive? Is it the archive gathered by traditional means, in which the best-quality material is selected through curatorial guidelines, to ensure a representative collection of optimum preservation quality? Or is it the random vastness of the web archive, in which videos of low image quality, minimal metadata and frequently spurious significance, are contained within a larger archive of web texts? Should we sacrifice quality of image for quantity of content, or should we maintain principles of selectivity, so that the best content is preserved in its optimum form? Should the traditional archive and the web archive be developed separately, or should they be managed collectively, and if so what does this mean for curation, collecting policies and the scholars who use such resources?

Thatcher

An archived web page with missing video element

These are largely theoretical questions at present. The Legal Deposit Web Archive is in its infancy. Discovery of the archives, which is restricted to terminals in the reading rooms of the various legal deposit libraries, is in need of considerable improvement before the archive can be properly used for research, and resource limitations mean that we’re not even able to playback those audio and video files as yet. Moreover, most researchers aren’t interested in web archives as yet because they have the real web that they can use.

But gradually the realisation will sink in that websites do not last (the average lifespan of a web page has been estimated at around 70 days), and that what was present has become the past, when historical enquiry of the web archives will begin in earnest.

When that point comes, we will have a new kind of audiovisual archive. It will be one that puts audio and video in their contexts. The great limitation of audiovisual archives has been is that is all that they are. They are dedicated to their medium alone. This is fine when the interest is only in the medium, which means chiefly when it is viewed as an art form. But film is equally important for its subject matter, and for that it requires context. Film of itself is meaningless - we have to describe it, to put words to it, for its images to signify something. This is why video has come into its own in the web era - not simply because of the volume of content, but because of the contextualisation. Videos have to be embedded somewhere, and in the embedding they find their meaning. Traditional film archives take the medium out of its original exhibition context; web archives preserve that context.

At present we have film and sound archives that stand alone. They represent their particular medium; they defend its special identity. Some film and sound archive have been absorbed within larger archives, as happened when the British Library took over the National Sound Archive in the 1980s. The sound archive ever since has played a balancing act between integration within the Library's systems and maintaining its separate identity. The national film archives of Wales and Scotland have been incorporated within their respective national libraries, and have faced a similar challenge.

But this slow process of change is going to be rapidly overtaken by the growth in web archiving. In one year's time web video at the British Library will outnumber the remaining moving image collection by ten to one. It will be 15 to one the year after that, and so on, exponentially. I can ignore this upstart archive, or I can engage with it, and to do so I need to learn from researchers of every kind, but particularly historical researchers, how to understand what we are inheriting, how to manage it, how to explain it, how to make it discoverable and most useful. The British Library is engaging with scholars on how to use the web archive now, ranging from subject specialists to big data analysts. But I am interested - and I hope others will be interested - in what the future web archive will look like, and especially how it will operate as a repository of rich media.

As a society we are generating videos at a colossal rate, and look likely to do so at an ever increasing-rate in the future. Archives built on the traditional model cannot cope with the scale of this. The web's video platforms, such as YouTube, offer the illusion of the optimum archive, but they fail to offer adequate descriptions, context or permanence. As scholars we must be wary of them; we certainly must not rely on them.

The web archive, however, promises to be transformative in how video (and audio) contribute to future understanding, because they will be wholly embedded in the archive. The numbers will be vast, but the numbers for every kind of archival digital object we are now generating will be vast. We'll just have to deal with it. What web archiving may promise, though, is the end of audiovisual archives as we know them. Once text, image, audio and video are all preserved as one, why should we specialise? That's the question that lies at the heart of the future management of digital archives. Hopefully it will take just a little longer than the end of my professional life before we decide on the answer.

19 February 2015

Creating a Directory of UK Sound Collections: An Update

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Digital technologies have transformed the ways in which we create and store recorded sound.  Until recently, sound recording and reproduction has relied on media like tapes, discs and cassettes, and the technologies to access those media in appropriate ways.  Today, these media have been replaced with digital storage systems, allowing us to create recordings in greater numbers, to store them more efficiently, and to provide access to them more effectively.

But this transition from physical to digital highlights one of the key issues facing custodians of recorded sound collections: as older media disappear and industry support for replaying them evaporates, how can we ensure that sounds remain accessible to future generations?

A degrading cellulose nitrate lacquer disc in the collections of the British Library

A degrading cellulose nitrate lacquer disc in the collections of the British Library

Professional consensus internationally is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unreadable and are effectively lost. These risks face all recorded sound collections, across the country; from home recordings to professional archives.

 

Just this month, internet pioneer Vint Cerf was widely reported as warning that digital information can too easily be lost because accessing it may require specialised software unavailable in the future.  This is something which presents a challenge to the digital preservation of many media. Fortunately, for audio, this problem is - to a degree - solved: digitising a sound recording to an internationally recognised, standard file format (in this case, WAV) aids longevity, because the file structure is well documented and simple to understand.

Save our Sounds

On 12th January, the British Library launched a new initiative titled Save our Sounds: a vital programme recognising the risks facing the nation’s sound collections, and the urgent need to preserve our recorded heritage.

One of the major aims of this programme is to digitally preserve as much as possible of the UK’s rare and unique sound recordings; not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections.

But digitisation takes time, and preservation planning on such a scale requires a clear understanding of the extent of collections; their subjects, uniqueness, and – importantly - what formats they are held on.

Surveying the UK’s Sound Collections

To help us understand the risks faced by the UK’s recorded heritage, the British Library is running a project to create a Directory of UK Sound Collections.  Through a nationwide survey which continues until 31st March 2015, we have set out to reach and encourage as many collection owners as possible – from individuals with personal collections to large institutions – to send us information about the recordings they hold.

Graph showing numbers of items identified, per format
Graph showing number of items identified, per format

The responses received since the launch of our project have provided a fascinating insight into the types of collection holders in the UK, the breadth of the subjects that their collections cover, and the formats they are held on. With this information, we can build a clearer picture of the state of the nation’s recorded sound collections, the risks they face and the scale of the task ahead, if they are to be saved.

To date, we have received information on more than 320,000 items, from wax cylinders and lacquer discs to CD-Rs and MiniDiscs.

The recordings on these items cover a range of subjects, indicative of the diversity of the UK’s collections, including:

  • Vast collections of oral histories, including interviews with nurses, veterans, evacuees, women potters, Jewish refugees, London dock workers, taxi drivers and policemen, travellers, immigrant communities, Yorkshire dalesfolk, and theatre workers.
  • Home recordings made on wires and wax cylinders in the early part of the 20th century
  • More than 15,000 UK shellac discs of British dance bands and early jazz recordings
  • Recordings of English and Scottish folk musicians, from the mid-20th century
  • Sound art and experimental music from the 1960s to the present day
  • Representative collections of classical music performances on shellac disc
  • Speech and dialect recordings, calendar customs and traditions from across the UK
  • BBC and Radio Luxembourg transmissions, including light music programmes from the 1950s and 60s, and personal collections from radio broadcasters and producers working in the UK
  • Street noises and environmental sounds
  • British bird song recorded in the field
  • Interviews with and performances by composers, musicians, authors and politicians, including Winston Churchill, J.B. Priestley and J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Recordings of speeches, conferences, ceremonies, lectures and events from throughout the 20th century
Graph showing collection subjects, by type
Graph showing collection subjects, by type

Of course, there are many more collections out there, and we’d love to hear about them. We'll be publishing a summary report later in the year, and advice on caring for your collections.

So, if you have a sound collection – or even a single item – that you would like to add to our directory, please get in touch.  And promotion really is vital to the success of our project, so if you know someone who might be interested, do pass the message on.

You can follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

The British Library’s Directory of UK Sound Collections is one of the first steps in our Save our Sounds programme; one of the key strands of Living Knowledge, the British Library’s new vision and purpose for its future.

01 February 2014

Building a jukebox for Europe

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We’re thrilled to announce the start this month of a new project: Europeana Sounds. This project will bring together online, for public access, over a million sound and associated digitised items from leading audio archives and libraries across Europe.

We shall double the number of sound tracks that can be discovered through Europeana, improve descriptions for two million sounds, music scores and associated items to make them easier to find, and we’ll create new thematic ‘channels’ on Europeana that bring related objects together in a coordinated way. The sounds will encompass not just musics of different genres – classical, pop and rock, traditional and folk - but also languages and dialects, oral memories, nature and environmental sounds.

Europeana Sounds will be accessed through Europeana, the portal to Europe’s digitised heritage. Through a multi-lingual interface supporting 31 languages, Europeana already connects a mind-boggling 30 million books, paintings, photographs, sounds, films, museum and archival objects from collections held by 2,200 source institutions. Sound recordings are one of the most popular media types, although representing just 2% of Europeana’s content. And while many of Europe’s leading cultural heritage institutions have large, high-quality audio collections that have great public appeal and are valued for research and for creative use, access to them is fragmented and constrained. Europeana Sounds will make audio content from memory institutions easily accessible - a much-needed gateway to Europe’s incomparably rich sound and music collections.

Coordinated by the British Library, this three-year project is led by a network of 24 European organisations: innovative digital technology organisations and leading library and archive collections of sounds and related materials. We will also collaborate with three digital distribution platforms, Historypin, Spotify and SoundCloud and their existing global online communities, to extend the public reach of Europeana’s sound recordings.

The project will additionally test innovative ways to enrich metadata by crowdsourcing and by using automated machine-driven categorisation and cross-media linking. It will align different kinds of objects from different collections:

Blackbird

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (painting by Stephanus Hendrik Willem van Trigt. Source: Teylers Museum, Netherlands, via Europeana)

Blackbird singing

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (recorded by Eric & May Noble, Wales, March 1991. Source: The British Library)

 

We’ll also experiment with ‘score following’, so you will be able to scroll music scores from collections contributed by one institution while listening to recorded performances of the same compositions from another source, as illustrated below with extracts from Johan Sebastian Bach's Wohltemperierte Clavier.

Bach

Score of Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870 from JS Bach’s manuscript of Wohltemperierte Clavier ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’, book 2. (Source: The British Library. Add.MS 35021).

 Wohltemperierte-Clavier-BWV870

Audio recording of Prelude and fugue in C major, BWV 870
(Source:
recorded example from Europeana via Helsinki City Library).

 

More details about the Europeana Sounds project:
Website: http://pro.europeana.eu/web/europeana-sounds
Twitter: https://twitter.com/eu_sounds


Picture1Europeana Sounds is funded by the European Union under its ICT Policy Support Programme as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programm.

19 November 2012

A.R. Gregory Kenyan bird recordings

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Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator, writes:

The A.R. Gregory collection represents one man’s passion for recording the songs and calls of Kenya’s avifauna. For more than 30 years, Roy Gregory amassed over 4000 field recordings of the country’s diverse birdlife, from Emerald Spotted Wood Doves and Crowned Hornbills to Joyful Greenbuls and Beautiful Sunbirds. More recordings from the A.R. Gregory collection will be added over the coming months, but for now almost 500 recordings from the late 1960s to 1974 have been digitised, edited, catalogued and made available. These represent the earliest recordings made by Gregory and cover well known locations such as Lake Naivasha, Shimba Hills National Reserve and Mount Elgon National Park. In addition to these birding hotspots, Gregory also recorded the songs and calls of birds found in and around his hometown of Nairobi.

Mount_Elgon-2

Black-headed Oriole, Oriolus larvatus:

http://sounds.bl.uk/Environment/AR-Gregory-Kenyan-bird-recordings/022M-WA03044X0006-0017V0

Some recordings are tinged with poignancy, for many of Gregory’s favourite birding areas in highland Kenya have since been destroyed through slash and burn agricultural techniques. The birds that once frequented these locations have long since vanished, leaving gaps in the sonic tapestry of the landscape that can be filled, to some degree, by field recordings but never truly replaced.

Splendid Glossy Starling, Lamprotornis splendidus:

http://sounds.bl.uk/Environment/AR-Gregory-Kenyan-bird-recordings/022M-WA03044X0015-0012V0

Roy Gregory’s deep rooted love for ornithology and sound recording are clearly evident when browsing his collection. He continued recording the birds he loved until a couple of years before his death in 1995. His archive is extensive, both in breadth and depth, and represents almost 50% of Kenya’s total birdlife. Now, for the first time, these recordings reach beyond the walls of the British Library and are available to anybody who would like to listen.

(Image: Mount Elgon by Kristina Just)

15 August 2012

25 March 2010

Leadbelly sings for his freedom

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Available from the Time website

This is so wonderful to see (unfortunately I can't embed so click on the link above). It's Leadbelly from The March of Time in 1935, a famous sequence from the classic American news cinemagazine in which the American folksinger gains his freedom from prison by his singing ability, recorded by folklorist John A. Lomax. It ends up with Leadbelly's music being recorded for the Library of Congress and becoming part of the US national record alongside the Declaration of Independence. OK, so it's heavily staged for the cameras in the manner typical of The March of Time, but you have to see through the stilted delivery to what is such a precious record of a great singer, a great archivist, and incidentally a special early example of a film record showing the process of archiving - and audio-visual archiving at that. Leadbelly did sing for Governor Oscar K. Adle at Angola Prison Farm, Lousiana, in 1934, but history records that he was due for early release anyway and his song has nothing to do with his gaining his freedom - though Lomax always believed that the recording had helped his cause. In the clip Leadbelly says that he was freed from prison at an earlier time after singing to the governor, and this is apparently correct - in 1925, when he was held in Huntsville, Texas.

The March of Time was produced as an adjunct to Time magazine and shown in cinemas between 1935 and 1951 (though it had existed as a radio series since 1931 and continued as a television series after 1951). It was screened in Britain, with small variations in content, including some fresh stories filmed by its British unit. Acclaimed at the time for its dynamic style and its willingness to take on challenging subjects, it is probably best known today for the parody of its hectoring style in the 'News on the March' sequence from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. The March of Time film library is now managed by HBO Archives. The essential history of the reel is Raymond Fielding's The March of Time, 1935-1951.

You can find plenty of information on Leadbelly (real name Huddie Ledbetter), with biography, photos, sound clips and much more, on the Lead Belly Foundation site.

Heads up to the Sound Archive Twitter feed for altering me to the clip.

Posted via email from Luke McKernan

19 March 2010

The Yanomamo play tricks on us

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Fierce People, BBC Horizon tx. 1 November 1971

Superb stuff from Adam Curtis - The Medium and the Message, not just one of the best blogs out there but a pioneering and innovative combination of documentary, archive and web publishing that is showing one way television could change in a multimedia world:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2010/03/guinea_pigs_up_the_creek.html

Here he looks at the different ways in which BBC documentaries have portrayed the Yanomamo people of Brazil and Venezuela (supposedly models for Avatar's Na'vi) according to the temper of the times.

In 1968 they are drug experimenters seen as both corrupted by the world and incorruptible

In 1971 they are shrewd, cunning and highly political

In 1972 they just lie around all day in an idyllic state

In 1977 they are in a continuous state of tension, driven by their genes

In 1983 schoolchildren sing about how they worship animals and trees

In 1989 they are the perfect subject for rock musicians singing about the rainforest (Donna Summer, Iggy Pop, Ringo Starr...)

In 1997 they are the remnants of a shaman civilisation

"In all these examples we in the West - both scientists and TV producers - are projecting our ideas and our dreams and our fears onto the Yanomamo. But the Yanomamo are not just passive in this. Each time they seem to work out what the westerners want and then give it back to them perfectly. Or, as in the case of [anthropologist Napoleon] Chagnon they play with him and trick him in funny ways.

Which makes you wonder. Maybe they are just as sophisticated as us in the west? Or maybe even more so?"

All with the usual telling clips.

More on what Curtis is doing with The Medium and the Message in a future post.

Posted via email from Luke McKernan

16 March 2010

C-SPAN video archive online

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President Obama's State of the Union Address, 27 January 2010, from www.c-spanvideo.org

C-SPAN has put its entire video archive online, 23 years of broadcasting amounting to over 160,000 hours of content. C-SPAN stands for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. It's an American cable TV network owned and operated by the US cable industry as a free service. It was set up in 1987 to record government proceedings, and its archive documents practically every session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, presidential press briefings and many kinds of public affairs events. The New York Times reports:

“This is the archive’s coming of age, in a way, because it’s now so accessible,” said Robert Browning, director of the archives. Historically, the $1 million-a-year operation has paid for itself partly by selling videotapes and DVDs to journalists, campaign strategists and others. Mr. Browning acknowledges that video sales have waned as more people have viewed clips online. “On the other hand, there are a lot of things people now watch that they never would have bought,” he said. The archives’ fans include Ms. Maddow, who called it gold. “It’s raw footage of political actors in their native habitat, without media personalities mediating viewers’ access,” she wrote in an e-mail message ... C-Span executives said they hoped that its search filters would be up to the task. Mr. Lamb said, “You can see if politicians are saying one thing today, and 15 years ago were saying another thing.” He added, “Journalists can feast on it.”

The site gives the schedule for the three C-SPAN channels (C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 and C-SPAN3), the C-SPAN Congressional Chronicle (an index to the C-SPAN video recordings of the House and Senate floor proceedings), a blog, store and extensive search and browse options. There is a simple search option on the front page (which has a drop-down text feature showing summaries with your search term highlighted) and an advanced search option (for which you can add extra fields by clicking) allowing searches to be refined by date, tag, format, title, summary, person, organisation, location etc. You can browse the archive by programme type, series, congressional committee, date, topic, popular programmes and so on. Each record gives title, date, topic, tags, summary, duration (some of them run for hours), sometimes a transcript (generally made from uncorrected closed captioning), programme ID and the number of views. There are handy user features such embedding, sharing, links to biographical details of people featured, and related videos. Videos can be viewed full screen and are of a good quality.

It's a stunning resource, overwhelming in its size, limitless in the opportunities it opens up for American studies, political studies, and just for finding who said what when. What we wouldn't give to have something similar in the UK. Here we've had parliamentary AV recordings since 1978, when the Parliamentary Sound Recording Unit was created. This became the Parliamentary Recording Unit when it added video of the House of Lords in 1986, then the House of Commons in 1989 (the Sound Unit disbanded in 1992). We do have live access through the excellent ParliamentLive, which has coverage of all UK Parliament proceedings taking place in public, but its on-demand archive only stretches back 12 months from the date of broadcast. Thereafter you have to contact the Parliamentary Recording Unit itself for access.

Where the US cable network has led, maybe one day the UK will be able to follow in providing comprehensive online access to this archive much as we now enjoy with Hansard. It's good to be able to read, but how much more compelling it is to be able to see and hear as well. It helps us all the more to judge, to recognise, and to understand.