Sound and vision blog

27 September 2007

Fog warning

To kick this blog off I thought I would listen to a sound recording on the Archival Sound Recordings website for inspiration. I chanced upon a soundscape by Bruce Davis (part of a series called Soundscapes of Canada) which explores foghorns (password required to access the recording) and their importance to Vancouverites.

When I tell people that we have lots of recordings of foghorns (which we are going to mount on the site shortly), they usually laugh. This I think is because they feel it is a bit like train-spotters (rail enthusiasts) mounting the numbers of their recent ‘sightings’ on a website.

But what sound means to us is often about context. For example, if a blogger was to mount photographs of their latest holiday on a blog, no one would think anything of it, even if they had spent their holiday shrouded in fog on Vancouver Island. Yet, putting up sound recordings of the foghorn they found so arresting (perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of their trip), would probably place them in the realm of the certifiable or at the very least make them seem extremely left field.   

Susan Smith Nash is excited by the richness audio content offers to educators and students. She provides a whole list of uses, but evidence we have gathered suggests that, though academics recognise the value of audio, it is not used extensively in teaching and learning. This is perhaps because there is, outside of music, little context for its use.

Back in February and March of this year we ran some workshops to look at the use of sound recordings in Higher and Further education and in particular the use of resources on the ASR site. There were a large number of unanswered questions (or teasers as I like to call them). Here are some things that people stated or queried:

  • Time to listen to recordings is limited
  • Students expect a lot of signposting from teachers
  • The site needs to provide a way to jump into the site by providing tasters.
  • Tagging would really help, e.g. allowing the teacher to add tags or to direct the students to a list of resources.
  • We are more interested in current content rather than archival material.
  • The students can also help the teacher by carrying our research; this is so called circular learning.
  • Provision of contextual information is essential.
  • Question as to why BL thinks it is OK to provide ethnomusicology recordings at a lower bit rate than classical recordings. The question is who judges what should be lost?
  • Users want to generate their own content.
  • Allow users to donate (or assemble) collections online & ensure they give permission for use of the recordings.
  • Talk to academic departments about what kind of collections they need for their academic research.

The last three entries on the list seem to be about the relinquishing of control by the archive. Democratisation of the web is in full swing. Users want to do with the content what they like. Archivists (and Librarians) on the other hand have always been keen to apply standards to the data they provide about artefacts but the question now begs, who is best placed to provide information about a recording, the Archivist or the user? Note that the information we provided about Bruce’s recording on the ASR site (mentioned at the start of this blog entry) is minimal. Is it sufficient?


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