BISA at the BBC

Simon Elmes delivers the keynote at BISA 2015

  On 5th June, despite a threatened rail strike, BISA delivered a successful day for the 2015 Event hosted by BBC Archives in the oak panelled Council Chamber at BBC Broadcasting House in London. This was followed on Saturday 6th by an extensive talk and tour of the BBC Archive Centre facilities in Perivale. We heard from veteran archive programme makers, librarians, archivists, audio engineers and, memorably a visit from a barefoot  song collector and singer who rounded off the day with a song. All under the steely gaze of Lord Reith’s glowering portrait.

Around 40 speakers and delegates were served a varied programme. Opening the Friday, Convenor  (and BBC Archivist) Simon Rooks welcomed BISA to the BBC and introduced keynote speaker Simon Elmes (pictured above), recently retired Creative Director  of Radio Documentaries, who spoke with passion about 40 years of making radio, very much around his extensive use of archival material. Serendipity and archives as a catalyst for triggering memories and inspiring new programmes had led to many rewarding experiences - and many thousands of hours of programming now (mostly) in their turn part of the BBC's Archives.

Laura Smyth, Library and Archive Director at the English Folk Dance and Song Society gave us an overview of the collections and services and - very much at the heart of the EFDSS's work - the accessibility of the collections not least through the highly successful Full English digitisation. One delegate, so impressed, enquired forcefully why the EFDSS collection is not registered on the UNESCO Memory of the World register. Why not indeed?

At points in the day, two BISA committee members from British Library gave updates on major archival sound activities. Will Prentice  gave an update on the series of projects than make up the Sound Our Sounds programme, fresh in the glow of the recent substantial Heritage Lottery Grant and Richard Ranft spoke on the progress of Europeana Sounds, aiming to increase the representation of sound within the wider Europeana portal which, as Richard pointed out, is disproportionately popular amongst portal users when compared to other media although it represents a tiny percentage of Europeana's assets. Sounds right, not that we at BISA are biased, obviously.

Risking the rumbling stomachs of the pre-lunch session, the BBC’s own John Dell who leads the team delivering archive audio on request to BBC producers, spoke engagingly about his adventures in authentication. He talked about his quest – still to be quite completed - to establish the provenance of some early cylinders, acquired by the BBC in the 50s and once held primarily as display objects and – it has to be said – pretty much forgotten about.

The post-lunch slot was ably managed by the double act from Dublin of Jonathan Grimes (Contemporary Music Centre Ireland) and Joan Murphy (Digital Repository Ireland) whose collaboration was delivering archival management support and improving access to collections through the use of linked data. Jonathan spoke with passion about the work of the CMC as the resource centre for anything associated with Irish composers and Digital Archivist Joan proudly declared her love of big data, linked data and what it can do for collections.

From an inspired suggestion from newest  committee member Grace Toland, the last part of the day saw a visitation from Sam Lee, Mercury Prize nominated English folk singer and founder of the Song Collectors’ Collective, a movement to record and disseminate songs and their lyrics. With generations of song collectors having tramped the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland, Sam posed the question whether the job’s been done and all the songs have been collected. His answer was an emphatic “no!”. Sam specialises in engaging closely with the Traveller communities and of  crucial importance to Sam is to capture the life-stories and experiences of the singers. Ending the day with an impromptu performance was one of those moments that makes our broadly themed, relaxed BISA gatherings something special.