23 Sep 2014

On the Value of Popular Music Archives




Dave Grohl outside Baltimore Stores, Cork © Siobhan O Mahony
UCC Library, as part of the Sir Henrys @UCC Library exhibition, recently hosted a roundtable discussion titled Pop@UCC: On the Value of Popular Music Archives. The speakers were from within and without the academy and provided some interesting insights on the area of archives and popular music.

The speakers on the panel were Stevie GraingerCronan O DoibhlinRay Scannell, Jez Collins and Siobhan O Mahony. The panel was chaired by Eileen Hogan. Some perceptive and interesting insights were provided from the floor by, amongst others,  Andy LinehanAaron CaseyGriffith Rollefson, Luke O Brien & John Byrne.

What follows below is a quick summary of ideas discussed in the session.

  • As Social media is such an integral part of many people's lives we are now intuitively more aware of archiving, what it is and how to do it. We now actually document our daily lives. When we post a picture of ourselves on Facebook or Instagram we are archiving our lives. When we post a comment on Twitter we are archiving our thoughts. When we blog we are archiving our thoughts and ideas. With Social Media, and how we use it, we are all well on our way to becoming DIY archivists.
  • Popular Cultural archives within the Institutional setting are slowly beginning to appear. But it is still the case that American universities are far more open in their approach to popular cultural archives than their European counterparts.
  • Exhibitions should provoke. They should shake us, make us think about, and see, things in a different light. A good exhibition will always do this.
  • Social Media sites are a wonderful resource for research or archival data. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc are a boon to those seeking material. BUT there are too many hidden resources on these sites - it is not always the easiest to mine these rich resources. Seeing how difficult it is to find material on these sites shows the key role that metadata has in increasing access to resources.
  • Facebook is a necessary evil. There is so much material being posted there - but it all gets lost so quickly and is then extremely difficult to retrieve.
  • If you have a personal archive you need to ensure that it lives on. That archive can end up being your legacy.
  • Libraries and museums need to engage with the DIY or hobbyist archivists. Often, these archives are created through passion - what happens the archive when the person is no longer around to maintain it? Often it dies out with the person who created it and upkeeps it.
  • Magazines and newspapers are always looking for live gig photos. There are so many amateur pictures out there that could be licensed. Siobhan O Mahony, for example, has had her photos of Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl published in The Irish Times. Posting these images on Facebook throws them out into the public domain.
  • For the library, Popular Music Archives are a great way of engaging with the community. The Sir Henrys @ UCC Library Exhibition has been a great success in drawing people, many of whom have never even been on UCC grounds before, into the library. The footfall has been tremendous.
  • There are issues with crowdsourcing material. For example, people can be very precious with their material. They have an emotional attachment to it. The question for the institutional archivist is - How to get the people to let go of their material? How does the Institutional Archive encourage people to donate their material? How do we get them to break this emotional tie they have with the material?
  • The process of curating an exhibition is like the process of writing a play - you are creating a narrative, you are telling a story.
  • DIY Archivists with good material must be informed that donations are not stuffed in a drawer. Great care is taken with the material. Material is archived properly to save it for generations. The DIY Archivist must be shown how their material will be taken care of. They need to be walked through the institutions archives to show how the material will be cared for. They need have explained to them how the material will be catalogued, and stored and preserved and how access to it will be provided.
  • Sustainability and access are two major issues with regards to archiving popular music material.
  • Discussion with potential donors can be a long drawn out process. It can literally take years. Relationships need to be built between the donor and the institution.
  • The pictures that people take at gigs or clubs, for example the work that Luke O Brien has done in recording the Dance / Sweat scene in Henrys are cultural history or phenomenon. They are capturing a phenomenon for posterity.
  • We do exhibitions to engage with community, to showcase our collections or to stimulate and provoke discussion.
  • The Sir Henrys exhibition was an opportunity to create something new. It was an opportunity to create something beyond the older printed books.

For those who wish to read more, and / or listen to the full event, Jez Collins has posted a report, with full audio, of the discussion here.



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