17 Dec 2018

Do you have any cassettes? (An interview with the Fanning Sessions Archive)



For me, one of the most important personal archives on the web is the Fanning Sessions Archive. I spoke to the person behind the archive and asked them a number of questions about the archive itself, personal digital archives in general and, of course, music. Below are the answers. 

In ten words or less what is the Fanning Sessions Archive?

a) A treasure trove of Irish indie nuggets
b) Demos & sessions of lost Irish bands
c) The long tail of Irish music blogging

Why did you set up the Archive?

I was frustrated that the sessions recorded for Dave Fanning's 2FM show in the 1980s and 90s were not getting any recognition. They are Ireland's equivalent of the John Peel sessions but do not seem to be appreciated. RTE seems to have forgotten them. I saw so many great bands over the years, many of whom never released albums or singles. Dave Fanning and Ian Wilson had many of these bands in to Studio 8 to record sessions and these were lost apart from those I had personally recorded from the radio.

What is involved in digitising a session or demo?

I play back the cassette recording on a good HiFi separate unit which is attached to a portable SONY digital recorder via the line-in interface. I record / digitise the cassette either to a lossless format or to a 320kbps mp3, one single recording for each side of the tape. I know the purists are probably having a fit right now that I don’t always digitise to a lossless format but I don’t have the disk space or time! I copy this digital version to a computer where if necessary I convert to high quality mp3. I then listen back to the recording and identify and individually save the tracks of interest. Before posting I usually normalise the track to balance left and right levels and boost the audio. I also fade in and out the start and end of the track to editing out previous and next tracks. If Dave says something interesting I like to leave it in place but usually the taper has edited this out.

The hard part is sourcing recordings. At the start I used my own personal tapes but they were quickly exhausted. Unfortunately at that time in my life when I was diligently listening to Dave Fanning I reused tapes rather than buy new ones. Later, thankfully, as word got out people starting getting in touch and started to send in recordings, mp3s, cassettes, VHS and even some white vinyl. Many people have been very generous over the years and have lent vinyl and tape collections. I was lucky enough a few years ago to make contact with Thomas in Kilkenny who it turned out had hundreds of Fanning recordings diligently documented. Pat O’Mahony sent me over a hundred tapes from his collection which he managed to have personally delivered by a former senator. I also post the occasional interview. Just recently I received a great Grant McLennan recording which was very much appreciated and well received.

People have fond memories of hearing these items on the radio so it is nice to preserve not just the recordings but also the memories they evoke.

Any advice for anybody thinking of setting up a personal digital archive?

Do it. Don’t waste too much time. No one is getting any younger, memories are fading and you won’t have more time later. Chances are if you enjoy something enough to want to share it someone out there enjoyed it too.

What role do you see for personal archives?

In certain circumstances such as with the national broadcaster I think personal archives are the only option. Imagine how much content RTE is sitting on. That content is to all intents and purposes lost because there is no scenario where it makes financial sense for them to do anything with it. They are apparently digitising the Fanning sessions but let's be real, are they going to release these? They don't have online rights so they will have to request permission from the artist before they can share online but that requires manpower, time and energy i.e. money. As regards the TV music shows there's even less hope. The costs are more prohibitive so unless it's U2 or Phil Lynott or Rory Gallagher related we're probably not going to see it again ever. Why not rerun the 'Anything Goes' music clips on TG4 late at night or some of the music shows like 'Borderline', 'Visual Eyes', 'Megamix', 'On The Waterfront' or 'No Disco'?

Do you have any background in digital archiving?

Not at all. Or maybe I've been archiving all my life ;-)

If not, how did you learn the tools of the trade?

Trial and error, step by step. I applied techniques I liked that I saw being used by others. The process evolves as the technology improves. You can scan now with a phone which is fantastic. I have honed my workflow so i can digitise quite quickly and then circle back at a later point to process the recording in a more detailed way if I discover there was something there of interest. Without having studied archiving techniques I am probably using a light version of what should be done, adding metadata so that I can find stuff later.

You obviously think archives are important – why is this the case?

I think I am documenting/archiving an Irish musical history for a certain period of time / genre of music. Irishrock.org has done a fantastic job of documenting most of these but what’s missing is a way to hear what the bands sounded like. Once upon a time MySpace featured many of these acts but that technological experiment crashed and burned. YouTube has a lot of content but it's an ocean with no curation. What I have tried to do was bring everything together into a repository of Irish content never released on record or very hard to find (going off on the odd tangent to scratch a particular personal itch / plug something I like). The site is a starting point, but I am also aware that it is a honey pot. I want to attract folks who are interested and get them to engage. I think it is important to be able to leave and receive feedback. The internet is not always right so it is nice to be able to correct the public record and let people listen and make up their own mind. It’s not about glorification with rose tinted glasses but remembering how things were.

What are your favourite Archives? What other Digital Archives would you recommend?

I am a big fan of irishrock.org, it's my first port of call when doing a post. The Blackpool Sentinel is great, Colm O'Callaghan has a way with words and great musical taste. There have been a few websites that have come and gone, 'These Auld Tapes From The Attic', 'Rekcollector' , 'Brand New Retro' has had some great music pieces, 'Dublin Opinion' ran a series 'Great Irish Bands' which has to be read. The history site 'Come Here To Me' has also done some fine pieces on Irish rock . More recently Abstract Analogue on Facebook have been posting some great articles/scans on 90s Irish music that I am enjoying.

There are probably more that I am forgetting. Hot Press is sitting on an amazing archive but it is not online. Thankfully some libraries have physical copies so you can go there to have a look. The John Peel Wiki and mailing list has long been an inspiration. Irish Music Central is another great source of information, unfortunately the site underwent some rework which never got completed but a lot of the original content is still there. Irish Nuggets is another site that is well worth checking out. It's this guy who put together some serious compilations of tracks sourced from his vinyl collection which must be huge.

What is your personal favourite session?

Just one? That’s an impossible question! The 1988 Slowest Clock session is one that every time I hear, am blown away by how strong it is. The Wild Herrings session is another that I love. But that's just off the top of my head, I need to look at the list of sessions posted to see what others are favourites. I have long been a fan of a band from Derry called Bam Bam & The Calling but I'd never heard their session. I was delighted to come across it and even though the cassette quality wasn't great I discovered a song of theirs I didn't even know existed - 'Road of the Lonely' which sounds fantastic.

What is your personal favourite demo?

The first recording I posted - 'Them Ghosts Do Come' by The Swinging Swine from Galway. The song was subsequently rerecorded but the demo I taped off Dave Fanning is the most immediate and perfect I know. The original demo by Backwards Into Paradise before they shortened their name to Into Paradise is also incredibly strong. It would probably be fairer to ask for my favourite 10 demos and 10 favourite sessions, maybe I should do a compilation! 😉

Is there anything you don’t have up on the site that you would like to have up?

There are a couple of tracks I took down at the request of the artist. Both of those I think were great but I have to respect the artist's wishes. One other recording never made it up because after a protracted investigation trying to identify the recording I asked via a third party for permission to post but was turned down. That was a real anti-climax as I was looking forward to sharing.

You are very active on social media – how important is it for the archive to be so active?

If I was on my own I would have stopped a long time ago. The feedback & the conversation on social media is what keeps me going. Social media is also an important research tool. I often come across bands or recordings I can’t find any information on and social media has been invaluable. Facebook has its uses but it is very difficult to locate information or past conversations if I need to go back and find something. I would like to see more comments on the site. It is particularly satisfying to hear from the musicians involved, many of whom haven't heard these recordings since they were broadcast. The majority are happy to hear their music again and are flattered that folks remember and have fond memories.

5 Dec 2018

Notes from #CISPC18, 3rd December 2018

Collaborating at CISPC 2018 – now we need action…
Guest Post by Lou Peck, Founder at The International Bunch - #CISPC18


Sunday afternoon saw me heading over the border to the bright lights of London town ready for my first Challenges in the Scholarly Publishing Cycle (CISPC) 2018 conference the next day. Around 50 people attended with a mixture of information professionals, researchers, publishers, intermediaries and consultants. Overall the conference was great, I heard valuable feedback and insight from different stakeholders and most importantly met some new people and old faces.

People traveled from all over the country, some flying in from Israel, the US, Belgium and Ireland for example though no representation, sadly, from further afield like Asia Pacific, India etc. However, we did have a number of people with a great deal of experience in these areas to enrich the insight.

As expected, the majority of attendees were publishers/intermediaries keen to find out what the other stakeholders had to say. So it would be great for future events if more can be done to encourage further researchers and information professionals in addition to lower delegate rates. Maybe publishers/intermediaries can sponsor researcher/information professional delegate places.

It would also be great to see representation from the funders themselves. I am sure they would find this event really invaluable and we of course want to hear what they have to say. Also, consultants are usually one man bands and having to pay the same as a large publisher. This be challenging when there are several events to attend during the year and the registration fee is roughly five times more than UKSG annual membership and double that of a CILIP annual membership for example.

Interestingly, as consultants work with a number of stakeholder groups on various projects, we can bring even more perspective to the different discussions, fresh insight. Essentially, we can be very open with our feedback without feeling possible repercussions.

You’ll notice that I talk about Information Professionals. Primarily in attendance were academic librarians and those who weren’t, e.g. from a corporate background, found the discussions to be too academic focussed and didn’t feel well represented in their feedback from the morning breakout discussions when presented to the room – a real shame and a missed opportunity for all as they weren’t around for the afternoon sessions.

The London Art House was quite a quirky venue and in some ways a refreshing change from the usual hotel/conference venue; surprisingly, the internet connection was pretty good too! Sitting having open discussions in the highly decorative ‘Egyptian’ themed room was certainly something I’ve never experienced before – here’s Erin’s tweet to give you a visual!

The day’s agenda was set around collaboration and discussion for the three ‘identified’ stakeholder groups - Librarians, Academics and Publishers. This classification posed challenges – as a consultant I somewhat floated between and had feedback from all parties through research/interviews we undertake on a regular basis. It would be great to include funders in the discussions, we’d love to hear that feedback, and them to hear everyone else’s.

Tim Gillett, Editor of Research Information chaired the agenda throughout the day. I’ve summarised my thoughts below on each session – I realised I took far too many notes and so have condensed them down. You’ll be pleased to read on to more digestible chunks though there is probably still way too much!

Survey Findings Presented
Warren Clark, Publisher of Research Information and David Stuart, Research Consultant, presented their recent survey findings for ‘The Scholarly Publishing Research Cycle 2018’ survey.

Interestingly, from all my years in publishing, my perception of the Research Information readership was more of a publisher trade publication and so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the readership is 60% librarians, 20% publishers and 20% others. There was the recognition that there needs to be more researcher involvement in these types of events and surveys.

Warren raised some interesting points – more metrics available however abundance doesn’t mean improvement, rebalancing of power (Germany/Sweden and S Plan), collected action with librarians which should continue. Most notable issues from the survey were around Open Access and Licensing, Discoverability, Accessibility, Trust and Validation, and Policymakers’ Scholarly Publishing Policies.

The room commented that it would be interesting to understand the regional differences, as well as the stakeholder differences, including Funders, and interviewing those that didn’t respond, including more regional responses e.g. APAC. Stakeholder categorization seems a bit old hat now. All great feedback for next year’s report.

Morning Breakout Sessions
The room was split into the predetermined stakeholder groups - Researchers, Librarians and Publishers to engage in stakeholder specific discussion. I ended up on the Researchers table, Publishers had three tables and it became very apparent about the ratio of Librarians, Researcher and Publishers in the room. Some key points from each below:

Researchers – Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library

  • Group of many hats, the divided self - what the researcher wants as a producer and a consumer
  • What is the biggest impact for them, less concern with Open Access (OA) to publish in - more for accessing content, focus on compliance can lead to tick box approach, do we need publishers? GitHub as a collaboration tool etc, differing problems balancing requirements and prestige
  • Researchers publishing more on blogs as finding it hard to publish in journals
  • Turning the publisher business model upside down – libraries publishing with little cost
  • Elsevier is the devil in the room
  • No one understands how Article Processing Charges (APCs) are decided (zero transparency)
Librarians – Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC

  • Costs – double dipping and tied into multi-year deals
  • Value for library users
  • Researchers’ slaves to REF, moving goal posts - everything changing all the time in the policy landscape, keeping systems is difficult, changes in publishing industry
  • Predatory publishers
  • More transparency around APCs
  • Time to publish
  • OA monographs
  • Lack of understanding about publisher processes
  • Some institutions struggle to fund APCs and a business case has to be done to support it
  • Internal structures in libraries – e.g. collections and OA were separate but now teams talking more to each other and need to talk more
Publishers – Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society
  • We don't have a ‘landscape’ but a ‘seascape’ which is changing all the time
  • Idea of balance of power, ship of many souls - no individual has the same idea as everyone else about where we are heading
  • A lot of individuals are negative to publishers, are we facilitators or blockers? There is no knight in shining armour - we need to work together with the other stakeholder groups
  • Publishers ‘tolerate’ the impact factor
  • Value add, transparency, collaboration and education
Open Room Discussion
We then took some time to discuss some of the feedback raised as well as other thoughts in the room – to be honest I felt this should have been longer to give more people the opportunity to speak and really hash out some of the issues that some people really felt strongly about. I felt that some people were overly quiet. Some of these topics are included below:
  • Gatekeepers – are these publishers now also information professionals – is the publisher a curator (e.g. because of DOIs etc.) as well as an information professional? If we have no fences, do we even need gates?
  • Feeling the need for more transparency and support for what an author should do after publication from Publishers – Emerald’s post publication email was mentioned as a great example and I know from personal experience and contribution that Wiley do a great job here too as another example
  • JISC looking to support UK level of archiving and accessibility
  • UCL is a great example of a university press
  • Publishers should be transparent with APCs - what money is going where 
  • John Tenants report on Elsevier
Jeremy Frey, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Southampton
  • What is open? Be transparent as possible – record the story behind the research (notebooks), coding in GitHub, sharing standards etc
  • Life as an academic can be impossible - ideas, funding, people to collaborate with, admin, results, teaching, publishing and demonstrating/improving impact
  • Research is a cost to universities unless have funders
  • Impact is important - what goes in the REF, what assessed for and how he keeps his job
  • Some research is immediately impactful, some will be relevant in 100 years
  • Vision - look at the impact of digitization on the whole process
  • Publishers to support new technologies - e.g. QR code and augmented virtual reality in article
  • Publishes at the beginning of the academic year as library has the money
  • Importance of students understanding publishing process
  • Open data - how can we get the data from an article, what is the providence and how reuse?
  • More supplementary data to be on publishers’ site
  • How do we go from here? 2019 is a dramatic year for chemistry and science - anniversary of periodical table, IUPAC 100 years, and redefining SI – loss of the kg
  • Transition from print to e and pre-print support
  • Scientists not believed anymore - how do we change this?
  • Not all chemists wear lab coats
Helen Dobson, Scholarly Communications Manager, University of Manchester Library 
  • Sense of feeling like making it up as you go along
  • Policy - complex framework that is so complicated – in six years already seen two rounds
  • Importance of library voice being heard by University
  • REF - that is where the money is and the pressure is
  • Plan S – helping to standardize policies but publishers taking parts of it and not clear which parts yet – funders should standardize
  • All these conversations going on separately, we need to talk to each other, are we talking the same language just sometimes using different terminology. We need to all start talking the same language
  • Invited by publishers to review products as part of RLUK – when works, works well
  • Developed a system with a deposit form to make it easier for researchers to deposit their work in institution repository
  • Developing simple systems to reduce OA admin
  • Library has to do lots of checking – systems like PURE and JISC Monitor Local aren’t fulfilling their needs and needing to do more manual work for reporting
  • Need to keep talking about systems - working smarter together on quick wins whilst waiting on the bigger developments
Bill Kasdorf, Kasdorf and Associates
  • The Oxford word of the year – TOXIC, The word of Scholarly Publishing is Open
  • Open = Toxic?
  • ‘Open’ feels precarious to many publishers
  • Researchers feel OA is not as open as you think it is
  • The world we are in is all about open science - funder info, research, etc
  • Open doesn't equal free
  • Open standards and open technologies are key to open access
  • Open examples - Editoria, eLife and Accessibility
    • Editoria - open source platform
    • eLife - actively collaborating - Coko and Hindawi partnership to develop xPub MS submission and peer review. Have an initiative called ScienceBean - open tools - looking to unlock 40million records
    • Accessibility - make it something we take for granted - the publication should be born accessible
  • EPUB3 is based on Open Web Platform - schema.org
  • Room comment - No one is talking about the China policies - what about policies from other countries? China data policy issues - China publishing landscape changing - more open access journals being created that are good quality. In 10 years there will be a more Chinese centric approach. We'll start submitting to English language Chinese journals. People will be going over there for research jobs.
Afternoon Breakout Session – Summary of Sessions
Helen Blanchett, Scholarly Communications, Subject Specialist, JISC 
Librarian focused - issues with outcomes - policy/funders, REF, manual process, standards, PIDs, metadata, communications with publishers and libraries - what published and when - publications JISC - manuscripts end up in repository, publication checklist for researchers about what to do next, primary focus has been on UK mandates, funding - how are APC funds managed, libraries and publishers trying to do the same training - can they work together? Maybe researchers more attracted to publisher session than library session, collection action - university presses, UCL.

Alastair Horne, Doctoral Researcher, Bath Spa University and the British Library
Researchers - measurement of research - imperfections of impact factor, abandoning journals entirely. Researchers need to know more about what publishers do and what they contribute to the process.

Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing, Microbiology Society 
Publishers - we all generalize too much, Publishers need to be more transparent and Publishers need to do more – e.g. send the papers to preprint repository services.

Wrap Up
It seems the day was a success for most and some interesting points were made – however we can discuss things as much as we like – it depends if there is going to be any action – I’d like to see some people taking ownership helping to drive some actions forward – there are often key players in the room who have the ‘authority’ to do this.

One point I commented towards the end is that as a consultancy we have a number of commissioned research projects we’re involved with and I know many other industry colleagues do these too. There must be some really great commissioned research out there held on servers that can be made open access through figshare for example so it gets a DOI for all the industry to benefit from – we can only improve and get better together.

Of course, some is competitively sensitive so could have an embargo, and some of course is commercially sensitive so it won’t see the outside of the boardroom but it would be great if publishers and intermediaries collaborated more and shared their insights, beyond the meet ups and discussions usually held at a more senior level – which on some occasions isn’t filtered down the team structure.

If we want scientists to collaborate with open data/open science, why don’t we lead the way?