Another Countryside21 challenge


Countryside21 is a project full of challenges – mostly conceptual ones, in that it we’re largely working in unfamiliar territory and it takes us quite a while to get our heads around each of the things we’re supposed to be doing. As mentioned in previous posts, the project has numerous strands of activity involving a variety of tasks. One of those is to carry out a survey of the time-based media in the MERL archives. Before we started the project, I had never heard of time-based media (TBM). The Tate, which has a really interesting page on its website about the conservation of TBM art, defines it as media which ‘depends on technology and has duration as a dimension’, although this definition could be extended to include anything which is vulnerable to deterioration. TBM includes film, video, audio, slides, transparencies, discs, and computer-based technologies such as digital files.

The world of technology is constantly changing, with many TBM formats and the equipment needed to view them becoming obsolete. For this reason, it is desirable to transfer the TBM to newer formats. The aim of the survey is to find out exactly what TBM we have and develop an action plan for its conservation. There are three stages to the survey:

Step 1 – Identify the TBM.  After several days of solid work I have just finished this stage, which has involved looking through the hard copy accessions registers for any mention of TBM and then conducting endless searches on Adlib for any term which might bring up TBM. Hopefully this has captured most of it, but there will inevitably be some that have slipped through – either because it wasn’t mentioned in the register, hasn’t been catalogued in detail on Adlib, or because I don’t fully understand how things on the archives side of MERL work!

Step 2 – Conduct the survey. This will involve finding out exactly what we have by looking through box after box of archive material to see what type of media, what format, how much of it there is, its age, and its condition. This is going to require some research into old media formats – I only go back as far as the cassette and the VHS! It’s also going to require some research into understanding where things are kept in the archives.

Step 3 – Develop an action plan for conserving the TBM. I don’t really know what this will involve, but I think it will be up to the archivists rather than Felicity and me.

As with almost everything we’ve done so far relating to Countryside21, this strand of activity has taken quite a bit of time for me to get my head round. Hopefully I’m starting to get to grips with it but I think conducting the survey will prove quite a challenge!