A Sound Archiving Experience by Katie Sarginson

Discover the audio archiving journey of Katie Sarginson, who joined Norfolk Record Office’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team in 2021 for a six month internship.

“In September 2021, I was employed by Norfolk Record Office as their Sound Archive Intern for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) is a project led by the British Library and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund with an aim to preserve and provide access to thousands of at-risk sound recordings from across the United Kingdom. After volunteering for the project during my final year at university, I was excited to apply and be accepted as the Sound Archive Intern at NRO – uncovering sound recordings from across the 20th and 21st centuries that were at risk of being lost. 

Whilst I was studying for my Modern History degree, I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in making history and resources as accessible as possible (there is NOTHING more frustrating than knowing the information is somewhere but you can’t access it, or you don’t know how to). As a Modernist, I heavily relied on audiovisual archives – watching and listening to clips that unfurled as the action happened – throughout my degree and in my wider research. Therefore, when the opportunity came up to work at the Norfolk Sound Archive, I wanted to apply to make these resources available to the public and researchers to enable them to learn more about their heritage and historical events.

During my internship, I have had the opportunity to learn new skills in archives and record management including cataloging, digitisation, rights clearance, and outreach and engagement. This has allowed me to explore alternative career routes in the archives service as well as allowing me to have the opportunity to work with experts in each of these different fields. 

A lot of my Sound Archive Internship was spent in the digitisation room, racking the brains of David Pye (the NRO Audio Preservation Engineer and all round sound engineering whizz) on all things technical. Audio preservation was the staple aspect that attracted me to the role, so I was very excited to be given the opportunity to learn about the digitisation process. I learnt how to fix and digitise reel-to-reel audio tapes on Studer machines, as well as compact cassettes, CD’s, MiniDiscs, and vinyl transfers. I additionally learnt how to edit these files on audio editing software, such as Wavelab. Following David’s departure, my colleague Chloe and I, were in charge of digitisation at the NRO. This was a valuable learning opportunity, and I worked as a team to digitise oral history collections from Stamford and Hertfordshire. We battled various technical issues, and I learnt that in archival audio preservation it is just as important to preserve old Windows software and MiniDisc chargers as it is to preserve aging tapes and audio equipment. I loved being involved in the digitisation aspect of the project and I hope to go on to do more training and a postgraduate degree in Digital Preservation in the future. 

Another aspect of my internship was to assist with the cataloguing of collections. I learnt how to independently catalogue collections of all different sizes, adhering to British Library guidelines and learning lots about the intricacies of archival cataloguing. By cataloguing, I was able to really get to know my collections, and the interviewees they featured. I was worried that remote working was going to be a lonely process, but listening to the audio files made me feel like I was involved in conversations, and I was hearing the life story of a new friend every day. I catalogued collections about the Vauxhall Motor Company in Bedfordshire, sweatshops and working conditions, and Norwich workers who experienced the 1926 General Strike. Cataloguing has improved my understanding of how archival records are documented and stored, as well as improving my attention to detail – although the beady eyes of Gosta and Vikki (our colleagues at the British Library who import UOSH catalogues into the British Library database) never failed to spot the odd mistake, they were amazing! 

I also attended copyright training led by our Cataloguing Manager, Alex, alongside other trainees from the Norfolk Museums Services. This training allowed me to gain more of an understanding about the types of documents and audio files that can be made accessible to the public, and the accessibility of ‘orphan works’ (where one of more of the rights holders are unknown or cannot be located). I used these skills to edit the NRO sound archive audio clip library, and to help to copyright clear recordings preserved on behalf of Royston Museum and Art Gallery. I hope to use this training in the future in my new role with Norfolk Museums Service, and in the media world as a Broadcast Assistant for BBC radio. 

During my time as an Sound Archive Intern, I had the opportunity to connect with my more creative side with the outreach and engagement team. I co-lead a podcasting project with our Cataloguing and Engagement Manger Nicole, which put my previous skills in student radio to use in a historical way; something which seemed particularly exciting to me. Together, we collaborated with a group of volunteers from the Norfolk Museums Service to create podcasts that explored collections about the history of Norwich, and Norfolk’s coastal fishing communities. Over a series of workshops, Nicole and I delivered training on editing sound clips and recording podcasts. As a result, the volunteers created fantastic podcasts that explored themes such as the Great Floods of 1912, and the pubs of Norwich’s King Street in the 1930s and 1940s. The project was a resounding success and it was so valuable to meet with fellow Norwich historians, teach them new and transferable skills, and to hear what audio heritage means to them. 

Being a Sound Archive Intern at the NRO has been the most amazing experience and I have had so much fun working alongside such a friendly and dedicated team. It has been so valuable to do something that I really love and work on a project that means so much to me. I have loved coming in every day and being given the chance to work on something completely new, while discovering stories from such interesting people that would otherwise be lost. Working on the UOSH project with the British Library has further stimulated my passion to work in the archives and museum sector, particularly in audiovisual heritage. I’m sure the archivists at NRO and the British Library will see me pestering for ways to be involved in the future! For now, I am traveling down the road to the Time and Tide Museum to begin work as a Kick the Dust Project Worker, finding creative ways to engage young people with culture and heritage. Hopefully I can utilise the amazing toolkit of skills that the Sound Archive Internship has supplied me with. Thank you to Jonathan Draper, Sue Davies, the UOSH team at the British Library, and the UOSH team at the Norfolk Record Office for providing me with this opportunity and making me feel so comfortable in my first steps into the heritage world.”

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