WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York’s flagship public radio stations, broadcasting the finest programs from National Public Radio and Public Radio International, as well as a wide range of award-winning local programming. WNYC’s archives provides a central repository for thousands of audio recordings, photographs, memorabilia, reports, news items, program guides, institutional records, and promotional materials. Among its holdings are more than 50,000 recordings in a variety of formats, from early lacquer and acetate discs, to reel-to-reel tapes, to digital audio tapes and compact discs.
Internship Spring 2011
Rachel E. Greer: Cataloguing, describing, and prioritizing for digitizations re-accessioned 1/4″ magnetic tapes from Yale University, as part of a larger project to coalesce archival material produced by WQXR that have, until now, resided elsewhere, into the WNYC archive.
“Cataloguing at WNYC, more than simple data entry”
My project at WNYC has been to write a guide to the WQXR material at WNYC. As a bit of background, WNYC purchased WQXR in 2009. The archive is in the process of repatriating WQXR material from the wide variety of repositories where it currently resides.
In addition to researching and writing this guide, I catalogued a good number of the repatriated ¼” tapes. I used any and all information I could find on the box or when that was lacking or inconsistent, on the audio of the tape itself, to generate asset records in the WNYC database. (They use PBCore, a Dublin Core-esque vocabulary developed for use across the Corporation for Public Broadcasting System.)
While it’s tempting to write off data-entry as the boring slog, the necessary evil of the whole process, I’ve realized that cataloguing has given me an intimate knowledge of the collection I described. The intimacy comes not just from holding the object in my hands, though that is a valuable imaginative experience, but from the systematic nature of data-entry.
Because I had to answer the same questions over and over, I was able to glean a focused, intense knowledge of how WQXR crafted programming, how they described it and recorded it, and how that varied at different times in their history. I was able, through rote repetition, to get at knowledge about WQXR that I couldn’t have gotten in any other way. Ultimately, this gave me a richer background to draw from in writing the brief history of the station and descriptions of the shows that I ended up including in the guide.
The implications of this, I think, are that cataloguing (or the data-entry part of processing for paper records) is in some ways research, and is valuable for more than just the augmenting of the database. It can improve the archive on a variety of levels, from giving an archivist better reference skills to enabling better grantwriting to support those projects based on a deeper understanding of the collection.