It is a well-known and often repeated fact that, in the Czech Republic, it has never been possible to build a national sound archive that would not only serve as a sound aggregator but also operate as a methodology and coordination center. Therefore, standardised procedures for the comprehensive care of culturally significant audio objects, stored in the form of phonograms on historical media, are still missing in the Czech Republic. Within the framework of the state’s cultural policy, this topic appears for the first time in the Plan of Implementation of the State Cultural Policy for the years 2015 – 2020. Specifically, the intention is to create a unified concept (a so-called Concept of Protection and Accessibility of Sound Documents as an Important Component of Cultural Heritage) and to create a methodology, coordination and digitisation center for the preservation of sound documents. The Moravian Regional Library in Brno is to perform this role in cooperation with the National Museum. Some partial steps have already been taken in this field. So far, however, no comprehensive and practically tested outputs have been generated. As a starting point, the Draft Concept on the Protection, Digitization and Accessibility of Sound Documents in the Czech Republic, created by a group of professional volunteers, can be considered as a starting point.
Especially in the area of the oldest audio media (phonograph cylinders and standard shellac records), the absence of recommended protection procedures in the Czech Republic is a very important omission. These carriers are among the most endangered, not only because of the condition of the materials used, but also because of the difficulty of reproducing the content stored on them, due to the unavailability of suitable period reproduction technologies.
Since 2014, an Expert Group has been trying to change this unsatisfactory state of affairs (by virtue of the Virtual National Phonoteque Project, sub-grants, etc.). For these partial successes, the project “New phonograph: listening to the history of sound”, which involves creation of procedures and tools for the recording, digitisation, accessibility and long-term protection of phonograms on historical media in memory institutions, was approved and is subsidised under the NAKI II program of the Ministry of Culture from 2018-2022.
The main objective of this project is to develop, test and implement appropriate procedures to address the complex issues of long-term protection and access to phonograms stored on historical media – in line with international standards, practice and on the basis of existing research results in the field .
The solution of the problem will be demonstrated on two types of historical media and at the same time include the oldest recording media – phonograph cylinders (from the period 1895-1920) and standard (shellac) gramophone records with a diameter of 25 cm (from the period 1900-1946). Sound recordings stored on these usually have a high historical and cultural value, and the original reproduction technology is almost inaccessible. In the collections of the National Museum – the Czech Museum of Music (NM-ČMH) there are 1,200 phonographic cylinders – including the first recordings of productions Rusalka, My Country, etc. or famous personalities from the theatrical world such as Bohumil Pták, Málka Bobková Frantisek Sir – and over 26,000 gramophone records with a diameter of 25 cm – including recordings by Růžena Maturová, Ema Destinová or Voskovec with Werich. Other phonograph cylinders include collections, such as those of the National Technical Museum or the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.
In order to achieve the main goals set, a number of sub-targets must be met. It is necessary to define the unique identifier for audio recordings and to define a standardised way of cataloguing. This will make it possible to streamline and speed up record-keeping processes substantially and simplify the take-up of descriptive metadata between institutions and database systems. In addition, it is necessary to create a national discographic database and define the procedures for its population, and to test it with the productions of record companies with a Czech repertoire. At the same time, it provides a secondary information source for authenticating and tracing information while identifying and subsequently cataloguing records found in the audio collections of memory institutions.
A related, important task will be to develop a set of recommendations and appropriate tools and methods for effective cataloguing . This entails the need to design a metadata for phonogram content, primarily for phonograph cylinders and shellac records. It will be necessary to take into account the specific attributes of historical sound carriers and the cataloguing needs of memory institutions of different types and with different missions. With regard to target access, it will be necessary to co-operate in updating the existing library standard (a minimum catalogue record for the Czech Republic Union Catalogue, according to the RDA rules for the MARC21 format) and to contribute to its further development towards versatility. These procedures and tools must be verified when processing the relevant funds in NM-ČMH or in partner institutions.
The project should also provide recommendations and internal guidelines for handling, storing and the long-term care of the original physical carriers. In line with these procedures, it is necessary to design a gentle process for digitising audio content and related media (labels) so that digital copies retain the most accurately recorded content and, in the case of digitized labels, also serve to further describe the content, thereby minimising the need for further handling of the carriers, contributing to their physical protection.
The project team must implement these procedures within the NM-ČMH specialized workplace. This presupposes retrofitting of a digital network and the expansion of data storage in the National Museum, including backup capacities. Digitisation will create digitisation metadata that will need to be created and stored in accordance with metadata standards. Also required are digital object management processes. In addition to security and disclosure, it is necessary to propose methods for their long-term protection, including the design of appropriate tools and procedures for their transfer to a suitable long-term storage site.
The final stages of the project include the creation of a data model that takes into account the specific needs of museums to present content in context, ie. along with other types of linked content (eg. technical descriptions of the reproduction chain, partitions, instrumentation, performers, biographical data of authors, places associated with the origin of the work, etc.). It is also desired that we create specially-equipped listening places within the National Museum.
During the project, and in view of the overall future of the issue, it is necessary to create an educational platform and educate new professionals . To this end, the Faculty of Arts of the Masaryk University will cooperate in the task of teaching the procedures created within the project and the individual outputs of the project, particularly in library, museum and archival education.
The objective of the project in an international context is to develop procedures and standards in such a way as to comply with international standards (eg IASA TC-05), best practice to be applicable to nationally-based storage institutions and to develop software tools that are freely disseminated and tied the already existing platforms (ProArc, Kramerius). Digitisation machines acquired through the project will also be available to other institutions.
The project is divided into three basic stages:
2018-2020 : Start of the project – basic research
2019-2021 : Development phase
2020-2022 : Digitisation and accessibility of results
The main outputs of the project are to be a specialised software module for phonograph cylinders in ProArc, an audio player module in the Kramerius digital library and the National Discographic Database. In addition, methodological documents will be created for the protection of historical media, the digitisation of gramophone labels, and the digitization of phonograph cylinders. As a so-called side effect, the project will bring together specialised workshops, peer-reviewed articles and two monographs, where the books of the Czech National Film Archive or the National Sound Archive are worth mentioning.
The project is coordinated by the National Museum’s research team (with invited external experts). This team is responsible for achieving the main objectives of the project. Co-researchers within the project – the National Library of the Czech Republic, the Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Masaryk University – will be guarantors of certain areas within their specific competencies. The project is staggered in such a way that outputs for co-operating partners are available at the appropriate time and that the planned resources can be used effectively. Research activities will run from the beginning of the project in parallel with various relevant areas.