Behind the Scenes: Moving Image and Sound Collection

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By | In the Library

April finds us in the Moving Image and Sound Collection (MISC) department – the team behind the cataloguing, curation and public services related to the Wellcome Library’s collection of historic and modern audio-visual material. The department is headed by Angela Saward who is supported by Ruth Blue, assistant curator. Covering both analogue and digital material, the collection includes audio-visual material from the late 19th century to the present day. This includes both archival collections (unique, historical titles) as well as contemporary content, to cater for all the needs of the history of medicine researcher.

The work the team does revolves around two main aspects: providing access to the resource for researchers, and curating the collection. Providing access can be done in a variety of ways, including the creation of catalogue records so researchers can find items; providing a viewing space so researchers can come to the Library and watch or listen to content; mounting digital content online for remote usage; and carrying out collections research on the behalf of users where necessary. Usage of the material ranges from scholarly researchers to content researchers for broadcast programs; people with a general interest in certain health topics to artists looking for content they can draw inspiration from, or include in their works.

Some of the most popular titles in the collection are the film titles War Neuroses (see the embedded clip above), Heredity in Man, and Conditioned reflexes and behavior. People may ask for information on or access to specific titles within the collection, or they may ask for titles related to subjects. For example, recently users have asked for films illustrating historical practices in psychoanalysis and sex education up to the 1940s.

The MISC team also maintain the collection, describe, assess, and add to it (“curating”). Up-to-date titles to purchase related to the history of medicine are gleaned from sources like the Radio Times and TRILT, (The Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching, the best source of UK television and radio broadcast data available on the web – available to FE/HE). Archival items are sought out from a range of potential sources, or accessioned as part of larger archival collections newly acquired by or newly catalogued by the Archives and Manuscripts department. One of the big challenges to curating the project, according to Angela, is “the wide range of legacy formats and players for the video content. Unlike film, video formats proliferated between the 1960s and 1980s, many of which are now obsolete.” These have to be conserved and, where possible, migrated to current formats. Migration of such formats is prioritised according to how accessible (from a copyright point of view) the material is to the Library’s users.

MISC’s outlook as a department is largely externally-facing, and Angela supports the industry by sitting on the JISC Film and Sound Think Tank and on the panel for the Wellcome Trust Small Arts and People Award. Internally, MISC has strong connections to the Cataloguing Department and Digital Services. There is also a certain amount of cross-over with Wellcome Collection, who have highlighted a number of Wellcome Film videos on the newly revamped Wellcome Collection website.

Following the success of the Wellcome Film project (in particular the YouTube channel), MISC is now embarking on integrating new digital collections. Digitisation of 30 audio titles is currently in progress, and these will be made freely online as MP3s via the Library Catalogue. Titles include Man versus Virus, Heart Sounds and Murmurs (a 9 reel series), and Lumps in the Skin.

The other digital project is the large audio collection from One & Other – or the Fourth Plinth Project – which ran from July to October 2009 in Trafalgar Square. These are 15-30 minute recordings of interviews from all the participants, obtained by the Wellcome Library in the new year. 2,400 people participated, and each had a different reason for doing so. MISC’s big challenge is to capture the essense of these “plinthers” in the catalogue records. A couple examples are now online.

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw manages digitisation at the Wellcome Library. @Chenshaw. Linkedin

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