Get To Know Your Neighbors: Searching the BSO Archives

By Sadie Roosa

I think most archives feel like they’re fending for themselves. Sure we go to conferences to share our challenges and successes, but when it comes down to the daily grind, we don’t usually feel very connected. The other day, I had the pleasant experience of realizing that not only are we connected, but that by utilizing these connections, we can really help each other.

A while back, a WGBH listener donated a collection of off-air recordings of BSO radio broadcasts. I was tasked with accessioning them, which didn’t seem like a very hard project. The listener had carefully labeled each tape with the season, week, and date of the performance. Every once in awhile there was even the name of the conductor. It all seemed pretty simple to me: create a database, gather the metadata from the tape labels, and ingest it into our main system.

But in the middle of adding barcodes to the tapes, I starting thinking how much more useful it would be to add information about the conductors, the pieces performed, and any special guests or soloists. To find this information in our own archives, I would probably have to dig through old program guides, and who knows if they would have written up all of the details I wanted.

Then I remembered that just a few weeks before I had seen a presentation at NEA about the new BSO Archives Performance History Search.  I hadn’t used the website yet, but it seemed like there was a chance it could be useful. I took the first tape and typed the date in to the search by performance fields. And just like that, every bit of information I wanted appeared on my screen. It was amazing. And even better, since it was already in electronic form, I could copy and paste the song titles and conductor names, rather than having to transcribe them from our physical program guides.

I continued to use the BSO Performance History Search for the rest of the tapes, and ended up with much richer records than I originally thought possible, and it only took me a fraction of the amount of time that it would have if I had only relied on our own archives.

After such a positive experience, I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for other possible ways we can utilize and collaborate with other archives. And, of course, the WGBH MLA will be happy to share our information to help other archives enrich their collections as well. Contact us at openvault [at] wgbh [dot] org.

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