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Wanna search? Talk to a human.

December 31st, 2005 · No Comments · Archives Access Systems

The BBC has the largest broadcast media archives in the world and the BBC Archives is certainly one of the more progressive institutions when it comes to using and providing access to its archival materials. Foremost in these efforts is the much publicized plan to open the contents of their archives for non-commerical re-use (under a Creative Commons-style license).

Therefore, when I visited their website to find out more about their ‘Creative Archives’ initiative, I was a little surprised and amused to see that the BBC Research Services website did not have an online search feature for their archives.

BBC Research Services - Search

Instead it encouraged me to talk to one of their humanoid research staff who are pictured in an accompanying photo showing them all to be young, stylish, alert and presumably armed with search-engine-like powers to juggle recall and relevance while finding exactly the document or clip that I didn’t know I was looking for.

Being easily distracted by their clever searchbox graphic, I first thought that this was yet another innovative development by the BBC. I assumed that they had gone through a careful and deliberate analysis of the effectiveness of their search technology, online access system and reference services and decided that, in the end, they could best serve their clientele with one-to-one, personalized research service, abadoning an expensive and bulky access system in the process.

This may very well have been the case but then I realized that this is more likely to be a clever ruse to disguise the fact that they do not have an integrated access system and that they rely, like so many archival organizations, on a myriad of finding aids, indexes, stand-alone databases and tacit staff knowledge about where to search for and find relevant materials.

It sounds like the BBC is in the midst of some major technical infrastructure overhauls to support its Creative Archives initiative. Therefore online search access to all of their archival holdings may well be in the cards for the near future. In the meanwhile you can ring up someone on their team to track down a copy of the 1966 World Cup Final or Princess Diana’s wedding.

postscript: in all fairness to the BBC, they do provide online access to portions of their collections in some interesting and innovative ways. See for example: