AMIA Visits the CBC Archives

On November 29, 2016 AMIA@UofT with a class from Ryerson’s Film Preservation and Collections Management program had the privilege to visit the CBC archives. We were all very excited to explore the public broadcaster. Those that had not been before, were surprised at how deceptively huge the building and archives were.

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We started off with some Canadian celebrity newscaster spotting…. hoping to see Peter Mansbridge, we swung by The National studio where they were doing some tests (we weren’t allowed in). We learned that Mr. Mansbridge does his voiceovers for the broadcast from his home in Stratford before coming to Toronto.

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We saw the largest elevator in Canada… that trucks can back up into.

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We then moved to the TV, radio, and online newsrooms. Our guide said that they were unusually quiet, the calm before the evening news, although everyone looked thoroughly engaged tapping away at their computers.

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The CBC library and archives work very closely. Librarians are constantly seeking out archival content to help producers all over the country with their stories. Because of their constant digging, they have discovered content in the archives that no one knew existed, such as the ‘lost’ 1959 footage of the Soviet spy Guy Burgess, where he defends his decision to leave Britain for the USSR. Burgess was a member of the Cambridge Five spy ring that passed secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War. This footage lay undiscovered in the archives for more than 50 years. When it was found it caused a great hubbub, as it was only the second time Burgess had appeared on film. The footage had been archived under the other interviewee’s name, demonstrating the value of thorough archival descriptions!

img_4198The CBC library team was also being awarded a Gabriel Award for their important work on the ‘Missing & Murdered’ interactive database, that gives voice to the untold stories of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.

We visited the VHS, betamax, CD, and tape collections. As well as the chilly film vault which had its HVAC system running at full tilt to filter out the characteristic vinegary off-gassing. All the cans are colour coded, so everyone can easily assess which to remove first in an emergency…the red ones of course, of which there are many!

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We were then lead into the ‘brain’ of the CBC archives, which is the StorageTek digital library/archives, that houses LTO tapes. This machine is a beast and the future of digital archival storage and preservation. The system is staggeringly quick. It receives requests from the library and general users on the floors above, and within 60 seconds the request has been processed, the tape has been retrieved by a robotic arm, placed into a reader, and the correct place within the tape has been scrolled to. The data is then read and ‘restored’ to the user’s computer upstairs. Our guide did mention that depending on the size of the request the pace of the restoration process varies, but these robots move at lightening speed compared to their earthling counterparts.

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We were all impressed with what we learned on the tour. I think for many of us it cemented the immense degree to which CBC engages in managing Canadian and international audio-visual heritage. We were able to get a picture of the huge number of ongoing projects the archives participates in. All of which help control the vast amount of information the organization generates, processes, and needs to archive daily. The news never sleeps, so working for an organization such as CBC would be a true immersion into the information world.

We would like to especially thank our guide and host Geoffrey Hopkinson (Director, Content Management, Special Programming and Partnerships, CBC Libraries and Archives) for the compelling peek behind the scenes.

Lucie Handley-Girard (AMIA at UofT)

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