Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of visiting the fascinating Bibliothèque Nationale de France (French National Library), and to analyse the archive material held at the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA). In 2016, I moved to Montreal (the mainly French speaking part of Canada) where new opportunities for archival research have emerged; such as the rich collections held in the BANQ (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec), to name such one. Today, Chloé Tremblay-Goyette and I wish to share our explorative research experience at the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Toronto Public Library where we spent two days at the end of November 2017.
We, along with another research assistant, Anne-Marie Charette, are currently working on preparing a project which focusses on the mediatization of terrorism in the 20th century. This project seeks to trace several sources such as historical newspapers, radio and television broadcasts. A lot of material pertinent to this project has been digitized, and is available online ; for example there are a few French-speaking broadcasts available from Radio Canada, and its English-speaking equivalent CBC ; and collections of newspapers from BANQ and Archives Canada, Ottowa. However, much more material remains housed within the archives themselves, and so it is very important for media historians to visit such archives for profound and investigative research.
Libraries, although they are not always labeled officially as archives, can be quite a good source of information in the framework of an archival search. After contacting a few libraries in Toronto looking to know more about their records that could be related to our research topic, we ended up deciding to spend a day in the Toronto Reference Library. Not only had it been pointed out by a librarian as one of the best libraries to access newspapers, but it also had the option to book an appointment with a librarian to help us out with our research. We decided to make an appointment on the 23rd of November, as we were going to be in Toronto for a couple of days exploring different archives. As we are both living in Montreal, we weren’t familiar with Toronto and were quite happy to find out the Toronto Reference Library is in a central location, at about a minute’s walk away from Bloor-Younge station.
Chloé, arrived there quite early (9:00 AM). As there was hardly anyone in the building, she got to enjoy this gorgeous airy library to herself:
A short time later Chloé met Bessie, a librarian from the Toronto Reference Library, who was able to help by providing advice on how to make a better use of the library’s expansive database, which includes Canadian newspapers from across the Pacific to the Atlantic. Katharina joined Chloé in the early afternoon after enjoying the quite spectacular five hour train ride in the morning from Montreal to Toronto, where you can view the beautiful Lake Ontario pictured below:
Although the collection did not hold many items prior to the 1980s, we were able to access main Canadian newspapers like the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail going back to the first half of the 20th century. There is even a special place in the library that is called the ‘Toronto Star Newspaper Centre’. Although most of these older articles weren’t indexed, they had been digitized, and we enjoyed going back to the earliest articles available to understand how the terms and concepts of terrorism might had evolved since early in the 20th century. This helped to stimulate our interest in the research we are planning to do.
On a not-so-cold November morning, we spent the next day at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that is situated quite close to the main train station (it is a five-minute walk away) and even more interesting: close to the famous CN tower.
Geoffrey Hopkinson, Senior Manager of the CBC Libraries and Archive, welcomed us with his colleagues, experienced media librarians Arthur Schwartzel (TV) and Keith Hart (Radio) who had already conducted preliminary research in relation to our topic. The team guided us the whole day, not only through the general research possibilities and the software, but also indicated the obstacles that are related to the latter. As material from 1952 (the year television arrived in Canada) until the early 1990s was only indexed in the 1990s, research based on keywords is not as reliable in terms of synchronization with the broadcast content, as it is the newspaper articles that can be browsed more easily by the nature of their structure and digitization.
Chloé spent the day looking through the two CBC radio databases. Both radio databases did not provide direct access to the records, but to descriptions of them including keywords. There was a possibility to access and to listen to records upon request. The first, and oldest, radio database goes all the way back to the 1950s, and ends in the middle of the 1990s, the second database covers the 1990s till present day, and together they provide a quite extensive overview of CBC radio diffusion. Although there was limited results related to our topic from the 1950s, results started to become increasingly interesting as Chloé searched through later decades. As Keith explained, searching through earlier records, especially through the ones from many decades ago can be quite delicate because the employees who indexed these broadcasts at the time were not always comfortable describing the events reported as “terrorism” in the 1950s, which is actually the same problem for television.
With the help of Arthur, Katharina learned more about the various possibilities for accessing the 32 English-speaking video archives ranging from Yellowknife TV News to the program archives all by experiencing the work of the DIVA’s archive solution (a special CBC robotic system) that offers the possibility to select an old broadcast directly on a computer screen. The tape is selected by the machine that converts the tape into a digital signal and sends the content then to your computer for visioning – physically at a distance between the 7th floor and the basement.
Our fascinating morning research session was then turning into a personal guided tour of the archives, such as the analogue VTR library. Interestingly, all tapes have a unique ID and bar code to facilitate the work for the CBC people. You can even take a virtual tour, but we also took pictures of course:
We also visited the Film Vault, where approximately 115,000 cans of film are sleeping at approx. 4°C, quite warm if we look at current Montreal temperatures…
We are both looking forward to come back to CBC, and to also enjoy the wonderful restaurants in downtown Toronto nearby. If you have the opportunity to visit Toronto do not miss a free visit to the CBC museum situated in the same building where you can even find some relics of 1990s technology such as the MiniDisc.
To be continued with ‘Part II: A Day at the Archives… Montreal’…
Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.