Cataloguing the Archive

Cataloguing the Archive

An interview with Sue Turner a cataloguing expert from BBC Archives

Sue Turner, who heads up the BBC's Cataloguing department, explains why the BBC needs to keep detailed records of its programmes.



Of course, computerisation makes things a lot easier today, but the BBC knew from the very early stages that cataloguing was vital if we were going to find material again.

The film library originated in 1948 and our records go back that far. Quite a few years before I joined the BBC, in fact in the 1940s and '50s, a very archaic system was used, which we know as the Strip Index. This was a one-line entry and was predominantly used for news material. It was basically just to have a quick overview of subject areas. These pieces of card could be moved around and new entries fitted into the relevant subject areas. But, of course, there was a great danger that they would all fall to pieces and one of these pieces of card would be hoovered up by the cleaners.

When I joined the BBC in the 1970s we used a card system. We could retrieve programmes by title, by contributor or by subject category, but all of this was laboriously typed at the top of each card. We often made mistakes and had to rub things out and people actually really disliked filing the cards. We would have about three inches of filing to do a week.

By the mid-1980s the card system had become so enormous that it was actually threatening to fall through the floor. So the BBC decided that we really needed to explore what computerised databases could do for us. And a bright young mathematician called Tony McCartan was recruited to design a database. Of course, the computer got much better over the years and brought with it an enormous amount of advantage. We now put on even more references to programmes and, of course, things don't get lost any longer. Cards no longer go missing. So there are great benefits with a computerised system.

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