December 2018

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Excitement abounded among the four Campus Librarians of our regional institution, who coincidentally were all together in Jamaica for UWI Cross-Campus meetings in early February 2011 when we received word from the Vice Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris that The UWI was being offered the Archive of BBC Caribbean programmes for the period 1988-2011, in view of the imminent closure of the BBC Caribbean Service on March 25, 2011.

Debbie Ransome, veteran broadcaster from Trinidad and Tobago and Head of the BBC, Caribbean Service had made this generous offer, recognizing that UWI was indeed the most suitable regional organization to preserve and make the files available for research for all of the Caribbean.

As University and Campus Librarian, the task was entrusted to me to manage the process of the transfer of this important and rich archive to The UWI.

The Head of the Information Technology Services at the Alma Jordan Library, Frank Soodeen, went immediately to London in the second week of March to consult with the BBC technicians and to manage the process of download and transfer before the actual closure of the offices. His visit was followed by that of Claudia de Four, Deputy Campus Librarian who, with Ransome and Roanna Gopaul, counsellor at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London, ensured the on time completion of the file transfer and safe delivery of the digital files to the Alma Jordan Library.

There followed months of anticipation and preparation as the University Counsel, Dr. Beverley Pereira liaised with the BBC to arrive at a mutually agreeable Legal Deposit Agreement which was eventually signed by the relevant parties. In the Agreement, the UWI undertakes to preserve the BBC Caribbean Service archive, make it accessible to UWI stakeholders and bona fide researchers and develop an index to the collection.

The initial February 8, 2011 acceptance culminated in an official handover ceremony that took place on November 4, 2011 at the Mona Campus, where the originals will reside.

At that ceremony, Professor Harris noted that “a university is not only about education and research, but a university is a repository of a civilisation’s history.”

He expressed his gratitude to the BBC for choosing the UWI as the institution to preserve and make accessible this rich resource of major news stories and current affairs to researchers and the Caribbean at large.

The library staff at St. Augustine has been leading the project to transfer the historic material to a digital platform that researchers could use to find the various stories. The process involves the digitization of the recordings into formats that can be streamed over the Internet, and also in formats that will ensure the long term preservation of the original content. The Librarians will be indexing each recording to allow users of the resource to get an immediate sense of the contents of a programme before actually listening to it.

In total, the UWI received 3,000 hours of audio covering 12,000 15-minute programmes of the BBC daily Caribbean news. These programmes tell the story of the happenings in the Caribbean for the years spanning 1988 to 2011. There are the stories and details of the hurricanes and how they affected us, that fateful earthquake in Haiti that occurred in January 2010 and a myriad of other events in our history.

Mr Soodeen has indicated that the material also covers the attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago, the death of leaders such as Michael Manley, and Cheddi Jagan, the Allen Stanford saga and the CLICO financial issues. It also contains a number of special programmes aired by the BBC Caribbean Service, including a series on the use of drugs by Caribbean youth, a tribute to the Jamaican cultural icon, Miss Lou, an analysis of Caricom, and a look at the lives of Caribbean war veterans living in the UK.

The Librarians at UWI have many hours and, I daresay, years of work ahead of us as we build an index that would identify each news report, each news clip, the speakers, etc. so that researchers can find that special story that is of importance to them. This work will be done by librarians at our campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Hopefully, in about three years’ time, with the appointment of staff to this project, all the material would be available for use.

Jennifer Joseph is University and Campus Librarian at The UWI.