Twenty-Five Years of Archiving
October 18, 2012
This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the C-SPAN Archives. The idea grew out of a faculty discussion on the Purdue University campus with Brian Lamb. Our goal was to preserve video content and make it available for educational and research use. On September 15, 1987 we turned on the recorders for the first time to capture the confirmation hearings for Judge Robert Bork. It was during a break in those hearings that then-Senator Joe Biden announced he was dropping out of the presidential race because of allegations that he overstated his academic record – a statement that was recorded by C-SPAN in New Hampshire. We knew in the first weeks that we had started an important project, albeit a large one. On October 20, 1987 we started recording full-time on both networks. We later added C-SPAN3 and we have never stopped.
We also recognized from beginning the importance of indexing and we created computerized records to document each video recording by date, time, place, speaker, subject, and keywords. These essential elements established twenty-five years ago still guide our archival work. Recording, indexing, and distribution so that the public could reexamine C-SPAN programs are the basic tasks of the archive yet today.
We also knew that we were building an important record with uses that we could not foresee. Joe Biden would serve many years in the Senate before being chosen vice president. Paul Ryan would appear on a C-SPAN program as a staffer talking about budgets long before he was selected as a vice presidential running mate. Every day in the ordinary course of law making, routine speeches, presidential statements, and congressional hearings, we record for unknown future uses the remarks of leaders and through our call-in programs, citizen voices.
The videotapes have all been digitized. The recording is now all on digital disks. The original indexing allows users to quickly find programming from 1987 or 2012. Numerous servers and digital tapes hold the 190,000 hours of recorded C-SPAN content.
We are starting to see uses that were not yet invented in 1987. There was no World Wide Web, no Internet, no blogs, tweets, or video sharing in 1987. We preserved the events in 1987 from Oliver North to Robert Bork, from Ronald Reagan to Joe Biden and continued with events from the next twenty-five years. Every president from now on will have his career recorded, indexed, and preserved in the C-SPAN Video Library. It is open for all citizens to use, to explore, and to make their own clips for classes, for publishing, and for sharing.
Our small staff at the C-SPAN Archives are proud of what we have built, of what will live beyond us, and what possibilities that will be possible in the future as citizens use this collection to review the actions of their leaders and to follow the debates that are the very essence of our democracy.