Options for Pacifica’s archives could include university partnership

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The Pacifica Foundation is considering the future of its archives, which could involve working with an educational institution to preserve the trove of historical recordings, according to the chair of the foundation’s board of directors.

Facing chronic financial challenges, Pacifica cut salaries for the staff of the Pacifica Radio Archives in June by 25 percent, prompting the resignation of director Brian DeShazor. Founded in 1971, the Archives comprise thousands of recordings from Pacifica’s five stations, such as interviews with Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes and John Coltrane.

Pacifica Foundation board chair Tony Norman told Current that the board would consider working with a university on maintaining the archives if board members decide that the foundation can no longer afford the expense. But there are “no plans of privatizing or selling the archives,” Norman said. He hopes that the board will decide within 60 days how to proceed.

In a letter Monday, Sally Kane, c.e.o. of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, called on the Pacifica Foundation to transfer its archives to an educational institution.

“NFCB believes every effort must be made to protect these recordings, and to make them publicly available for future generations,” Kane wrote. “We believe an educational institution is the best avenue. A university with the resources to archive the many hours of recordings in boxes and yet to be unearthed is the only true and correct option.”

In her letter, Kane pointed to a commentary by Josh Sheppard, director of the Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force, who said the archives are “endangered.” (The RPTF partners with Current on our Rewind series.)

If Pacifica did work with a university, moving the collection from its home at KPFK in North Hollywood, Calif. to a school would pose problems, says Mark Torres, now interim director of the archives and an employee since 1990. “Moving the entire collection to the entire university would mean losing the type of access that we currently have where we service people asking about all parts of our collection on a daily basis,” he added.

The archives have been threatened before, said Torres, who is looking for new ways to raise revenue. It is earning some income through a partnership with professors at California State University in Los Angeles, who are adding Pacifica’s archival material to their curricula. Students buy the material as CDs. Torres is looking to expand the program to other classes at CSU and to other universities.

Lydia Brazon, interim e.d. of Pacifica, told Current that she would not support a plan for the archives that would involve streamlining Pacifica’s staff.