WGBH, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, has been awarded a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to lead the National Educational Television (NET) Collection Catalog Project, the first project to build upon the American Archive of Public Broadcasting initiative. This project will involve the creation of a national catalog of records documenting the existence and robust description of titles distributed by NET, public media’s first national network and its earliest and among its most at-risk content.
The NET Collection includes 8,000–10,000 programs produced from 1952-1972, a period marked by societal and cultural shifts of great importance. Public television itself changed significantly during this time. From its early dedication to childhood and adult education, NET by 1963 transitioned to serving adult audiences with documentaries exploring citizenship issues of urgency and cultural programming dedicated to the arts, humanities and sciences.
The NET Collection is an invaluable record of non-commercial TV programming on public affairs, social issues, arts, culture, the humanities, science and education. NET programs, most of which were created by 30 public television stations across the US, often covered topics of international relevance. During this time period, public affairs documentaries and discussions explored the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, poverty, student activism and issues such as radicalism, privacy, the environment, the elderly and welfare. The NET Collection includes reporting on the Vietnam War, interviews with American and Vietnamese leaders, public hearings and a controversial report from North Vietnam. Arts and cultural programming includes interviews with artists, poets, writers, filmmakers, actors and dancers. Science Reporter and other series cover issues such as the latest in medical advances, space exploration and the progressive steps that led to the 1969 moon launch. Educational programming includes materials for classroom use, innovative children’s programming and adult education programs. The catalog will help to prioritize titles for preservation and will make this hidden collection known to scholars, researchers, and the public.
Few NET titles are known to scholars because they are in unprocessed collections. WGBH, WNET, Indiana University and the Library of Congress hold the largest collections of NET materials, while copies are known to exist at some of the original producing stations. Currently, programs are scattered, descriptions are limited and in obscure sources, and there is no publicly accessible catalog of titles.
With the NET Collection inventoried and made accessible, television studies scholars can embark on in- depth studies of NET, access its innovative series, compare commercial and noncommercial television, and examine programs that deal with bias in newscasts, effects of television on politics, effects on children, and federal involvement in public broadcasting, with perspectives from FCC and NAB officials, network executives, critics and scholars.
A huge chunk of the project will be accomplished thanks to CLIR’s funding; however, the project team envisions more work that could be undertaken to enhance the NET collection catalog. This includes the incorporation of Indiana University’s collection of titles into the catalog and expanding the scope of description and access activities; the project team will be seeking additional funds for this work. The AAPB team will keep stations and others updated as we move forward with the project. We’re looking forward to being in touch with all NET-era stations in the next several months!