In keeping with the music theme from last week’s post about naming music groups, and in light of recent events associated with Prince’s death, as well as the American Libraries Associations Preservation Week, let’s discuss what happens when archival and general search produces bad results.



On April 21, 2016 MTV aired an all-day music video tribute to Prince. However, somehow a video featuring the Fresh Prince (as played by Will Smith) and D.J. Jazzy Jeff made its way into the mix. People quickly took to social media in protest. Claiming “you had one job” and another even blaming a Millennial for the mix-up, the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince video titled Girls Aint Nothing But Trouble was aired between Prince’s videos New Power Generation and Controversy. It would be great if MTV was trying to make a statement, or a pun, saying that the new power generation is going to be like the Fresh Prince; however, it would be a controversy. Unfortunately, it is safe to assume that MTV did not mean to play a Fresh Prince video during the Prince tribute, no matter how funny the placement is.

So, how did this not-the-right Prince video end up in MTV’s playlist? We can assume it has something to do with the Music Television Company’s archives (not some poor Millennial), and how they ran their search for Prince Videos. The video probably slipped in due to a glitch in the archival search. Without knowing exactly how MTV’s files are catalogued, we can only discuss things on the basis of assumptions and theory.

Two options come to mind: 1. the searchers typed in “Prince” and Search results came back with everything with the name “Prince”. But then we could assume that all Fresh Prince videos would have been included, as well as perhaps Prince Royce the Latin American singer. If using taxonomy software, perhaps a rule should be written along the lines of when searching for “Prince” and not in conjunction with “Fresh” then exclude “Fresh Prince”. 2. The Fresh Prince file was mislabeled. To me, this is the most likely scenario. However, either way, someone should have double checked the play list before airing it to ensure nothing slipped through the cracks.



There are so many ways that a basic search could go wrong. It could be as simple as a mislabeled file, or as complicated as bad data taxonomy. “Prince” isn’t the only artist search that could produce unwanted results. For instance, let’s say you wanted to listen to Taylor Swift’s 1989 Album. Generally, if you search for “Taylor Swift 1989,” you are going to get the results you are looking for. However, if you searched for just “1989” you would get the option of Ryan Adams‘ cover of the Taylor Swift album. Imagine then the mix-up you could create if you searched for “Adams” but couldn’t remember the year. If you search for “Adams 1969” instead of 1989, you will get Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69. So what do we want to listen to? ’69, 1989, or perhaps 1999?

When we think of archives, we think of old musty books and yellowed newspapers. While this is true, there are also digital repositories that are created to archive and store digital content. For non-native born digital content like VHS tapes and cassette recordings, someone along the line has had the pleasure of digitizing their content. Then, the digital copies are archived on servers. Human errors can occur at any time in this process, and if they do, they could be significant enough to impact a search. When you are doing a general Google search for “Prince” and Prince William pops up along with Prince the music artist, this isn’t too problematic. However, if you are searching in your music video archives for Prince, and Fresh Prince comes up, it can end up causing social scorn. Better archival practices and even better data taxonomies can help ensure this does not happen.

Jennifer Crawford
Access Innovations