Library of Congress Announces National Recording Preservation Plan
Feb 21st, 2013 by Isaiah Beard

Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries.  Source: Wikipedia.

A Peirce 55-B dictation wire recorder from 1945. Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries. Source: Wikipedia.

 

A good portion of our nation’s heritage has been immortalized in sound recordings.  From the late 19th century to the present, sound recordings have been used to capture music, speeches and historic events, the oral histories of people who have lived through important events in our nation’s history.

As with many electronic and mechanical recordings, however, this vast heritage is in danger.  In an effort to save what we can of these timeless recordings, the Library of Congress has put together a blueprint in the form of a National Preservation Plan.  This plan is the result of nearly a decade of work that was mandated by Congress as part of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000.

As the Library of Congress puts in in their press release:

Experts estimate that more than half of the titles recorded on cylinder records—the dominant format used by the U.S. recording industry during its first 23 years—have not survived. The archive of one of radio’s leading networks is lost. A fire at the storage facility of a principal record company ruined an unknown number of master recordings of both owned and leased materials. The whereabouts of a wire recording made by the crew members of the Enola Gay from inside the plane as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima are unknown. Many key recordings made by George Gershwin no longer survive. Recordings by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and other top recording artists have been lost. Personal collections belonging to recording artists were destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The National Preservation Plan for sound recordings is available as a PDF file. In it, multiple recommendations are made, including:

  • Create a publicly accessible national directory of institutional, corporate and private recorded-sound collections and an authoritative national discography that details the production of recordings and the location of preservation copies in public institutions;
  • Develop a coordinated national collections policy for sound recordings, including a strategy to collect, catalog and preserve locally produced recordings, radio broadcast content and neglected and emerging audio formats and genres;
  • Establish university-based degree programs in audio archiving and preservation and continuing education programs for practicing audio engineers, archivists, curators and librarians;
  • Construct environmentally controlled storage facilities to provide optimal conditions for long-term preservation;
  • Establish an Audio-Preservation Resource Directory website to house a basic audio-preservation handbook, collections appraisal guidelines, metadata standards and other resources and best practices;
  • Establish best practices for creating and preserving born-digital audio files;
  • Apply federal copyright law to sound recordings created before February 15, 1972;
  • Develop a basic licensing agreement to enable on-demand secure streaming by libraries and archives of out-of-print recordings;
  • Organize an advisory committee of industry executives and heads of archives to address recorded sound preservation and access issues that require public-private cooperation for resolution.

 

Indiana University Moves Forward with its Media Preservation Initiative
Jan 23rd, 2012 by Isaiah Beard

1/2 inch, consumer, open reel video format used in the 1960s-70s. This format suffers from Sticky Shed Syndrome, making playback difficult. Working machines for this long-obsolete format are scarce. Source: IUB Media Preservation Initiative, used with permission. Note: IUB has asked me to stress that the above photo is not representative of all media collections at the university.

The Media Preservation Site at Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB) makes its message loud and clear the moment you first set your eyes on it: “Our History is At Risk.”

Home to at least 3 million media objects, including sound and moving image recordings, photos, documents, and artifacts, IUB has come to grips with the issue at hand: a great deal of their heritage is locked within obsolete electronic and analog playback formats for sound and moving images.  As an old format becomes obsolete, it gets harder by the day to find working equipment to play back these objects.  And that assumes that the objects can be played back, not having succumbed to age, wear and physical decay. Lacquer from old aluminum audio discs can delaminate, making them unplayable. Video tapes from the 1960s, 70s and 80s can suffer from a condition where the binding agent that holds the recording material to the plastic base sheds, allowing audio and video recordings to literally flake into nothingness. Film, too, has its own serious decay problems.

With its vast collection, faculty and staff at IUB knew the situation could become serious if nothing was done.  Their first step was to take stock of the situation, and consult outside experts (myself included) to get input how how best to address the problem.

Their efforts began nearly 18 months ago when a group of IUB faculty and staff, concerned about the potential fate of important special collections on campus, approached their Office of the Vice Provost for Research about the critical issues of media, and to impress upon them that time was of the essence to address these issues.

“Even though [IU Bloomington’s] needs are now documented, and it is far better equipped than most universities in the country to meet them, there is no guarantee that IU can adequately preserve its collections in the near future.”

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States, Council on Library and Information Resources for The Library of Congress, Washington 

The culmination of their efforts to date have been documented on the IUB Media Preservation Website, where they document their comprehensive effort to preserve IUB’s vast audio, video, and film holdings.  Some important documents from their study and efforts including IUB’s Director of Media Preservation Services Mike Casey‘s  Media Preservation Survey (PDF), outlining the collection holders, preservation stakeholders, the risks involved, and potential preservation strategies.  A follow-on public report (12MB PDF) also lays out the situation and what steps are being taken to save their special collections and historic content.  Continued engagement, updates, and discussion on decisions made and procedures undertaken are regularly made available on their Media Preservation Blog.

The IUB Media Preservation Blog

IUB has many years of work ahead of it, not only to transfer older content into more modern digital formats, but also to continue to maintain those archives, preserve new content, and keep pace with new technologies and formats to ensure that their collections are accessible.  It’s encouraging to see them in action, and their efforts stand as a potential framework for other organizations in a similar bind to model their initiatives after.


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