Library of Congress Presents National Recording Preservation Plan

Feb 14, 2013 3:50 PM

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photo of micro-imaging system

IRENE, an experimental micro-imaging system for playing back otherwise unplayable recordings, scans a 78 rpm disc. Support for research in the field of audio preservation is critical if new technologies for digitizing sound recordings are to be discovered.

Many rights holders have not permitted researchers or the general public to listen to the recordings they legally control outside the limited scope of facilities maintained by legitimate research institutions. One survey of reissues of historical U.S. recordings created between 1890 and 1964 determined, “On average, rights owners have made available 14 percent of the historic recordings that they control from the various eras.” A gospel-music historian estimated that only a few of the thousands of gospel recordings that have been produced are now available commercially.

There is currently no efficient way for researchers or the general public to discover what sound recordings exist and where they can be found. Despite the development of the Internet, few historical recordings can be made available online legally because of aspects of the U.S. copyright law.

photo of vintage microphones

Vintage microphones used by Library of Congress field workers and concert sound engineers.

Technology of the 21st century provides enormous potential for addressing information-sharing, coordination, preservation and access challenges that were previously insurmountable. However, the digital environment has created significant technical, organizational and funding challenges for those institutions responsible for preserving recorded-sound history for future generations.

Among the recommendations:
• 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.






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