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«The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age August 2010 Commissioned for and ...»

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The State of Recorded Sound

Preservation in the United States:

A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age

August 2010

Commissioned for and sponsored by the

CounCil library information resourCes

on and

and the library of Congress

The State of Recorded

Sound Preservation

in the United States:

A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age

August 2010

from last round:

National Recording Preservation Board



Commissioned for and sponsored by the National Recording Preservation Board


Council on Library and Information Resources and The Library of Congress Washington, D.C.

National Recording Registry


The National Recording Preservation Board The National Recording Preservation Board was established at the Library of Congress by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000. Among the provisions of the law are a directive to the Board to study and report on the state of sound recording preservation in the United States. More information about the National Recording Preservation Board can be found at http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/.

ISBN 978-1-932326-36-9 CLIR Publication No. 148

Copublished by:

Council on Library and Information Resources 1752 N Street NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 Web site at http://www.clir.org and The Library of Congress 101 Independence Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20540 Web site at http://www.loc.gov Additional copies are available for $30 each. Orders must be placed through CLIR’s Web site.

This publication is also available online at no charge at http://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub148abst.html.

The paper in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Copyright 2010 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without permission of the publishers. Requests for reproduction or other uses or questions pertaining to permissions should be submitted in writing to the Director of Communications at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Cover image: Drawings submitted by Thomas A. Edison in support of the patent application for his Phonograph, filed December 24,

1877. Reproduced from a copy held in the Library of Congress Recorded Sound Reference Center.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The state of recorded sound preservation in the United States : a national legacy at risk in the digital age / commissioned for and sponsored by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

p. cm. -- (CLIR publication ; no. 148) “This study was written by Rob Bamberger and Sam Brylawski on behalf of the National Recording Preservation Board”--P. iv.

“August 2010.” Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 978-1-932326-36-9 (alk. paper)

1. Sound recordings--Conservation and restoration--United States. 2. Sound recordings--Digitization--United States. 3. Digital preservation--United States. 4. Sound recording libraries--United States. 5. Sound archives--United States. 6. Copyright-Sound recordings--United States. 7. Copyright and digital preservation--United States. 8. Fair use (Copyright)--United States.

I. Bamberger, Robert. II. Brylawski, Samuel. III. National Recording Preservation Board (U.S.) IV. Title. V. Series.

–  –  –

1. Sound Recording Collections: An Overview of Preservation and Public Access in the Twenty-first Century....................... 9

2. Technical Issues in Digital Audio Preservation.................66

–  –  –

4. Preservation, Access, and Copyright: A Tangled Web............ 108 Appendix A. National Recorded Sound Preservation Study: Announcement of Study and Public Hearing (November 2006)................. 138 Appendix B. Report of a Task Force Discussion to Define Prerequisites, Core Knowledge, and Graduate Educational Directions for Sound Preservation Professionals, and to Review an Annotated Bibliography of Audio Preservation Resources........................ 144 Appendix C. Obstacles to Access and Preservation of Recorded Sound.... 156 Appendix D. Folk Collections in Crisis Report: Concluding Discussion and Recommendations................................ 165 Bibliography available at http://www.loc.gov/rr/record/nrpb/ iv

–  –  –

Acknowledgments The writers of this report would like to thank those who submitted statements and participated in the hearings and roundtable discussions, and colleagues at the Library of Congress who provided essential support and valuable suggestions.

–  –  –

Foreword Sound recordings have existed as one of the most salient features of America’s cultural landscape for more than 130 years. As a nation, we have good reason to be proud of our historical record of creativity in the sound recording arts and sciences. However, our collective energy in creating and consuming sound recordings in all genres has not been matched by an equal level of interest, over the same period of time, in preserving them for posterity.

During the closing years of the twentieth century, the Library of Congress staff began collecting an increasing amount of disturbing anecdotal evidence on a number of problem areas affecting the survival and preservation of sound recordings produced in America since the nineteenth century. That evidence resulted, in part, from the Library’s own efforts over more than 85 years to build and maintain a nationally representative recorded sound collection; it also came from information reported by other cultural institutions, professional archivists, record companies, broadcasters, collectors, researchers, and interested members of the general public. Over time it became clear to the recorded sound community that an array of obstacles faced by institutions and individuals dedicated to preserving historic sound recordings had become a serious national problem.

In response, the U.S. Congress passed The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-474). That legislation affirmed the nation’s collective interest in preserving sound recordings for posterity; and, to promote greater public awareness of the issues involved, established the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board and the National Recording Registry.

The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 also directed that I, in my capacity as Librarian of Congress, “…implement a comprehensive national sound recording preservation program…” with a specific responsibility to “…undertake studies and investigations of sound recording preservation activities as needed, including the efficacy of new technologies, and recommend solutions to improve these practices.” One of the earliest activities of the new National Recording Preservation Board was to advise me on the importance of conducting a national study and the range of issues to be investigated.

I am glad to report that the study of the state of recorded sound preservation on the United States has been completed. This is the first comprehensive, national-level study of the state of sound recording preservation ever conducted in the U.S.—through extensive research and analysis performed over a period of five years. The National Recording Preservation Board commissioned four ancillary studies, enlisting specialists in law and history. Three of those studies address copyright and related issues central to the protection and preservation of commercial and unpublished sound recordings, as well as public access; the fourth study investigated the poor survival rates in the marketplace of recordings of historic significance, dating back to the nineteenth century. These subsidiary studies developed reliable supporting and statistical information where none previously existed. All of these documents are included in The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age.

vii The publication of The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States is a landmark achievement in the history of the archival preservation of audiovisual materials. The authors, Rob Bamberger and Sam Brylawski, have produced a study outlining the web of interlocking issues that now threaten the long-term survival of our sound recording history. This study tells us that major areas of America’s recorded sound heritage have already been destroyed or remain inaccessible to the public. It suggests that the lack of conformity between federal and state laws may adversely affect the long-term survival of pre-1972-era sound recordings in particular. And, it warns that the continued lack of national coordination among interested parties in the public and private sectors, in addressing the challenges in preservation, professional education and public access, may not yet be arresting permanent loss of irreplaceable sound recordings in all genres.

This study lays the groundwork for the National Recording Preservation Plan that was also mandated under the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 and will be published by the Library of Congress later this year. The National Recording Preservation Plan will make specific recommendations for addressing the complex problems revealed by The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States.

The Library of Congress has witnessed substantial progress during the past decade in preparing for the national effort called for in The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States. Most significant is the complete transformation of the Library’s facilities for storing and preserving its recorded sound and audiovisual collections that was made possible by the unprecedented gift of the $200 million Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation by the Packard Humanities Institute in 2007. The Packard Campus, located in Culpeper, Virginia, is now staffed and operating. After more than 85 years of collecting sound recordings, the Library of Congress now has a facility worthy of its mission to preserve and make maximally accessible a comprehensive record of the nation’s recorded sound, movie, and broadcast heritage. The Packard Campus has brought together in a single facility almost all of the Library’s staff and resources at this critical time when our statutory responsibilities for national leadership in recorded sound and moving image preservation are expanding in order to implement the multiple mandates of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000.

For all those who cherish the importance of sound recordings to the cultural history of the United States, the findings and conclusions of The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States, in the areas of copyright, collections, technology and education, will be recognized as profound and far-ranging. The national study has articulated the issues to be addressed in a national plan to provide direction and momentum to public policy decisions affecting recorded sound preservation for generations to come. America’s recorded sound heritage has in many ways transformed the soundscape of the modern world. The public and private sectors should now work together to define and preserve this important and creative part of our patrimony.

–  –  –

The discovery and interpretation of Scott’s phonautogram was the work of First Sounds [www.firstsounds.org], in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The earliest of Scott’s phonautograms can be dated to 1853. First Sounds has discovered additional phonautograms, documented on their Web site and in the spring 2010 issue of the ARSC Journal.

In his last years, Scott railed against Thomas Edison for usurping credit due to him;

however, it was never Scott’s intention to reproduce sound, which was ultimately Edison’s purpose.

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States bytes a core part of the lived experience not only of this nation but also of the entire world. Recorded sound is more than music and entertainment; it encompasses the sounds of the streets, of nature, and of the vanished folk heritage of indigenous and transplanted cultures, as well as of important national events and precious moments in our own personal lives.

It is relatively easy to recognize the importance of recorded sound from decades ago. What is not so evident is that older recordings actually have better prospects to survive another 150 years than recordings made last week using digital technologies. In short, where recorded sound is concerned, age is no arbiter of what is endangered or what might be lost to future generations.

Many important recordings have been lost or have become unplayable since the introduction of recorded sound in the late-nineteenth century. Many others are at risk of becoming lost. It is unclear how large a universe of recordings will remain undocumented and allowed to deteriorate before additional resources are invested in their preservation.

Today’s digital formats are not inherently safe harbors of preservation. Protecting and maintaining digital audio recordings poses problems that go beyond those associated with the preservation of analog recordings, and it requires that a totally new set of preservation techniques be developed. For example, successive releases of software programs may no longer be compatible with earlier files.

Even without abuse, hard drives and servers crash. At worst, phonautograms float to the floor.

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