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Library of Congress aims to preserve old audio recordings for future generations

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library of congress (wikimedia commons)
library of congress (wikimedia commons)

The Library of Congress this week announced a new program designed to help preserve some of America's oldest, and most treasured audio recordings. The Library's "National Recording Preservation Plan" is the result of a 2000 Congressional mandate to "implement a comprehensive national sound recording preservation program" in order to preserve works for educational purposes. The initiative outlines 32 strategies to help both public and private sectors maintain recordings, including recommendations for infrastructural improvements and educational policies.

"The publication of this plan is a timely and historic achievement," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. "Collecting, preserving and providing access to recorded sound requires a comprehensive national strategy." Billington went on to describe the move as "America’s first significant step toward effective national collaboration to save our recorded-sound heritage for future generations."

Taking action before it's too late

The Library hopes that its initiative will go a long way toward creating a centralized audio resource for researchers and the general public. Despite the rise of the internet, it remains difficult to find historical recordings online, due in large part to the complexities of US copyright law. The move would also provide new storage spaces for older recordings, many of which have already been lost. Estimates show that more than half of all audio recorded on older cylinder records have already been destroyed or have gone missing.

To combat this, the Library's plan calls for the creation of a publicly accessible national directory housing all institutional, private, and corporate recordings, as well as the construction of environmentally controlled storage facilities for especially delicate physical media. The Library also aims to offer some out-of-print recordings for on-demand online streaming, though that will largely depend on the development of a basic licensing agreement, as outlined in the proposal.