DR. JAMES H. BILLINGTON:
As the de facto national library of the United States, the home of the copyright office and the recipient of many donations of sound, recorded sound, and film, and television video, we have the unique opportunity - now - that opportunity - to bring it all together in one place.
The audio visual creativity of the American people, which really transformed the audio visual perception of the world in the 20th century. It is a huge American accomplishment.
[Music and Short Clips]
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions.
The mission of the Library of Congress: to make its resources available and useful to the congress and to the American people…and to sustain and preserve its collections for generations to come.
Over 80% of American movies made between 1893 and 1930 have been lost.
The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation represents a unique private-public partnership between the Packard Humanities Institute, the U.S. Congress and the Library of Congress.
The gift of the Packard Campus is the culmination of years of vision and effort put forth by the Packard Humanities Institute and Congress in particular who recognize the value of preserving the past in order to inform the future.
DAVID WOODLEY PACKARD:
The reason that we can do this is because of the achievement of the tens of thousands of employees of the Hewlett-Packard Company over the years, especially in the first 50 years. I think they should take the most pride and I don’t think anyone should give me credit for it.
Thanks to David Woodley Packard’s deep understanding of the value and the necessity of preserving America’s audio visual heritage, we will be able to sustain an audio visual legacy otherwise lost to the ravages of time or indifference.
David’s background is in the study of early Greek civilization and Roman culture and from his own studies, he realized that looking at the fragments of cultures gives a very incomplete record of what survived from thousands of years ago and I think it is fair to say, that he did not want that to happen to American culture. And so, that was very much the mode and spirit behind the creation of this Packard Campus.
Until this moment in history, the ongoing abilities and capabilities to preserve and to conserve the nation’s audiovisual record have been limited. The gift of the Packard Campus - designed to grow and change with contemporary and future technology challenges - changes all of that.
For the creative well being of a country of a society, you have to have a collective memory. You have to have a foundation or rich fertile ground for creativity to sprout and art does not happen in a vacuum. It happens because there is this rich background, rich history, rich traditions, and someone with genius does something new from that.
When you look at recorded sound, television and motion pictures you’re really seeing a great part of the history of America that can get captured in those. And they’re also a media that people are attracted to, so it is a great way to tell the story of America, and with six million items, an amazing spread of creativity.
[Music and Singing]
The Library of Congress’ Motion Picture, Broadcasting, & Recorded Sound Division maintains the world's largest collection of audio visual materials.
The Packard campus houses the entire collection including: theatrical films, newsreels, television programs, radio broadcasts, early voice recordings of historical figures, and commercial sound recordings.
[Music and Singing]
We have 1.2 million moving image items and that includes about 700,000 videotape, and 500,000 reels of films.. We get in about 30,000 items for copyright every year. But we also take in some very large film and video collections through gift and purchases every year as well.
In the early days of moving pictures, producers filed paper prints of their projects with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
So they would send them to the Library of Congress to prevent piracy and we have thousands of films that only survive on paper. Unfortunately, the films are lost.
Innovative custom technologies unique to the Packard Campus give conservators new tools to recover treasures from the past.
We are now transferring the films. We are re-photographing them off of the paper back onto film so we can restore the titles.
One of the key functions of the Packard Campus is to preserve the film record of productions from the 19th century all the way up to about 1951, and that particular type of film was known as nitrate film because of the composition of the materials from which it was produced. And so it had the inherent capability of being flammable - intensely flammable - so we have a special set of cold vaults for a collection of nitrate film that amounts to about 140-50 million feet of nitrate film.
This is one of our nitrate acclimatization vaults. In here, we have actually two collections that we just received in the past week or so of nitrate prints. These all came of out of a barn in Tennessee where they were very lovingly looked after by their owner who has turned them over to the Library.
Now, on the other hand, not all films survive as well… As you can see with this reel – it is probably from the 1920s - the brown powder that is appearing is actually the film breaking down. There may be still some photography in there that we could save - but a good portion of it is going to have to be cut out because it’s just deteriorated beyond use.
A lot of it is studio material. The original camera negatives for practically all of the films released by Warner Brothers and Columbia during that period. This is where we focus our attention in our film preservation laboratory and making new safety copies from those nitrate prints.
Ultimately, our goal is to have these films around for future generations and we are talking not necessarily our grandchildren, but our grandchildren’s grandchildren. So we want to have this stuff around for a very long period of time.
Of all sound recordings released in the US from the 19th Century through the end of 1965, more than 85% are no longer commercially available to the public.
The Packard Campus is also home to specialized audio preservation laboratories. Here, our audio department restores, preserves and conserves every known format of recorded sound.
The collections range from the brown wax cylinders used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to today’s CDs, MP3s and every other digital technology.
[FDR “A Day Will Live in Infamy” speech]
If you think about reading a speech, say by FDR and then, the difference of say to a schoolchild of actually hearing that nasally Patrician voice talk about a day of infamy and the impact that it might have as opposed to reading the speech. You sort of get a sense of how important it is to preserve the sound and not just the words.
[Benny Goodman Music]
Now we can preserve this for the next generation. One of our goals here at the Library of Congress is to be able to do this same thing, using digital technology for the next 50, 100, 200 years. That’s an incredible challenge because the digital world is very different from the analog world. But that’s essentially where we want to go, so the people 50 years from now can hear exactly what we’re hearing in this great sounding room now. [turns up music]
The Library of Congress is home to both the National Recording Preservation Board and the National Film Preservation Board to ensure the increased public access to America’s sound recording and film heritage.
[Music and Singing]
More than 65% of the television programs produced in America since the 1940’s are not available in Archives and may be lost forever.
JAMES H. BILLINGTON:
There is a lot of forgotten humor and that is just one form of creativity in which we have particularly rich collection, with the Bob Hope’s jukebox full of 80,000 pages of jokes. We have a wonderful clip of Johnny Carson interviewing Groucho Marx after he got a letter inviting him to contribute to the Library of Congress, it’s hilarious.
[Recording of Carson and Marx]
JAMES H. BILLINGTON
I think that people will find sources of renewal. Anything that is a renaissance is a rebirth of something that was there before. This is part of ongoing pageant of creativity of which humor is a great part.
I think people are going to have a lot of fun with this and we hope that the enthusiasm keeps going. Serious studies, serious preservation doesn’t mean that people can’t have fun with it and in that having fun, you don’t get new ideas - that is part of creativity after all.
If we lose our past, you really can never recapture that. And we have lost things through the years , and there have been some major losses and if you have the ability to keep it, do keep it because it will be instructive and useful for generations centuries from now.
We’re positioned to begin ingesting and preserving and reformatting the materials of the future that we know nothing about. So we look backward and we look forward. And that’s unique. There’s no institution quite like the Packard Campus – and I must say – the Library of Congress – anywhere in the world.
[Music over credits]
Last Updated: 03/04/2011