By MARK ROOSA
Many Americans are unaware that, in addition to its unparalleled book, photograph and manuscript collections, the Library also houses nearly 2.5 million sound recordings in virtually every audio format. Tapes, wire recordings, wax and celluloid cylinders, shellac discs, and vinyl LPs and 45s form the bulk of the sound recordings collections. In recent years, digital formats such as CDs, R-DAT tapes and various ephemeral formats have been added. New materials in various formats enter the collections each year through gift, purchase and copyright deposit. One of the continuing preservation challenges the Library faces is how best to provide correct storage of all of the formats received.
In 1957 the Library commissioned a study of preservation issues for sound recordings. This investigation produced Preservation and Storage of Sound Recordings, by A.G. Pickett and M.M. Lemcoe (Washington, Library of Congress, 1959). This brief but useful publication sheds light on some of the chemical and mechanical issues affecting disc and tape recordings. In the intervening years the Library has built on this information and implemented measures to protect its recorded sound collections. But it was not until this year, in an effort to prepare the Library's enormous collection of sound recordings for their move to the Library's National Audio Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va., that curators in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) and staff from the Preservation Directorate had an opportunity to look at some of the issues related to packaging discs in preservation-quality enclosures that would both protect them in transport and preserve them for the long term.
"We started by reviewing the current state of packaging for each of the disc types, with the goal of providing the best protection and physical support for master and use copies," said Samuel Brylawski, head of the Recorded Sound Section of MBRS.
There were many factors to consider. There is a need to determine the best type of materials to place in direct contact with the discs, the weight of the packaging, the need for secondary storage boxes and whether to place packaged discs into plastic dust covers. Making a decision on these issues is no simple task, as discs are composed of a variety of materials, including celluloid, cellulose acetate, shellac, polystyrene and polycarbonates of various kinds.
Other questions to consider were: Which packaging material would be least affected by a flood or fire? Which design was most easily assembled? How would the proposed packages fit into standard shelving? In the end, the group decided to place 45s, shellac 78s, and Edison discs into acid-free paper card sleeves (with a cutout in the middle to expose label information) and into Mylar dust jackets. The group selected a variation of this solution for LPs. Because there is so much graphic information on LP covers and because the grooves of LPs are especially sensitive to scratches, the group decided to use a high-density polyethylene sleeve to hold the LP, which is then placed into its original sleeve and then into its original cover, which is covered with a Mylar dust jacket. Said Mr. Brylawski, "This approach provides multiple levels of protection for the disc at a reasonable cost." For those who are interested, the group will mount the various package designs on the Library's Web site at www.loc.gov/preserv.
In the weeks ahead, the team will refine specifications for the various disc packages and take steps to procure them in large quantities to begin the task of packaging the collections for their move to the center in Virginia, which is set to open in 2003.
Mr. Roosa is chief of the Conservation Division.