The Library of Congress has announced the publication of a report that assesses current standards and best practices in capturing sound from analog discs and tapes. Commissioned by the Library of Congress and prepared by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), this new report summarizes discussions among audio preservation engineers on how to achieve the best possible audio transfer from historical recordings.
The report, "Capturing Analog Sound for Digital Preservation: Report of a Roundtable Discussion of Best Practices for Transferring Analog Discs and Tapes," is based on a meeting of audio experts that the Library hosted in January 2004. It is the third in a series undertaken by the National Recording Preservation Board, under the auspices of the Library of Congress, to provide information for the development of a national plan to preserve and assure access to recorded sound.
The first study, "Survey of Reissues of U.S. Recordings," which studied the accessibility of America's historical sound recordings, is available free of charge at www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub133abst.html. The second report, "Copyright Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Pre-1972 Commercial Sound Recordings by Libraries and Archives," also is available free of charge at www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub135/pub135.pdf.
"Among all the media employed to record human creativity, sound recordings have undergone particularly radical changes in the last 25 years," writes Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in his introduction to the report. "Institutional archives are now making a transition from preserving audio collections on tape reels to creating digital files," he notes, but "authoritative manuals on how to create preservation copies of analog [nondigital] audio recordings do not yet exist … I am extremely grateful to these professionals for donating their time and sharing their expertise."
According to experts, nearly all recorded sound is at risk of disappearing or becoming inaccessible within a few generations because the playback equipment will become obsolete. A solution to this problem depends on technologies that capture the audio signals on soon-to-be -obsolete formats and migrate or reformat those signals to current technologies while the older formats are still playable.
Roundtable discussions focused on such issues as mitigating deterioration of the original sound recording, obtaining the most accurate transfer possible, best practices for digital conversion, sampling standards, manual versus automated transfer and creating metadata for digital recordings. The discussions revealed agreement on most practices while also highlighting areas needing further research. There was unanimous concern that the pool of expertise in dealing with older recordings is shrinking and that key technical knowledge must be passed on.
Among the recommendations to improve the practice of analog audio transfer for preservation, the three highest priorities were to (1) develop core competencies in audio preservation engineering; (2) develop arrangements among smaller institutions that allow for cooperative buying of esoteric materials and supplies; and (3) pursue a research agenda for mitigating a variety of problems relating to magnetic tape. The report also includes an extensive workflow document that sets forth the transfer practices agreed upon by roundtable participants.
"Capturing Analog Sound for Digital Preservation" is available free of charge at www.clir.org/pubs/absract/pub137abst.html. Print copies can be ordered through the Web site.
Established by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the advisory National Recording Preservation Board (www.loc.gov/nrpb/) is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and consists of representatives from professional organizations of composers, musicians, musicologists, librarians, archivists and the recording industry. Among the issues that Congress charged the board to examine were access to historical recordings, the role of archives and the effects of copyright law on access to recordings.