November 22, 2000 Recorded Sound Collections Endangered

"Folklife Collections In Crisis" Conference Scheduled for Dec. 1-2

Press Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

Hundreds of thousands of historic ethnographic audio recordings are in serious danger, according to a recent survey conducted by the Library of Congress. Of the 300 respondents to the Library of Congress national survey, more than three-fourths reported that 25 to 50 percent of their collections are "seriously deteriorated."

Problems associated with audio collections include:

  • inadequate storage conditions
  • cracked wax cylinders
  • decomposing acetate coatings of discs that "exude" a white powder
  • "sticky-shed" syndrome on audio tape manufactured in the late '70s and early '80s
  • "drop outs" on DAT tapes
  • possible delaminating of CDs

"There is virtually no audio repository untouched by these problems," said Peggy Bulger, director of the Library's American Folklife Center.

In response to the challenges faced by ethnographic archives across the country, the American Folklife Center, in collaboration with the American Folklore Society, will host a two-day invitational conference, "Folklife Collections in Crisis," on December 1 and 2, 2000, at the Library of Congress.

For the first time, 50 experts-archivists, audio engineers, preservation specialists, scholars, entertainment lawyers, and recording company executives-will discuss sound preservation, access, and intellectual property issues as they relate to ethnographic collections and make recommendations to assure long-term preservation. Participants will include representatives from the National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the National Society of Audio Engineers, BMI, the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, the International Association of Sound Archives, the Society of American Archivists and others. The conference is supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the "Save America's Treasures" program of the National Park Service.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival presentation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

On November 9, President Clinton signed the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, establishing the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress (P.L. 106-474). The new law was created to support the preservation of historic sound recordings, many of which are at risk from deterioration. It directs the Librarian of Congress to name sound recordings of aesthetic, historical, or cultural value to the Registry, to establish an advisory National Recording Preservation Board, and to create and implement a national plan to assure the long-term preservation and accessibility of our audio heritage.


PR 00-185
ISSN 0731-3527