Frequently asked questions about recorded sound preservation.
What are the best ways to store my records, tapes or CD’s?
Ideally, all audio media should be stored in a cool, dry place. Again, ideally, at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 30% humidity.
For recorded sound discs—either vinyl recordings or compact discs—handle them only by the outer edge or label areas only. Obviously, keep them away from food, drink and other liquids. Do the same for your playback equipment.
Additionally, one of the recorded sound archivists here at the Library of Congress has the following tips:
First, what not to do: Don’t stack your collection; almost all recorded sound formats need to be kept vertical. For my larger, alphabetical run of CDs, I prefer shelving units like this bolt-together metal rack. They take up very little floor space and there’s little wasted space to them, both significant concerns if you have a large number of CDs in your collection.
To save space, I keep my personal DVD-Rs and CD-Rs in slim CD jewels cased because they are thinner. However, these cases do not stand up well unless they’re on a nearly full shelf, so while I’m working on them, I like to keep them in small, inexpensive, handled storage baskets like those pictured here.
While I’m on the subject of CDs falling over, ribbed, rubber shelf mats are effective at keeping CDs from sliding all over the place on a smooth shelf.
CD shelves like the one shown above are attractive enough to be used in areas where you might entertain and provide the most storage for the least money. I like metal shelving units like the one below I bought at a hardware store years ago. I actually had to buy two units to get enough shelves to make one CD shelving unit. As sold, each unit came with only enough bolts, nuts, and washers to secure each shelf to an upright once per corner, either from the front or from the side. I took samples of the fasteners to the hardware store and bought enough extra to fasten every shelf to every upright both front and side to make it more solid.
Because I was concerned that the very bottom of the upright metal shelf might rust over time by sitting on a concrete floor, I placed the “foot” of each shelf in a square, rubber caster cup that was just slightly larger than the shelf leg.
The boxes pictured above are cardboard catalog trays that I scavenged years ago. I realize these trays are a thing of the past, but there are still CD crates or trays available which could be used in a similar fashion.
I also realize the cardboard trays are not acid-free or lignin-free, but, since most of my CDs are in standard jewel cases and since it is the plastic that is in contact with the (probably) acidic cardboard, the threat is minimal. (These pictures are from my home and, for obvious reasons, I can’t keep my home at a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 35% relative humidity.)
For my LPs, I began using wooden fruit crates a long time ago; I scavenged them from grocery stores and supermarkets. If I found three with a broken slat, I could make two good ones. Later, some record stores started selling similar crates and even though today most record stores are gone, record crates are still available in stores like the Container Store or via the internet. (I stained mine black because I thought they looked better.)
One word of advice, for storing records: avoid crates with a diagonal post in each corner. Those may make crates stronger for general use, but they could make your records bow. Use only crates with 90 degree corners.
When I began using crates, I had a limited number of albums and could fit them in four crates. I placed three concrete blocks on the floor, and then laid a couple of 1x8s on top of the blocks. I put the crates on top of the boards, opening face up, so I could easily flip through my albums, like browser bins at a record store.
Over time my collection grew to the point that a horizontal arrangement was no long possible and I had to go vertical. Again using concrete blocks as a base, I stacked the crates five high. Getting the fifth one up to that height was not easy and is not a one-person task. The result was passable, but not as stable as I wanted. Later, I went to a lumberyard and paid them to cut a long 1"x12" board into lengths that would just fit under the bottom of each crate. Restacking the crates with a board under each made it much more stable and was well worth the money and effort.
I stayed with that method for several years but, at some point, I had a need to be able to, if necessary, quickly move these towers of LPs. I began by securely screwing the base 1"x12" to the bottom of the lowest crate frame. I then attached four very heavy duty casters to that board, one on each corner. Through the frames on the ends, I screwed a second crate on top of the castered one, giving me a two-crate tall roll-able LP storage unit. Above that, I just stacked the additional crates, not bothering to fasten them together. I wanted to plan ahead in case I moved someday—which I did. I was able to easily unstack the LP tower. It worked great.
How old does a recording have to be before it is in the “public domain”?
Due to the US Copyright laws currently on the books, very few commercially-released recordings made within the United States are free and clear in legal terms. To learn more about what might be in the public domain or how some recordings can be used for education or research (i.e. “fair use”), please consult the following links.
Is there a safe way to write a word or other identifier on top of a CD disc?
As many people have sadly discovered, writing on the topside of CDs with a standard “Sharpie” or other similar marker can often lead to the problem of “bleed through” to the underside of the disc and then, in time, cause sound distortion. Some stores or online business, however, do sell markers specifically made for writing on digital media; these are usually safe.
I have some vintage tapes/vinyl discs/cylinders, etc. that seem to be damaged. Can anything be done to repair them?
The Library of Congress itself does not take on any repair jobs nor are we able to advise you as to the feasibility of repairs. The businesses in this list of Commercial Services, however, might be of service.
Does the Library of Congress have a copy of every recording ever made?
It’s a popular urban legend that the Library of Congress has a copy of every book, film, television show and record ever produced within the United States. While the holdings of the Library are vast (over three million different items so far), the Library cannot claim to have a copy of everything. Still, Library collections are growing every day. In terms of recorded sound alone, over 75,000 new titles were added to our vaults last year. New items arrive to the Library via donation, copyright deposit and, occasionally, purchase (particularly of large, historical collections).
Can I “check-out” a recording from the Library of Congress?
No, the Library of Congress is a non-circulating library. In order to maintain the integrity of our collections, recorded sound materials—like Library of Congress books and other items—can only be listened to on the premises in one of the Library’s “Reading Rooms.”
Can I obtain a copy of a recording housed at the Library of Congress?
By and large, no. Because almost no recorded sound materials are not copyrighted, the Library can only make copies if prior written permission from the copyright holder is obtained first. This is the task of the person requesting the copy. Once a permission is acquired, the Library can make a dub of a recording in its lab but a fee will be incurred. Please see the Library’s fee schedule, and other information about possible dubs for more information.
Why aren’t more/any of the Library’s holdings available for listening online?
Once again, copyright laws and concerns prevent most of the Library’s recorded sound holdings from being disseminated via the internet. However, about 10,000 early musical recordings can be heard in their entirety via the Library’s National Jukebox web portal.
Does the Library have language instruction tapes?
Yes, the Library does selectively collect language-learning materials but does not have everything nor every language. Additionally, like all Library materials, these tapes are also copyrighted and can only be listened to on Library premises.
What does it mean when a recording (or group of recordings) are added to the National Recording Registry?
As noted above, though the Library’s recorded sound are extensive, we do not, at present, have everything. Every year, the Librarian of Congress, in consultation with the National Recording Preservation Board, chooses 25 recordings to add to the National Recording Registry. These are works deemed so important to the history and culture of the United States that a copy of this work demands permanent housing and cataloging within the “nation’s library,” the Library of Congress.
Nominations to the National Recording Registry are open to the public. Nominations can be sent to the follow address: Recregistry@loc.gov
Can I donate something to the Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress?
Yes, to offer something to the division, please send an e-mail to: Sounddonations@loc.gov. Please provide as much information as possible to us regarding the item(s) you would like to donate. One of our curators will be respond to you.
Can the Library tell me how much a recording of mine (or a book or film, etc.) of mine is worth in terms of monetary value?
Unfortunately, no. The Library is not authorized to do appraisals.