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Bethany Nolan
IU Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

IU experts: Plan to save nation's recorded sound heritage only first step

Feb. 20, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University sound archivist who co-authored a national recording preservation plan released last week by the Library of Congress said the work to save America's recorded sound heritage has just begun.

Audio Digitization

Tony Tadey, a digitization engineer in the IU Jacobs School of Music's Department of Recording Arts, cleans an aluminum transcription disc. A recent plan unveiled by the Library of Congress aims to draw attention to preserving the nation's recorded sound.

Print-Quality Photo

The nation's audible history is threatened by a variety of issues, including a lack of storage capacity and preservation expertise, rapidly changing technology, and disparate laws governing both historical and current recordings.

Brenda Nelson-Strauss, head of collections for the Archives of African American Music and Culture and former president of national advocacy group the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, said the congressionally mandated plan she helped write includes short- and long-term recommendations for the public and private sector and strategies related to infrastructure, preservation, access, education and policy.

But she and three other representatives from Indiana University who served on task forces that helped create the plan said it is only a first step, and that the more difficult task lies in actually implementing its recommendations.

For example, libraries aren't allowed to collect online-only audio files available to download since most are subject to licensing agreements that allow use solely for personal entertainment, effectively circumventing the first-sale doctrine as well as educational and fair use allowances granted through copyright laws. The plan calls for convening a national forum to address such issues related to "born digital" audio files and to advocate for licensing agreements that are not detrimental to education and preservation.

Other representatives from IU who took part in the plan are:

  • Mike Casey, director of media preservation services for IU's Media Preservation Initiative, who served as a member of the digital audio preservation task force.
  • Philip Ponella, director of William and Gayle Cook Music Library, who served as a member of the copyright, preservation and public access task force.
  • Konrad Strauss, chair of the Department of Recording Arts within the Jacobs School of Music, who served as a member of the education, professional training and research task force.

"The Library of Congress, the National Recording Preservation Board, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections and other organizations are already working together to decide which of the plan's recommendations each group is going to actively pursue," Nelson-Strauss said. "We're very lucky here at IU because we have several major sound archives and an incredible core group of people who work with recorded sound and are active in ARSC. In fact, IU is mentioned prominently in the plan, as well as the study that preceded this plan, because of its Media Preservation Initiative, so the university has truly been at the forefront of this issue."

The Media Preservation Initiative is an effort that began in August 2009 to identify, document and preserve the audio, video and film items housed on the Bloomington campus. It has developed plans to build a media digitization center and is working with campus units to prepare and prioritize their holdings for preservation services as well as future access.

"IU Bloomington owns more than 560,000 audio, video and film objects, including more than 350,000 audio recordings," Casey said. "Like other national holdings, these are in great peril due to ongoing degradation and rapidly advancing obsolescence. We have a short window of opportunity in which to preserve these holdings for use by future generations of researchers and instructors. The new national audio preservation plan provides not only a call to action but a blueprint for developing the infrastructure, tools and expertise for achieving enduring preservation of critical cultural, historical and political heritage."

The complete Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan and a timeline of recorded sound are available online from the Library of Congress.