Friday, November 05, 2010

Recorded Sound Preservation

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age (Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress, August 2010) provides an important benchmark in the importance of recorded sound and the neglect to preserve it. The brief discussion on educating individuals to be experts in such preservation is sobering. The report laments that we are losing a foundational knowledge with older sound systems, namely, “The community of individuals familiar with legacy media is shrinking. A system must be developed to ensure that the generations of engineers and archivists who have had no experience with analog recording formats will gain familiarity with the physical properties of, and best methods for preserving, legacy media.” (p. 100). Likewise, “A generation of specialists with experience in legacy media is disappearing, as is equipment on which to play analog recordings such as open-reel tape or wire recordings. Fewer and fewer people are familiar with the care and repair of older equipment. Many of these individuals are collectors or hobbyists, not necessarily academic or industry experts. This fund of knowledge and expertise is not being documented professionally and is not being passed on in any systematic way to individuals studying audio engineering and who will work with legacy formats in libraries and archives.” (p. 102). There is a call for grounding individuals in the history of recordings and other historical aspects of this industry and educational programs that include “advanced management skills” (p. 102). However, the report also notes that recorded sound preservation has an uncertain future, with poor funding, few positions, and what there is based on soft money. The conclusion is that this is an area that cannot sustain its own graduate programs, meaning that whatever education is offered must be part of a larger, established graduate program or a certificate spinoff from such programs. Continuing education is also suggested as something that must be developed more fully. This discussion does not focus on how existing graduate archival programs (or others?), already crammed with demands for educating the next generation of archivists, will be able to do this (unless there is external funding for hiring new faculty, regular or adjunct, and even if there is such funding, where will these people come from?).

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