The Washington Post

National Recording Preservation Plan aims to protect America’s audio history

An audio engineer monitors the playback of a lacquer disc at the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus in Culpeper. (Abby Brack Lewis/LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)

Sounds like a plan.

The Library of Congress is sharing its National Recording Preservation Plan on Wednesday, outlining its strategy for safeguarding America’s sound recordings for future generations of listeners.

The congressionally mandated plan arrives after more than a decade of cooperation between the library and its National Recording Preservation Board, which includes composers, musicians, archivists, librarians, musicologists and other figures in the recording industry.

“As a nation, we have good reason to be proud of our record of creativity in the sound-recording arts and sciences,” James H. Billington, librarian of Congress, said in a statement. “However, our collective energy in creating and consuming sound recordings has not been matched by an equal level of interest in preserving them for posterity.”

The library’s plan makes 32 recommendations toward preserving the nation’s endangered audio heritage. It calls for a publicly accessible directory of sound collections; a national policy for collecting, cataloguing and preserving neglected recordings; the implementation of best practices for preserving digital audio files; and more.

The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 called on the library not only to protect America’s recordings — from fragile cylinder records to vintage sportscasts to hit pop songs — but also to make them accessible to the public.

In 2002, the library launched its National Recording Registry, a collection of recordings deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” to be preserved for all time.

The plan announced Wednesday continues that conservation effort while fighting the popular misconception that all of the nation’s recorded culture will someday magically appear on YouTube.

“Everybody sort of assumes that . . . if it’s not on the Internet now, it soon will be,” says Patrick Loughney, chief of the library-affiliated Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center. “The facts are exactly the opposite. There are massive amounts of historical recordings [that are currently] out of circulation, and it’s created a sort of growing amnesia from one generation to the next.”

Chris Richards is The Washington Post's pop music critic. He has recently written about the genius of Young Thug, the endurance of go-go music, and the pleasure of listening to loud sounds in the dark.



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