Monday, May 09, 2011

100 miles of shelves

Gene DeAnna in the Library's vaults  (Los Angeles Times)

There's a great article on the LA Times site, "Library of Congress builds the record collection of the century." It's got some fascinating facts in the Library's archive. The storage facility had  a former life as a cash depository during the Cold War.

It's "a repository containing nearly 100 miles of shelves stacked with some 6 million items [taking up 45 acres]: reels of film; kinescopes; videotape and screenplays; magnetic audiotape; wax cylinders; shellac, metal and vinyl discs; wire recordings; paper piano rolls; photographs; manuscripts; and other materials. In short, a century's worth of the nation's musical and cinematic legacy.... It's here that a recent donation from Universal Music Group, nearly a quarter-million master recordings by musicians including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby, is now permanently housed."

"As part of the Library of Congress, this trove is available to anyone, free. But because of the complexities of copyright law, access is restricted to the library's reading rooms in Washington and Culpeper..."

Their collection sounds amazing, including such delights as every 78 rpm disc recorded by Jelly Roll Morton, or "half a million LPs, among which are dozens of surf and hot-rod music-themed discs that Capitol Records issued in the '60s to capitalize on those crazes, including "Hot Rod Hootenanny" by Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos, with cover art and songs co-written by fabled car designer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth."

The story also discusses the various formats the Library has to archive, from cylinder recordings to DAT tapes. 

"I love to give the example that the cylinder from 1900 may be easier to play back than the DAT [digital audiotape] from 2001," sound curator Barton said. "Seriously. There are a lot of DATs that just won't play now."

The most enduring formats? Not CDs or MP3 digital files.  "Vinyl discs properly stored will last hundreds of years," Miller said. "Shellac too."

Of course, getting access to this material runs into copyright issues.

Museum director Loren Schoenberg said, "My goal is to have all of it, every last second of it, available on the Internet. If it was up to me, I'd just throw it on the Internet, let everybody sue each other and happy new year. But you can't do that, because you're dealing with [musicians'] estates, labels, record companies and publishers."

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