Report Assesses Standards and Best Practices for Preserving Sound Recordings

subject: NRPB
Library of Congress
National Recording Preservation Board
sound recordings
audio preservation
recorded sound
analog audio tape
analog audio disc
digital conversion
analog to digital conversion

CLIR Press Releases

For Immediate Release: March 22, 2006

Sheryl Cannady, Library of Congress   202-707-6456
Kathlin Smith, Council on Library and Information Resources   202-939-4754
Sam Brylawski, National Recording Preservation Board   202-250-7146

Report Assesses Standards and Best Practices for Preserving Sound Recordings

WASHINGTON, D.C.-A new report from the Library of Congress (LC) and Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) assesses current standards and best practices in capturing sound from analog discs and tapes.

The report, Capturing Analog Sound for Digital Preservation: Report of a Roundtable Discussion of Best Practices for Transferring Analog Discs and Tapes, is based on a meeting of audio experts hosted by LC in January 2004. It is the third in a series undertaken by the National Recording Preservation Board, under the auspices of the Library of Congress, to provide information for developing a national plan to preserve and assure access to recorded sound.

The first study, Survey of Reissues of U. S. Recordings, which studied the accessibility of America’s historical sound recordings, is available free of charge at The second report, Copyright Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Pre-1972 Commercial Sound Recordings by Libraries and Archives, also is available free of charge at

“Among all the media employed to record human creativity, sound recordings have undergone particularly radical changes in the last 25 years,” writes Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in his introduction to the report. “Institutional archives are now making a transition from preserving audio collections on tape reels to creating digital files,” he notes, but “authoritative manuals on how to create preservation copies of analog (nondigital) audio recordings do not yet exist. . . . I am extremely grateful to these professionals for donating their time and sharing their expertise.”

According to experts, nearly all recorded sound is at risk of disappearing or becoming inaccessible within a few generations because the playback equipment will become obsolete. A solution to this problem depends on technologies that capture the audio signals on soon-to-be -obsolete formats and migrate or reformat those signals to current technologies while the older formats are still playable.

Roundtable discussions focused on such issues as mitigating deterioration of the original sound recording, obtaining the most accurate transfer possible, best practices for digital conversion, sampling standards, manual versus automated transfer, and creating metadata for digital recordings. Discussions revealed agreement on most practices while also highlighting areas needing further research. There was unanimous concern that the pool of expertise in dealing with older recordings is shrinking and that key technical knowledge must be passed on.

Among the recommendations to improve the practice of analog audio transfer for preservation, the three highest priorities were to (1) develop core competencies in audio preservation engineering; (2) develop arrangements among smaller institutions that allow for cooperative buying of esoteric materials and supplies; and (3) pursue a research agenda for mitigating a variety of problems relating to magnetic tape. The report also includes an extensive workflow document that sets forth the transfer practices agreed upon by roundtable participants.

Capturing Analog Sound for Digital Preservation is available free of charge at

Established by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the advisory National Recording Preservation Board ( is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and consists of representatives from professional organizations of composers, musicians, musicologists, librarians, archivists, and the recording industry. Among the issues that Congress charged the board to examine were access to historical recordings, the role of archives, and the effects of copyright law on access to recordings.

The Library of Congress ( is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the world’s largest library with more than 132 million items, which includes more than 2.8 million sound recordings in various formats.

The Council on Library and Information Resources ( is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management of information for research, teaching and learning. CLIR works to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved, as a public good.