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National Recording Preservation Plan Provides Blueprint for Saving U.S. Recorded Sound Heritage

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Kathlin Smith (202) 939-4754,
Gayle Osterberg (202) 707-0020,
Sheryl Cannady (202) 707-6456,

Washington, DC, Feb. 13, 2013-The Library of Congress and Council on Library and Information Resources announce publication of The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan. The congressionally mandated plan spells out 32 short- and long-term recommendations involving both the public and private sectors and covering infrastructure, preservation, access, education, and policy strategies.

The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 called on the Librarian of Congress to “implement a comprehensive national sound recording preservation program” that “shall increase accessibility of sound recordings for educational purposes.” The plan released today is the cumulative result of more than a decade of work by the Library and its National Recording Preservation Board, which comprises representatives from professional organizations of composers, musicians, musicologists, librarians, archivists, and the recording industry.

A web of interlocking issues currently threatens the long-term survival of our sound-recording history, from a lack of storage capacity and preservation expertise to rapidly changing technology and disparate copyright laws governing historical recordings. Major areas of the nation’s recorded-sound heritage have already been destroyed or remain inaccessible to the public.

Experts estimate that more than half of the titles recorded on cylinder records-the dominant format used by the U.S. recording industry during its first 23 years-have not survived. The archive of one of radio’s leading networks is lost. A fire at the storage facility of a principal record company ruined an unknown number of master recordings of both owned and leased materials. The whereabouts of a wire recording made by the crew members of the Enola Gay from inside the plane as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima are unknown. Many key recordings made by George Gershwin no longer survive. Recordings by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and other top recording artists have been lost. Personal collections belonging to recording artists were destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Many rights holders have not permitted researchers or the general public to listen to the recordings they legally control outside the limited scope of facilities maintained by legitimate research institutions. One survey of reissues of historical U.S. recordings created between 1890 and 1964 determined, “On average, rights owners have made available 14 percent of the historic recordings that they control from the various eras.” A gospel-music historian estimated that only a few of the thousands of gospel recordings that have been produced are now available commercially.

There is currently no efficient way for researchers or the general public to discover what sound recordings exist and where they can be found. Despite the development of the Internet, few historical recordings can be made available online legally because of aspects of the U.S. copyright law.

Technology of the twenty-first century provides enormous potential for addressing information-sharing, coordination, preservation, and access challenges that were previously insurmountable. However, the digital environment has created significant technical, organizational, and funding challenges for those institutions responsible for preserving recorded-sound history for future generations.

Among the recommendations:

  • Create a publicly accessible national directory of institutional, corporate, and private recorded-sound collections and an authoritative national discography that details the production of recordings and the location of preservation copies in public institutions;
  • Develop a coordinated national collections policy for sound recordings, including a strategy to collect, catalog, and preserve locally produced recordings, radio broadcast content, and neglected and emerging audio formats and genres;
  • Establish university-based degree programs in audio archiving and preservation and continuing education programs for practicing audio engineers, archivists, curators, and librarians;
  • Construct environmentally controlled storage facilities to provide optimal conditions for long-term preservation;
  • Establish an Audio-Preservation Resource Directory website to house a basic audio-preservation handbook, collections appraisal guidelines, metadata standards, and other resources and best practices;
  • Establish best practices for creating and preserving born-digital audio files;
  • Apply federal copyright law to sound recordings created before February 15, 1972;
  • Develop a basic licensing agreement to enable on-demand secure streaming by libraries and archives of out-of-print recordings;
  • Organize an advisory committee of industry executives and heads of archives to address recorded sound preservation and access issues that require public-private cooperation for resolution.

The recommendations were developed by task forces that included experts from public and private institutions across the country in the fields of law, audio preservation, library/archive management, business, digital technology, and cultural history. The plan recommends that the board take responsibility for moving the recommendations forward.

The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan follows several accomplishments, including five landmark studies from 2005-2009 on issues affecting sound-recording preservation and access, and the 2010 publication of The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. Both the preservation plan and the 2010 report are available as free downloads at and, respectively. Print copies can be purchased by following the instructions at those links.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its vast collections, programs, and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at

The National Recording Preservation Board, mandated by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, is an advisory group bringing together a number of professional organizations and expert individuals concerned with the preservation of recorded sound. The Board is one of three components established by the legislation to form a comprehensive national program to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America’s sound recording heritage. The other two components of the program are the National Recording Registry and a fundraising Foundation. The Board is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and consists of one member and one alternate from each of seventeen organizations representing composers, musicians, musicologists, librarians, archivists, and the recording industry, as named in the law. In addition, the Librarian of Congress may appoint up to five “at-large” members.

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