Just received a comprehensive update on the work of the Radio Preservation Task Force, an initiative announced last year by the Library of Congress to digitally preserve local radio history. About 100 scholars spent last fall scouring libraries, museums, historical societies, and stations around the country looking for recordings large and small. More than 100,000 were discovered, and that impressed the LoC’s National Recording Preservation Board enough to move on to “phase two,” which (in part) will involve more detailed examination of our finds.
The Task Force is also lining up some specific preservation programs in conjunction with other media preservationists. First up is a collaboration with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, who’ve just completed digitizing some 40,000 hours of local public radio and TV programming from the 1940s to the present. The RPTF plans to organize “the first national educational and research initiatives for public broadcasting history,” including outreach to public broadcasters in hopes of expanding the program-collection. Similarly, Task Force members are working with the National Archives to prioritize the digitization of program transcriptions; more than a half-million have been identified to date, for which metadata is being compiled.
Plans are also in the works, through a collaboration with the Sounding Out! blog, to create a mechanism for identifying and protecting endangered audio/video collections. My own searches of archives in the NYC area turned up many forgotten recordings in a variety of formats, ranging from wax cylinder to DAT. Every recording medium is perishable and some decay faster than others; this initiative will (hopefully) establish a protocol for taking in and triaging endangered recordings so that they, like the signals they capture, are not lost into the ether.
Finally, the Task Force is mulling over setting up caucuses for researchers to collaborate on particularly special interests. For example, many recordings of radio broadcasts contain copies of entire songs, which in themselves are copyrighted material with (ostensible) limits on reproduction and distribution. How do we store and present these archives in a way that maximizes peoples’ potential to use them, while respecting the integrity of the intellectual property that is a natural part of its content?
Task Force members and associates will assemble in meatspace for the first time early next year in Washington, D.C. to discuss the state of its various initiatives and develop strategies to manage and mine the resources we’re building. In the interim, many adventures are afoot.