Washington -- New
digital recordings of events in U.S. history and early radio
shows are at risk of being lost much faster than older ones on tape and
many are already gone, according to a study on sound released.
recent history — such as recordings from 9/11 or the 2008 election — is
at risk because digital sound files can be corrupted, and widely used
CD-R discs only last three to five years before files start to fade,
said study co-author Sam Brylawski.
we're assuming that if it's on the Web it's going to be there forever,"
he said. "That's one of the biggest challenges."
first comprehensive study of the preservation of sound recordings in
the U.S., released by the Library of Congress, also found many
historical recordings already have been lost or can't be accessed by
the public. That includes most of radio's first decade from 1925 to
Shows by musicians Duke Ellington and
Bing Crosby, as well as the earliest sports broadcasts, are already
gone. There was little financial incentive for such broadcasters as CBS
to save early sound files, Brylawski said.
files are a blessing and a curse. Sounds can be easily recorded and
transferred and the files require less and less space. But the problem,
Brylawski said, is they must be constantly maintained and backed up by
audio experts as technology changes. That requires active preservation,
rather than simply placing files on a shelf, he said.
The study co-authored by Rob Bamberger was
mandated by Congress in a 2000 preservation law.
old analog formats that remain are more physically stable and can
survive much longer than contemporary digital recordings, the study
warns. Still, the rapid change in technology to play back the
recordings can make them obsolete.
Recordings saved by historical societies and
family oral histories also are at risk, Brylawski said.
"Those audio cassettes are just time bombs,"
Brylawski said. "They're just not going to be playable."
study recommends several solutions and its findings will be followed by
a National Recording Preservation Plan being developed by the Library
of Congress later this year.
New training and
college degree programs for audio archivists are essential to improve
preservation, the study found. Currently, no universities offer degrees
in audio preservation, though several offer related courses.
study also calls for legal reforms to enable more preservation. A
hodgepodge of 20th century state anti-piracy laws has kept most sound
files out of the public domain before U.S. copyright law was extended
to sound recordings in 1972. The study found only 14 percent of
commercially released recordings are available from rights holders.
this year, the library will debut a National Jukebox online after
securing a license to stream sound recordings controlled by Sony Music
"The more copies of historical recordings are out
there, the safer they are," Brylawski said.
study also calls for changes in copyright law to help preservation. As
it stands now, Brylawski said, copyright restrictions would make most
audio preservation initiatives illegal, the authors wrote.
resources also hamper preservation efforts at many smaller libraries
and archives. The study calls for more coordination among
preservationists to prioritize efforts and develop techniques that can
be used by institutions with smaller budgets.