Friday, April 15, 2005

Review of Audio Collection Preservation Trends, Challenges

Another article annotation:

Brylawksi, Samuel. “Review of Audio Collection Preservation Trends and Challenges.” In Proceedings from the Sound Savings Symposium, July 24-26, 2003. Available online at (accessed 15 Apr. 2005).

In this document, the former head of the Recorded Sound Section of the Library of Congress, Samuel Brylawski wrote a review of preservation practices related to audio, and the challenges placed upon institutions by degrading physical carriers. He says that the digital future is already here. While archivists and preservationists generally should not adopt the latest fads, a sea change has occurred; therefore, there is little choice but to adopt measures to move the intellectual content of analog sound recordings to the digital domain.

He first begins to talk about conservation, or the practice of cleaning, restoring, storage, and handling. There is still considerable ambiguity over the life expectancy of many formats, and best ways for preserving recordings that were instantaneously recorded (and thus, usually made only for short-term purposes). His bad news is that there have never been any agreed upon best practices for conserving original audio recordings. Given the recency of the collection of audio materials, this is perhaps not surprising. Brylawski makes the point that “it wasn’t that long ago that masters were routinely destroyed after reformatting.” Standards are continuing to evolve, and audio archivists are often left to their own devices to adopt the best possible standards for preservation that exist at the time.

There are similar challenges to digital preservation that exist and have been debated for years. Some of the issues of transferring involve using lossless file formats, the final target format, and the future refreshing and migration of file formats. Institutions will have to build and maintain long-term digital repositories for their digital materials, much as their libraries collect paper and analog items. In this area, Brylawski says that we are still in the childhood of the development of these systems.

Likewise, institutions will need a suitable information infrastructure to sustain these digital collections. He talked about some of the prototypes being developed, such as the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center by the Library of Congress and the Open Archival Information System (OAIS). Metadata schemas, such as METS will associate audio data, with scanned record labels and bibliographic data, as well as structural and administrative metadata, so that all aspects of the “archival information package” will maintain associations after being ingested within an OAIS system.

Because the playback and transfer of audio recordings involves expert knowledge of both historical and current carriers and equipment, Brylawski advocates the training of audio preservation engineers which can undertake the massive amount of work still to be done. The challenge of preserving current lossy (MP3) formats will be a challenge. Sound archivists will need to work with Congress and the music industry to insure that important cultural material does not degrade beyond repair before the copyright term expires.


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