Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tackling the Challenges of Audio Archives

Because archival materials are collected to be used (in this case, heard), we'd like to introduce you to the vast array of sound recordings housed at the Hoover Archives. We've got about 80,000 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recordings of broadcasts to the nations behind the iron curtain and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union and several thousand recordings of speeches on public policy issues at the Commonwealth Club of California beginning in 1944. Recordings in many other collections include the prepresidential radio addresses of Ronald Reagan and speeches and lectures by Milton Friedman, and that's only the beginning. Add them all up, and you get a good hundred thousand audio recordings.

A 2004 report by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) discusses the issues involved in making sound recordings available, including having the requisite staff and equipment to access recordings in obsolete formats and
describing the recordings so that people can find them.

Hoover, having contributed that CLIR report, has since been working to overcome the problems. Most notably, we hired a recorded sound archivist and an audio engineer to begin preserving our audio collection. The audio engineer digitizes
decades-old audiotapes to preservation-quality specifications using Studer open-reel tape players and a sophisticated Quadriga digital audio workstation (a quadriga is a chariot drawn by four horses abreast, which is driven by our engineer).

Describing our sound recordings is important because that is how you find out what we have. How can we describe all of our recordings short of actually listening to them, which would take years of our time and require people fluent in dozens of
different languages? Where can we post the descriptions so that people who want recordings can find them? What can we do to encourage people to incorporate audio material in their research? More on these questions later.

Label on a 16-inch transcription disc, Commonwealth Club of California records, Box 1142, Hoover Institution Archives.

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