Wednesday, June 1, 2011

From reference request to preservation project

Previous blog posts have covered our preservation queue for sound recordings: the delicate balance between the physical stability of the medium and importance of the content that dictates our usual operations. Meanwhile, patron requests, which always receive prompt attention, often interrupt this, sometimes happily. Let me explain.

A visual appraisal usually tells us what we need to know about a sound recording’s physical stability. However, one hidden benefit of patron requests is those cases where this usually doesn’t apply. In those cases, we monitor the tape during digitization and thus spot things originally not apparent that affect the sound quality: bad splices, slitting issues, odd track configurations, and so on. Because some collections were created at the same time with the same tape stocks, the issues on one or two tapes can tell us a lot about the rest of the collection.

What this means is that what we thought was a stable collection isn’t. We then reassess the collection and modify its place in the queue, with it possibly becoming a preservation project. Of course, I’m writing this inspired by recent examples. One is the sound recordings in the Mont Pelerin Society records, which had bad splices of acetate tape. A second was an inquiry from my alma matter leading me to poorly wound acetate tape recordings of Gamal Abdel Nasser. As you may recall, acetate tape is one of the more unstable formats, and acetate tapes with abnormal problems are worse. Thus the Mont Pelerin tapes became a project; the Nasser tapes, though moved forward in our queue, are still awaiting preservation.

On the lighter side, there’s another benefit: the content is sometimes humorous and timely. Within a week of the opening of the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part One, I hear Lawrence Fertig describe Ayn Rand’s book (Atlas Shrugged) as “one of the recent books that has caused a sensation.” He was extolling the virtues of the novel at the Mont Pelerin Society’s 1960 meeting, joking that Ayn Rand had called Ludwig von Mises “a left-wing deviationist.”

An offending splice point, Box 61, Mont Pelerin Society records, Hoover Institution Archives

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