Monday, July 21, 2014

Cold war vaults and robots: AV preservation at the Library of Congress

As many of you know, a very large percentage of the audio and visual recording made in the late 19th and early 20th century are on the brink of extinction. Either they are decaying, lost, or unplayable. The Library of Congress is attempting to stem the tide of disappearing AV media. With some large gift funds, they recently opened a new facility in Culpeper, Virgina whose exclusive mission is audiovisual preservation. A clip on PBS Newshour from last year explains the basics of the facility and its mission (7 minutes):

One of the most interesting tools the Library of Congress has for audio preservation is IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc), a tool that basically takes a visual picture of the sound groove in an analog audio disc, such as a vinyl or lacquer record, and then reproduces the sound from the picture without ever having to touch the disc with a needle. IRENE can do this imaging and analysis almost in real time. IRENE has also been developed for the 3D imaging of wax cylinders (whose sound information was stored vertically instead of laterally), though it is much slower—it takes 80 hours of imaging to get 2-4 minutes of audio. However, since wax cylinders are so fragile that even a couple of playings can damage them, this type of non-invasive extraction is very important. You can read more about IRENE here. This method of capturing sound recording is of course time-consuming and expensive, but what other choice do we have if we want to preserve the past for future generations? Now if only the Library of Congress had more time and money, they might be able to save more of the nation's national sound and visual treasures. But at least they will do what they can.

Meanwhile, a toast! This is SSF's 100th post. Sorry it's not quite as exciting as this 100th.

P.S. If you are interested in the preservation of video games, which is arguably much more difficult than even audio/visual, you should watch this.

Vocab: analog, vinyl, lacquer

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