Library of Congress defines the state of the art at Culpeper facility

Some agencies that grapple with the challenges of preserving video and audio recordings are looking outside the Beltway for inspiration.

Officials from several agencies have made the 70-mile trek to the foothills of Culpeper, Va., to tour the Library of Congress’ sprawling 415,000-square-foot Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.

The facility has 90 miles of shelving, 35 climate-controlled vaults, 124 individual vaults for more flammable nitrate film, and state-of-the-art capture and digitization technology. It is a fitting federal pension for the Hollywood blockbusters, obscure jazz riffs and talk-radio broadcasts that define Americana. It is also a model for how other agencies can tackle their own preservation challenges.

Officials from the Homeland Security Department, the FBI, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Voice of America, and the Smithsonian Institution have been among the visitors to the Packard campus so far.


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Library of Congress defines the state of the art at Culpeper facility


Wo Chang, manager of the digital media group at NIST, received a tour in May 2009 and said he was impressed with the facilities and collections. “They don’t just do the archiving, but they can also do restoration and playback,” he said. “But the collection itself I think is pretty amazing.”

The Library of Congress has almost 3.5 million sound recordings and is home to more than 1.1 million film, TV and video items in a range of formats and time periods. If something is submitted for a copyright, the creator must give the Library of Congress a copy.

“We need to be state-of-the-art for 2009,” said Gregory Lukow, head of the Library of Congress’ Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division at Packard, during a recent visit to the facility. "We also need to be state-of-the-art for 1899."

The Packard campus was designed to preserve a 120-year history of audiovisual media, and often some of the best playback quality comes from the original equipment the recordings were designed to be played on, Lukow said. However, Packard also has an extensive digitization operation through which sights and sounds stored on decaying media can be preserved.

The facility is in the midst of ramping up its live-capture facilities to include any content that’s publicly available via satellite, radio or Web site. Officials say that if all 264 channels of the live-capture system were to run all the time, they would record 5T to 10T of material per day.

Chang said he was surprised by the Packard facility's range of media and has invited Lukow to speak at an upcoming workshop, citing the Packard officials' forward-thinking approach to the kind of technology they use so that they can make materials available to as many people as possible.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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