Library of Congress to digitize recordings

Soon, campaign speeches of President Warren Harding from 1920, Marines' descriptions of battles of World War II and TV shows from the 1960s may be available in digital form from the Library of Congress.

The library has hired User Technology Associates Inc., Arlington, Va., to begin the massive project of converting some of its historic and rapidly deteriorating films and early audio recordings into digital form for preservation.

UTA has a 30-month contract to create a "prototype digital repository" in the Virginia countryside, where the library hopes to eventually maintain a vast audio/visual collection. The library estimates its historically important recordings and films will take nearly 5 million gigabytes of digital storage space and may take 15 years to convert to digital form.

About 150,000 audio and video recordings are deteriorating or are recorded in obsolete formats and must be converted to digital form to be heard or viewed.

Ironically, the most endangered artifacts are among the newer ones, said Adam Anthony, a spokesman for UTA. "The TV stuff from the '60s and '70s" was recorded on 2-inch film that is decaying. The photographic emulsion that makes up the film images peels off as the film is unwound, he said.

UTA's job is to demonstrate that such films, 78 RPM records and other forms of recorded material can be transferred to digital format. The company has not settled on a method of digitization, but is expected to experiment with several, Anthony said.

When successful digitization has been demonstrated and the methods have been approved, the Library of Congress is expected to begin the massive task of digitizing more than a century's worth of recordings and film.

The material is expected to be accessible to researchers and others by computer and is to be housed in a National Audio Visual Conservation Center to be created in a former Federal Reserve Bank building, Culpeper, Va.

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