On May 10–14, 2016, nearly three hundred recorded sound experts, librarians, archivists, preservationists, electronics engineers, collectors, and producers of recordings and electronic equipment; all came together at Indiana University to celebrate the fiftieth annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC). These are the people—representing the largest collections of sound in US, Canada and several from the countries of Brazil, Germany, England, the Czech Republic, France, Austria, and the Netherlands—preserving history and providing information—whether music or voice found on cylinders, discs, magnetic tape, wire, or film. The sophistication of the methods used and the metadata involved with so many “carriers” in so many formats, with so many issues of different rates of deterioration, boggles the mind. From private recordings to major record labels, conferees were treated to expertise in all areas.
A preconference workshop regarding preservation and digitization of recorded sound was a highlight and while not part of the conference, there were presentations about the program within the conference program. The university’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative was shut down for two days for conferees to see and learn what and how things were being done. Presentations were based on the ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation created in collaboration with the Council on Library and Information Resources published in May 2015. Conferees were shown the process of the massive digitization collaboration project between Indiana University and the Memnon Corporation of Brussels, which required a whole new building with three power sources for the building, the equipment, and the recording playback equipment.
This fiftieth Conference returned to the place of the first annual conference of the group in 1967. This first conference occurred after several 1965 steering meetings initiated by Kurtz Myer, director of the Detroit Public Library Music Department, Frank Davis, curator for the Communications Section at the Ford Museum, and me. An exploratory meeting was held with audio experts and archivists at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan after the Detroit ALA 1965 conference. The group met again in early 1966 at Syracuse University at the invitation of Walter Welch, director for the SU Audio Archives and author of From Tinfoil to Stereo, and the group was founded. Now with a name, ARSC met again in 1966 at the Library of Congress to decide on bylaws for incorporation.
Originally one of the questions to solve was, “Record, Record, Who’s got the Record?” Many libraries were struggling with that question from patrons. Solutions to finding recordings came slowly, but a bulletin and journal were started, and a directory of collectors and collections was produced early, offering some help as finding aids. Since, ARSC has given out grants for more research and publications, including the production of several membership directories.
While the focus seems now to be on preserving much of what was actually going on before 1965 and now, what happened in the ’60s fifty years ago, the questions still remains. Can we document enough to set up databases common to all collections which could then be searched to find what is needed, whether for more research, more writing, transcribing music lost in paper shuffles or just for a particular celebration of life for an individual library patron?
For now, ARSC, the American contingent of the International Association for Sound Archives are in collaborative efforts to build the largest searchable international collection of bibliographies of discographies of recorded sound. More information can be found here.