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IMLS Awards $250,000 to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for a System to Digitize Audio Recordings from Obsolete Formats
Washington, DC—Imaging techniques from the physics lab are being used to preserve fragile and historic sound recordings. A grant of $250,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will help the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) provide for the first time a much-needed service to museums, libraries, and archives around the country. NEDCC will use new technologies to convert audio recordings from obsolete formats, such as wax cylinders and records, to new digital formats.
NEDCC will partner with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to bring the technology, dubbed IRENE/3D, to the Center for a pilot project to work with partner archives that have collections of obsolete physical audio recordings. The project team will deploy the new technologies and train NEDCC staff to deliver these digitization services in a way that is sustainable and affordable.
An estimated 46 million audio recordings are held by these institutions, according to a 2010 study by the Library of Congress. The study says that a large portion of America’s sound-recorded heritage has deteriorated or is inaccessible to the public.
"This grant creatively marries the high-tech instrumentation and concepts of the physics lab with the needs of museums and libraries holding historic audio collections," said Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. "The work will ultimately release many sounds of the past from their physical confinement, making them available for the first time for study by researchers and for the enjoyment of the public."
NEDCC Executive Director Bill Veillette said, "Reformatting has been a part of NEDCC’s services since it began offering film duplication and preservation microfilming in the 1970s. In the past three years, the Center has successfully transitioned its reformatting services to 100 percent digital photography with a dual focus on careful handling and adherence to best practices. The IRENE/3D system has great potential for preserving the nation’s rare and fragile sonic cultural heritage, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to add this groundbreaking new technology to NEDCC’s menu of digital services."
Developed by particle physicists Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev, IRENE/3D permits optical scanning of historic materials without causing them any damage. It translates these scans into digital files that can be manipulated to correct audio distortions and noises and that can be played on computers. IRENE/3D was used in early 2008 to restore the earliest sound recording in history, a "phonautograph" paper recording by French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.
IMLS previously funded IRENE/3D technology research in 2009, with a $673,344 grant to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The grant supported a cooperative agreement between the lab, the Library of Congress, and a number of American and international institutions. As part of that project, the lab digitized a selection of items from the early 1880s from Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory that are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. These included unusual experimental recordings created on wax, foil, cardboard, metal, glass, and plaster. The partners were also able to retrieve the information from the Dickson Cylinder, Thomas Edison’s 1893 attempt to synchronize film and audio.
About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit http://www.imls.gov or follow @US_IMLS on Twitter.