Michael Taft presentation remarks

CIMA Fall Caucus Presentation:
Wednesday, October 13, 2004



The Archive of Folk Culture holds many one-of-a-kind field recordings (as well as manuscripts, photographs and graphic images, and even artifacts)

The recordings include wax cylinders, discs, wire, tape, digital formats, video formats and film

None of these formats was meant to last
“The layers of chemicals” description
What affects the formats: light, temperature, humidity, dirt and dust, electro-magnetic fields, the chemical interaction of the components of the medium

Deterioration has already taken its toll: breakage, mold, chemical leaching, delamination, sticky-shed

The need: a program to transfer the information from the original media to digital preservation media


Joint project between American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage of the Smithsonian Institution. Began in 2000.

Financed through the Save America’s Treasures Program of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, administered by the National Parks Service

The Smithsonian is the chief recipient and the LC is sub-contracted by them
A complex legal/financial arrangement between three federal agencies
Required almost a year to put together the agreement

The goal of the project: 8,000 sound recordings digitally preserved
3,000 by AFC
5,000 by Smithsonian
what constitutes a “sound recording”?

Includes the “accompanying material” to these recordings – e.g., record sleeves, field notes, photographs, transcriptions–in other words, the collection of archival material within which the recordings are “embedded”

Includes creation of metadata for the digitized recordings–bibliographic or descriptive, technical, and administrative.

Indirectly, the SOS project is also helping LC to establish standards and practices for digitization that can be applied throughout the Library, and can also be applied by other institutions
SOS representatives and “outreach”–conferences, workshops, etc.

The grant gave the AFC $285,000 (out of a total of $750,000) to be matched by other funds
Nature of raising matching funds
Some of the donors: Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Grammy, etc. plus small donors


Our first principle: we would digitize collections rather than individual recordings, since our goal was to serve “virtual archival collections” to researchers, rather than “exhibition pieces” (as is sometimes the case with American Memory presentations).

SOS is a “pilot” project, and we took great pains to select sound recordings that would test our digitizing capabilities.

We wanted to choose collections that would present us with problems related to format, variety of interrelated formats, and content.

Specifically, there criteria we used to select collections for the project were:

  • content. The Save America’s Treasures Program required that the material to be digitized should have American content. In effect, the recordings should be of American traditions or should reflect an American perspective on folklife. This criterion was political, in that the Americanness of any part of the archive is not normally a criterion for preservation. We are the Archive of Folk Culture, not the Archive of American Folk Culture, and our collections policy extends to traditional material from any of the world’s cultures.
  • historical or cultural significance. All of our collections are culturally or historically significant, and it is a mug’s game to distinguish between more and less significant collections. However, archival staff was aware that certain collections were in high demand, or were well known within the scholarly community, or were likely to gather both a general and scholarly readership, once they were made accessible in digital form. This criterion was, of course, subjective and demanded that, in order to arrive at their decisions, archival staff needed to apply their experience and knowledge of the Center’s archival holdings, as well as that of their perceptions of the interests of researchers.
  • present state of accessibility. Another criterion involved how accessible a collection was, in practical terms, for use by researchers. As is standard practice, we do not serve original sound recordings, but many of the listening copies in our archive are of poor quality and are deteriorating. In many cases, we have no listening copies for collections that have been in the archive for years–making these recordings almost entirely inaccessible. As well, although we do serve original manuscripts and photographs, certain items may be held back from researchers because of their fragility or deteriorated condition.
  • fragility and deterioration. A major criterion was the physical state of the recordings in a collection. Some sound recordings are, by their nature, more unstable than others–and this is not always a matter of age. A 100-year old cylinder may be more stable than a 1970s or 1980s audio tape.
  • variety of sound recording formats. Because Save Our Sounds is a pilot project, we were intent on trying out our procedures on a variety of formats. Thus, we selected collections that called for the digitization of cylinders, discs, wires, audio and video tapes, and born digital recordings.
  • complexity of collections. Again, because the project was a test of our capabilities, we chose collections of varied complexity. Some were composed of sound recordings and little else, while others were multi-media in the extreme, consisting of several kinds of recording formats, manuscripts, and images.
  • diversity of material. The project depended upon raising matching funds from outside sources. To maximize our chances of attracting donors, we understood the necessity of including a variety of kinds of collections that would appeal to different kinds of donors. It was important that we keep in mind the ethnic and national traditions represented by the collections, their genre, their region of the country, and gender issues, among other aspects of diversity.
  • other political considerations. In the case of one collection–the Pearl Harbor Collection–which I will describe more thoroughly elsewhere, the decision was of a political and practical nature. After the September 11th tragedy, the Center staff gathered to decide how we might respond. The result was a collection of audio and video recorded first-reactions of Americans from around the country; these interviews were carried out by a number of ethnographers, students, and interested citizens. The project was inspired by a similar project carried out by the Library of Congress sixty years earlier. The day after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress called on folklorists across the country to conduct man-in-the-street interviews in order to document first impressions of the event. The timeliness of these Pearl Harbor recordings–in light of the Sept. 11th tragedy–combined with the knowledge that the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute had an interest in the Pearl Harbor material and the American Folklife Center’s high-profile Veterans History Project, made the Pearl Harbor Collection a good choice for the Save Our Sounds Project. Beyond its obvious historical significance, the collection would make the project that much more of interest to donors and to the media–and would give the entire project a heightened political profile that would benefit future fund-raising efforts.

No one collection received top marks for all of the criteria.

Deciding on which collections to choose for the project was a matter of balance and compromise. Used collective wisdom of a number of AFC staff members.

The final selection:

Eloise Hubbard Linscott Collection. Linscott was a collector of traditional music and song in New England. She began her collecting with a cylinder recorder, graduated to a disc cutting machine, and eventually used a tape recorder over her collecting career which extended from the 1930s to the 1960s. The variety of discs that she used included acetate discs with aluminum, glass, and paper bases, that vary in dimensions and quality. In addition to over 480 sound recordings, her collection includes over 200 photographs and approximately 4,800 manuscript pages (both bound and unbound). All of this material has been digitized. Her collection also includes a copy of her book, Folk Songs of Old New England (Linscott 1939), that she has modified with inserted photographs and notes–all of which makes it an “association copy” of the book, and this too was digitized. The collection also consists of pamphlets, booklets, and other printed and published ephemera that fall outside of the scope for digitization. They are not “it” as far as the Save Our Sounds Project is concerned, and so were not digitized.

James Madison Carpenter Collection. Carpenter was an American folklorist who went to the United Kingdom from 1928 to 1935 to record sea chanteys, ballads, songs, dance tunes, and traditional dramas. He also recorded songs and narratives in the United States, in Mississippi and North Carolina. His collection includes approximately 180 cylinders, 221 instantaneous acetate discs, 563 photographs in several formats, and over 13,500 manuscript pages. All of this material, with the exception of the discs (which are mostly transfers from the cylinders) is being digitized. Approximately 5,000 pages of student papers that Carpenter kept from the classes he taught, however, are not scheduled for digitization. This collection has the potential of attracting researchers who have become aware of Carpenter’s work (see Bishop 1999), but who have been frustrated by the poor quality and general inaccessibility of the current analog copies of Carpenter’s original materials. A team of British researchers has recently created an online catalog to the Carpenter Collection that will greatly add to the value of the digital presentation of this material (see Bishop et al. 2003).

American Dialect Society Collection. In the 1930s, the American Dialect Society conducted recorded interviews with New Englanders in order to gather samples of dialect. The result was approximately 880 aluminum or aluminum-based instantaneous discs, which now have been digitized.

Don Yoder Pennsylvania German Collection. In the 1950s, folklorist Don Yoder used a wire recorder to document Pennsylvania German songs and narratives. This collection is made up of 32 wire spools, 20 of which have recorded information. Transcriptions taken from these wires have been used in publications, but the sound recordings have never been accessible to researchers. The recordings will be digitized within the next few months.

Eleanor Dickinson Collection. Eleanor Dickinson researched the Holiness and Pentecostal churches of Appalachia, and in the process made 181 video recordings (mostly open-reel) of church services, tent meetings, interviews, and other aspects of mountain religion. These videos are part of the Save Our Sounds Project, but not her 86 audio tapes and several hundred manuscript pages. Most of the tapes are audio-only versions of the videos, and the majority of the manuscript materials is administrative paperwork and transcriptions.

Zuni Storytelling Collection. This collection consists of over 200 audio tape reels. Recorded in 1966 and 1967 in Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, 19 Zuni elders tell over 800 stories, including 7 or 8 narrators relating hour-long telapna:we, a traditional form of Zuni folktale.

International Storytelling Foundation Collection. This organization is responsible for the annual National Storytelling Festival, as well as other public events. The collection comprises a comprehensive documentary record of every year of the Jonesborough, Tennessee, festival that began in 1973. This collection consists of over 2700 sound recordings in various formats, over 1000 moving image items, 27 CDs, 174 LP discs, 1,200 volumes of books, 18 binders of the serial Yarnspinner, and approximately 196,000 manuscript leaves, and over 10,000 photographic images. The Save Our Sounds project will digitize all of the sound recordings as well as any manuscript documents directly related to these tapes.

Pearl Harbor “Collection.” As I already mentioned, this collection has special political significance. Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war, the Library of Congress organized “man on the street” interviews around the country to document people’s reactions to these events. Alan Lomax and other experienced fieldworkers conducted interviews in Washington DC, Tennessee, New York City, and Texas, among other locations, on December 8-10, 1941, and again on January and February 1942. A number of these discs were used for a radio programs during World War II. The collection contains 77 acetate discs and 90 pages of manuscript material, all of which are part of the Save Our Sounds Project.


SOS made use of three staffing resources for the project

1. AFC in-house staff:

AFC existing staff acted as selectors, curators of specific collections, processors of the material, sound engineers/technicians, and web-specialists
Head of Archives = project director and administrator
Reference Staff and Folklife Specialists = selectors and curators
Processors = full-time and temporary processors involved in numbering and rehousing, data entry, preparing instructions for digitization, digital file management, quality review, etc.
Sound engineers = involved in acquisition of hardware and software for digitization, and in digitizing recordings
Web specialists = involved in placing digitized material on LC websites (American Memory); this included digital conversion specialists and web designers

Over 20 staff members, permanent and temporary, have been involved in the project.

2. LC divisions and staff

Any large project within the LC requires the cooperation of many divisions. The SOS made use of:

Office of the General Counsel = to negotiate on the SOS tri-agency agreement
Office of the Chief Financial Officer = keep the accounts and assist in writing financial reports
The Contracting Office = writes contracts between the AFC and outside vendors
Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound = for their expertise in digital transfers of sound recordings
Conservation Division = to repair paper and photographic materials and to assist in the outsourcing for scanning services
The Automation Planning and Liaison Office, and Information Technology Services = for server storage space and advice on digital storage
Office of Strategic Initiatives = for standards and practices for digitization, and for the creation of online presentations (American Memory)

Some parts of LC work on a cost-recovery basis. MBRS Recorded Sound Labs is one such unit
We contracted with MBRS labs to digitize some of the collections, either in the form of straight payment for work, or in exchange for buying lab equipment and supplies

3. Non-LC vendors

The project out-sourced a large part of the work:
Creation of a selection of representative materials to be digitized
Consultation on digitizing wax cylinders
Consultation on metadata software
But mostly, doing the digital transfers

Out-sourcing to vendors may take at least three forms (all employed by SOS):

Open-bid Requests for Proposals to all possible vendors
most complex involving a selection committee and standard bureaucratic practices
Sole-source contracting to GSA contractors
Allowable only for smaller contracts or where there is only one qualified vendor
Making use of vendors already under contract with other LC Divisions
e.g., SIG and JJT vendors for scanning text and photographs, already under contract to perform scanning tasks for other LC divisions


Whether we chose to digitize with in-house staff, or outsource depended upon the state of our equipment and our expertise (or lack thereof). The general rules were:

If it is likely that there would be a high future demand for the transfer of a specific medium, and/or the medium did not require highly specialized technical skills to digitize–then purchase the digitizing equipment and do the work in-house
e.g., Storytelling Foundation DAT tape

If it is likely that there would be low future demand for the transfer of a specific medium, and/or the medium requires specialized tecnical skills to digitize–then out-source the work
e.g., open-reel videotape, wire recordings, wax cylinder recordings

We acquired equipment, hardware and software for the digitizing of discs and tape:

Turntable and stylii (Dual CS 5000)
Open-reel tape decks (Ampex ATR-700 & Otari MX-5050)
Cassette deck (Denon DRM-555)
Monitors (Mackie HR-824)

Supplies ran the gamut from normal archival supplies:

acid-free boxes, folders, mylar sleeves, and other housings for paper and photographs
new housings for sound recordings (sleeves, tape boxes, cylinder cases)

to more esoteric supplies for specialized restoration work for sound recordings:



The primary concern of SOS was to digitally preserve endangered sound recordings.

Issues of access to these digitized collections was secondary, but still important.
What’s the use of preserving, if the material remains inaccessible?


CDRs or other stand-alone digital media.
Rejected because
CDRs will deteriorate
CDRs are not easily networked for simultaneous use

In-house presentation
Accepted as either temporary or permanent measure
As way of making archival collections immediately available to reading room patrons
Less need of “editing” of metadata or user-friendly presentation (if staff are available to help the patron)
For material that is too sensitive to be “broadcast” online, or for material with copyright and other permission restrictions
E.g., Zuni Collection, Leadbelly recordings in Pearl Hr. Collection

Online, Website Presentation
Accepted as best way of making digitized collections accessible
With above caveats
May have to form-fit material to the presentation standards of American Memory
Long lead time between digitization and presentation
Permissions issues
Less “control” over the collection (downloading by users)


By law, archives are allowed to copy any material for the purposes of preservation or restoration.

The LC needs no permission to digitize its collections
Written into our donor agreements

Permissions only becomes an issue when an archive wishes to “broadcast” (explain) items from its collection

The AFC does not hold copyright for most of its material. The Archive is a custodian rather than a rights-holder, in the same way that libraries generally do not hold copyright over the books on their shelves.

But there are rights inherent in the material in the Archive.

For example, a song recorded in the field may be under copyright restriction as a published work
If a singer sings a traditional (public domain) song, his or her rendition is copyrightable as an arrangement of a traditional song
The fieldworker or recordist may have mechanical rights to the recording

For recent collections, the AFC has established release and donation forms that outline the negotiations with individual performers and collectors/donor

Release forms: many professional fieldworkers now ask their informants to complete a release form–a negotiation between informant and recordist on rights, permissions, and the final deposition of the material

Gift/Loan/Purchase Agreements: The AFC now negotiates arrangements with all those who give, loan, or sell material to the Archive:
allowing the AFC to copy material for preservation
allowing the AFC to serve the material in the reading room (with possible restrictions)
allowing the AFC to “broadcast” the material (with possible restrictions)

But older collections usually do not have any release forms or gift agreements.

In any case, however, we assume that there is a performer or donor who holds moral (if not legal) rights to archival material, and we require that users honor these rights in their use of archival material

Fair Use

Use of archival materials in the reading room or strictly for private, research purposes usually fall under the category of “fair use” and need no special permissions.

Factors that the Library, and, ultimately, a court must consider in determining fair use include:

• the nature of the use, including whether the use is commercial or nonprofit;
• the nature of the work;
• the amount of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole; and
• the effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.

The determination of whether a use constitutes a fair use depends on the facts of each case and is governed by an “equitable rule of reason.” Accordingly, it is important to remember that it is never possible to know for certain in advance whether a use is a fair use, and that any decision to rely on fair use necessarily involves a risk assessment. The following factors, according to the Library’s General Counsel, contribute to a finding that a given use is a fair use:

• The work is used for nonprofit, educational purposes.
• The use is “transformative,” adding a “further purpose or different character” to the work, or altering the work “‘with new expression, meaning or message.'”
• The work is fact-based rather than creative in nature.
• Only a portion of the work is used, and that portion does not comprise the “heart” of the work.
• Perhaps most important, use of the work does not impair the marketability of the work. The test is whether, if the use were to become widespread, it would adversely affect the potential market for the work.

Permissions and “Good Faith”

The more difficult problem is when a user wishes to “broadcast” or otherwise use archival material that goes beyond “fair use”

In general, we advise that for any use beyond fair use, a researcher has an obligation to try to gain permission from the original performer(s) or recordist(s).

As custodian, the AFC attempts to help researchers in establishing copyright or gaining permissions, but the process is essentially up to the user of the archive

IF that user intends to “broadcast” a copy of an archival item, we recommend that the user make a “good faith” effort to contact the performers and/or recordists.

What a “good faith” effort consists of is a matter of common sense. Questions a researcher should ask himself include:

Have all reasonable avenues been pursued to located the rights holder and obtain permission?

Has the effort to obtain that information been proportional to the risk of using the item?

If a rights holder has been sufficiently identified, then a certified return letter should be sent seeking the rights holder’s permission to use the item

If a performer/recordist returns the letter, or–as happens in most cases–the letter is returned by the post office as undeliverable, a copy of that letter should be kept in the archive for future reference

But a good faith effort does not absolve the user from copyright infringement. Ultimately the user must assess the risk of liability for infringement in deciding whether to use archival material

We suggest that commercial users establish an escrow account for royalties to potential rights-holders.

Larger Intellectual Property Issues

Recently, world bodies such as Unesco, The Convention of Biological Diversity, the Orgnaization of American States, the World Trade Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization have begun to investigate the intellectual property right of traditional materials

The discussions have involved:

a definition of “traditional knowledge,” “intangible heritage” and “expressions of folklore”
how folklore relates to public domain
how folklore can be established as “prior art” for the purposes of protection from infringement
how cultures can protect themselves from the exploitation of their folklore
the nature of existing national laws and international treaties on the protection of folklore as intellectual property
the responsibilities of corporations who use aspects of folklore (informed consent, benefits sharing, origin of materials)
the possibility of new international treaties to protect folklore

The AFC has been part of the US Delegation to WIPO’s Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. The Committee has set itself four “possible tasks”:

Possible Task 1: Enhanced legal-technical assistance for the establishment, strengthening and effective implementation of existing systems and measures for the legal protection of expressions of folklore at the national level. This task would be carried out by WIPO and by member states and organizations.
Possible Task 2: Updating the Model Provisions of 1982. This task would revisit the Model Provisions and see how they might still apply as a superstructure for international legislation.
Possible Task 3: Extra-territorial protection. This task aims at creating a cross-border sui generis system of regulations that would go beyond international patent and copyright laws.
Possible Task 4: Practical case studies on the relationships between customary laws and protocols and the formal intellectual property system. This task would sharpen the understanding of how traditional knowledge and folklore might be accommodated in national legislation.

Tasks 2 and 3, are the contentious ones. The US and some of the industrial nations do not want any such restraints on trade, and are not anxious to acknowledge rights in perpetuity of nations and cultures to protect their folklore.

Third World nations are in favor of a sui generis system of laws that would give them some measure of protection against commercial exploitation of their folklore.

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