Book School – 05.08.13 – Calloo, callay!

Helloooooooooooooooooooooo, WordPress!

Guess who finished and turned in her final paper for Intro to Library Science this morning?  THIS KID.  And I’ll be honest, while I think it’s a hot mess in some regards, I had a lot of fun writing it.  Hopefully the “hot mess” aspect is more personal jitters than actual flaws.  If it really is a hot mess, then I hope that the professor sees just how enthusiastically written it is.  Exuberantly written.  Ecstatically written.  It was a lot of fun to type, I guess is what I’m saying.  😀

And since I’ve got a spare half-hour before the class starts, I’ll tell you a little about it!  (I met up with my group members at 5pm to go over the handout we’ll provide when we present the wide world of archives to the class next week.  But then we finished up by 5:20, and I felt weird sitting there and staring into space while they worked on their papers, so I bade them adieu and came to the library.  I hope they understood that when I called us “get-shit-done bitches,” I meant it as a compliment.  It’s a phrase I picked up from this scene in The Wire.)

Anyway, my paper.  I tackled the subject of music digitization, and I really had fun.  See, when you think of archives, you might picture dusty old manuscripts, but there are some fabulous archives out there for recorded music.  The problem is that a lot of it was recorded onto analog formats, which could be anything from wax cylinders, acetate or vinyl records, reel-to-reel cassette tapes, or eight-track cartridges.  (There are a lot more forms than that–actually, Edison’s earliest recordings were on tinfoil like you have in your kitchen!–but those are some of the most common.)  And there are two big problems with all those formats:

  1. You need a specialized “player” of some sort to hear the recorded music, whether it’s a phonograph or an eight-track player.
  2. All of these formats are susceptible to decay.  Wax cylinders can be extremely delicate; the surface of an acetate record can crackle.

That second point is an especially important one, because the further back in time you go, the more of society’s collective recorded history is lost.  We don’t have copies of every wax cylinder issued in the 1880s and 1890s, or every record pressed in the 1910s.  That means that we have to take good care of the ones we do have, because they represent a history that’s important for researchers and laypeople alike.  These are the sounds of our past, and they’re important to preserve.

Enter digitization.  If you digitize these recordings, they can be played on any computer that can handle an MP3 file–suddenly you have Ada Jones’ voice singing out from phones, iPods, tablets, laptops, and desktops.  The recordings can be shared over and over again without any decay in the quality of the recording.  And they can be sent across the world quickly and safely, without worrying that materials will be damaged in transit.

What’s even better is that, if the recordings are in the public domain, you can put them on the internet, like the Cylinder Digitization Project, the Belfer Cylinders Digital Connection, and the Free Music Archive have done.  When you do that, these digitized recordings don’t belong solely to researchers who know they exist.  They’re available to the public; anyone with an internet connection and some speakers can browse collections of free and legal music and learn more about society’s musical past.  

That’s the magic of digitization.  Sure, there are some drawbacks–fiddling with copyright is a pain when recordings aren’t in the public domain, and digitization can sometimes produce a slightly altered recording–but I think the benefits outweigh those drawbacks by far.  When in doubt, give people access to the world of the past; let them pick through it at their own pace and dive into the nooks and crannies that they find most interesting.  It’s one of the most beautiful things in the whole world.

And that’s what my paper is about!

(Now I should go get ready for class.  Best wishes, internets!)

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