Study: U.S. recorded sound heritage in jeopardy

Many older recordings have deteriorated or are inaccessible

A groundbreaking study to be released Wednesday by the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board finds that America's musical legacy is in jeopardy.

Although public institutions, libraries and archives hold an estimated 46 million recordings, the study says major areas of the nation's recorded sound heritage have deteriorated or remain inaccessible. Only an estimated 14% of commercially released recordings before 1965 are available from rightsholders.

Of music released in the U.S. during the 1930s, only about 10% can be readily accessed by the public.

"Sound recordings have existed as one of the most salient features of America's cultural landscape for more than 130 years," Librarian of Congress James Billington said. "As a nation, we have good reason to be proud of our historical record of creativity in the sound-recording arts and sciences.

"However, our collective energy in creating and consuming sound recordings in all genres has not been matched by an equal level of interest, over the same period of time, in preserving them for posterity."

Digital technology alone will not ensure the preservation and survival of the nation's sound history, the study notes. In fact, the authors conclude that older recordings are likely to survive 150 years longer than contemporary recordings made using digital technologies.

The study, the first on a national level to examine the state of America's sound-recording preservation, also reports that open-reel preservation tapes made in the '70s and '80s are deteriorating faster than older tape recordings.

Mandated by Congress under the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the study urges a coordinated effort by stakeholders to address the scope of the problem and calls for preservation education.