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Boston Public Library sound archives go digital

Once-popular phonograph records are gradually spinning into oblivion, but the Boston Public Library is making an attempt to preserve them before the music stops.

The library announced Wednesday it was launching a project to transfer recordings — scratches and all — from its Sound Archives Collection to the Internet Archive, which will digitize the recordings and post them.

The library’s collection includes popular American music in a variety of formats, including 78 rpm records that go back a century. The musical genres include classical music, pop, rock, and jazz.

Once the library’s recordings are posted to the Internet Archive, any member of the public will be able to access them for free online, where rights allow, the library said in a statement.


“Boston Public Library is once again leading in providing public access to their holdings,” Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, said in the statement. “Their Sound Archive includes hillbilly music, early brass bands, and accordion recordings from the turn of the last century, offering an authentic audio portrait of how America sounded a century ago.”

The library’s collection has music from the early 1900s recorded on 78 rpm records, and music through the 1980s on LPs.

For several decades, the collection has remained uncatalogued in storage, where members of the public have not been able to access it, the library said.

The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library that offers free access to books, movies, and music. The Boston library has been working with the Archive since 2007 to digitize select bound materials.

The latest collaboration will not only provide the public with free access to music, but will also support the preservation and research of 78 rpm records, the library said. The records from the library’s collection will contribute to an Internet Archive initiative to digitize all 3 million minted sides published on 78 rpm records from the 1890s to the 1950s.


“These 78s are disappearing right and left,” George Blood, an internationally renowned expert on audio preservation, said in the statement. “It is important that we do a good job preserving what we can get to, because there won’t be a second chance.”

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.