fb-pixel Skip to main content

The BPL’s massive vinyl collection will be made available to the public

Part of the Boston Public Library’s sound archives collection.Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library’s record collection — we’re talking about old-school vinyl here — runs the gamut.

There are pop albums such as “No Jacket Required” by Phil Collins (featuring his 1985 chart-topping hit “Sussudio”) and “Hangin’ Tough” by New Kids on the Block, along with obscure titles such as “Hitler’s Inferno In Words, In Music: Marching Songs of Nazi Germany” and “Please Pass The Biscuits, Pappy (I Like Mountain Music)” by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys.

The physical copies of those recordings have long sat in storage in a basement, but library officials have decided it’s time to clear them out and make them accessible to the public once again.


The plan is to give away most of the library’s collection of 78s and LPs to the Internet Archive so they can be digitized and made available online where rights allow.

“We’re excited to be able to make these treasures accessible to the public in a way that they haven’t been in a long time,” said the library’s chief of collections, Laura Irmscher.

A few of the recordings have already been digitized (including the 1938 single “Please Pass The Biscuits, Pappy” and a 1947 recording of the “Grieg Piano Concerto” by Freddy Martin and his Orchestra) but there’s a lot more to come.

The 200,000 LPs and 78s have been in the basement of the Johnson building at the central library in Copley Square, according to library officials. Representatives from the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library based in San Francisco, will be boxing up the recordings. The staging for the packing has already begun, and the pallets and packing tape are ready to go, library officials said.

The first batch of 78s will be sent to Philadelphia, where they will be digitized by audio preservation expert George Blood. From there they will be sent to San Francisco, where the Internet Archive will put the physical copies in storage for safe-keeping.


The digital copies will be posted on archive.org, where they can be streamed or downloaded by anyone with an Internet connection.

Indeed, the BPL’s record collection is quite eclectic. (There’s the soundtrack to the Tom Cruise movie “Born on the Fourth of July,” and Arlo Guthrie’s 1969 album “Running Down the Road,” to name a few). It covers a range of music from the early 1900s to the 1980s, from classical to early country to folk music and pop. “Really anything you could think of,” said Tom Blake, the library’s content discovery manager.

Library officials said there’s no set timeline for this undertaking, but it’s safe to say it will take years to complete.

The Internet Archives began digitizing the library’s print books a decade ago, and BPL officials said they’re happy to partner with the nonprofit again to make sure these audio recordings are preserved so they can be heard by generations to come.

“We have a strong, renewed commitment to accessibility these days,” said Blake. “This is an opportunity to do something that we’d never be able to do ourselves.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.