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Grant of $21,398 will digitize endangered audio recordings

The University of Maryland Libraries received a grant of $21,398 from the Council on Library and Information Resources to fund a pilot project to digitize and preserve rare audio recordings of community-based radio stations.

The recordings, a subset of 600 open-reel magnetic tapes, are part of the National Federation of Community Broadcasting Archives housed at Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland. The archive is one of the only known surviving audio collections that documents underrepresented voices in American media. It also includes rare, live performances of music cultures from around the globe.

Selected for their unique content, the tapes in this project feature programming from U.S. radio stations including documentaries, interviews and commentaries covering topics such as “How to Get Birth Control” and “Who Are the Panthers.”  Musical performances represent music of unrecorded artists performing impromptu shows, for example, or songs and chants of the Maori, recorded by the New Zealand Broadcasting Company.

“We are thrilled to be able to make accessible the valuable content of these broadcasts,” said Laura Schnitker, ethnomusicologist and curator in Special Collections and University Archives. “They illustrate American history from alternative perspectives and demonstrate the important role that radio has played and still plays in providing a unique outlet for the public exchange of ideas.”

Once digitized and freely available online, the audio will be a valuable resource to researchers worldwide from a wide range of disciplines including anthropology, media studies, sociology, political science, African-American history and LGBTQ and women’s studies.

Many of the audio tapes suffer from “sticky-shed syndrome,” a condition created over time by the deterioration of the binder or glue which holds the magnetized coating to the plastic tape. They will require cleaning or baking to prepare them for digitization. Once digitized, the tapes will be relocated to Severn Library, UMD’s offsite facility, where temperature and relative-humidity conditions are ideally suited for long-term storage.

This pilot project will be used to inform the digitization of the remaining 5,400 tapes in the collection that suffer from the same condition.

The University of Maryland Libraries have significant collections that document the history of radio and television broadcasting, including the Library of American Broadcasting, The National Public Broadcasting Archives, and the Children’s Television Workshop.

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that supports libraries, cultural institutions and communities of higher learning.  Grants awarded in this cycle are part of the second group of projects supported by the Recordings at Risk awards program, a national regranting program administered by CLIR and funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the preservation of rare and unique audio and audiovisual content of high scholarly value.