- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

Close your eyes and just listen.
There's President Theodore Roosevelt denouncing corporate swindles, Robert Frost reading his poetry, Buffalo Bill Cody urging war with Spain over Cuba.
They are joined by 2.5 million other voices some famous, some not and such sounds as the huffing and puffing of a steam locomotive that are preserved at the Library of Congress.
Librarian of Congress James Billington will announce today the first 50 sounds to be entered in a National Recording Registry. The registry seeks to ensure greater protection for some of the most notable songs, speeches and other utterances.
In conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, the library has embarked on a pilot project called "Save Our Sounds," which seeks to preserve recordings such as those made on wax cylinders by inventor Thomas Edison and others done on acetate discs in the early 20th century.
"We have every format you can imagine and every problem with every format," said Michael Taft, who helps run the program. "What we have to do is find a way of taking sound off of all of these different media and storing them as computer files in such a way that they will be readable and accessible not just today, but 100, 200 years from now."
Some of the recordings are so fragile that just playing them can be damaging. Also, technicians are still learning how best to digitize sounds. One obstacle is finding standards to ensure sounds do not lose their original form when transferred to computer files.
"We don't clean up our recordings in the sense of getting all the pops and clicks and cracks out of them," Mr. Taft said. "These recordings are artifacts in themselves. You don't erase part of a painting on a Grecian urn because you didn't like it or it didn't fit what you thought was aesthetic."
Deciding what to save first is also difficult.
"We have to make judgments on what's important," Mr. Taft said, "and a hundred years from now some researcher may find we failed to save the one thing he wanted."
Federal law requires that a copy of any copyrighted sounds be stored at the library. Those that librarians judge will be in demand are kept easily available. A recent example is man-in-the-street interviews after the September 11 attacks.
The library receives gifts of old collections and buys others. It has been collecting oral histories for years, including 12 hours of reminiscences from the last survivors of slavery.
More recently it has emphasized recollections of war veterans. About 4,500 have been recorded, 2,500 of them from World War II servicemen.

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