What Gets Preserved?

GHODigitization, Music, Preservation


In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the National Recording Preservation Act which, according to James Billington, Librarian of Congress, “affirmed the nation’s collective interest in preserving sound recordings for posterity…[and] established the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board.” Along with its sister organization, the National Recording Preservation Foundation, each year the NRPB selects 25 recordings that are at least 10 years old for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.

Once selected for inclusion in the Registry, a recording is preserved at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation (pictured above). Earlier this year, the 2014 inductees were announced and included Radiohead’s OK Computer, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and The Doors’ self-title debut album.

So how, exactly, does a musical work get selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry?

The Librarian of Congress and the NRPB ultimately decide what gets preserved, but anyone can nominate a recording. Actually, anyone can nominate up to 50 recordings per year, as long as the guidelines are followed. There are multiple criteria a nomination must meet in order to be considered, but the most interesting one, in my opinion, is the first:

Recordings selected for the National Recording Registry are those that are culturally, historically or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.
It’s a broad definition, but it is intended to be, so that as many recordings as possible can be eligible. While the members of the NRPB and the NRPF are experts in their respective fields, there are only so many of them and each and every one one has different preferences, life experiences, and tastes (as we all do) that inform what music they believe should be saved and why. Inevitably, culturally, historically, and aesthetically important musical works will be overlooked. But, the more people that passionately articulate why a work deserves to be included in the registry, the more music that we can rescue from the apathy of time.

So, state your case and justify why you think certain musical recordings deserve to be preserved for posterity.