Boston Public Library’s Sound Archives Coming to the Internet Archive for Preservation & Public Access

Today, the Boston Public Library announced the transfer of significant holdings from its Sound Archives Collection to the Internet Archive, which will digitize, preserve and make these recordings accessible to the public. The Boston Public Library (BPL) sound collection includes hundreds of thousands of audio recordings in a variety of historical formats, including wax cylinders, 78 rpms, and LPs. The recordings span many genres, including classical, pop, rock, jazz, and opera – from 78s produced in the early 1900s to LPs from the 1980s. These recordings have never been circulated and were in storage for several decades, uncataloged and inaccessible to the public. By collaborating with the Internet Archive, Boston Public Libraries audio collection can be heard by new audiences of scholars, researchers and music lovers worldwide.

Some of the thousands of 20th century recordings in the Boston Public Library’s Sound Archives Collection.

“Through this innovative collaboration, the Internet Archive will bring significant portions of these sound archives online and to life in a way that we couldn’t do alone, and we are thrilled to have this historic collection curated and cared for by our longtime partners for all to enjoy going forward,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library.

78 rpm recordings from the Boston Public Library Sound Archive Collection

Listening to the 78 rpm recording of “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy,” by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys from the BPL Sound Archive, what do you hear? Internet Archive Founder, Brewster Kahle, hears part of a soundscape of America in 1938.  That’s why he believes Boston Public Library’s transfer is so significant.

Boston Public Library is once again leading in providing public access to their holdings. Their Sound Archive Collection 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.” says Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive’s Digital Librarian. “Every time I walk through Boston Public Library’s doors, I’m inspired to read what is carved above it: ‘Free to All.’”

The 78 rpm records from the BPL’s Sound Archives Collection fit into the Internet Archive’s larger initiative called The Great 78 Project. This community effort seeks to digitize all the 78 rpm records ever produced, supporting their  preservationresearch and discovery. From about 1898 to the 1950s, an estimated 3 million sides were published on 78 rpm discs. While commercially viable recordings will have been restored or remastered onto LP’s or CD, there is significant research value in the remaining artifacts which include often rare 78rpm recordings.

“The simple fact of the matter is most audiovisual recordings will be lost,” says George Blood, an internationally renowned expert on audio preservation. “These 78s are disappearing right and left. It is important that we do a good job preserving what we can get to, because there won’t be a second chance.”

George Blood LP’s 4-arm turntable used for 78 digitization.

The Internet Archive is working with George Blood LP, and the IA’s Music Curator, Bob George of the Archive of Contemporary Music  to discover, transfer, digitize, catalog and preserve these often fragile discs.  This team has already digitized more than 35,000 sides.  The BPL collection joins more than 20 collections  already transferred to the Internet Archive for physical and digital preservation and access. Curated by many volunteer collectors, these collections will be preserved for future generations.

The Internet Archive began working with the Boston Public Library in 2007, and our scanning center is housed at its Central Library in Copley Square.  There, as a digital-partner-in-residence, the Internet Archive is scanning bound materials for Boston Public Library, including the John Adams Library, one of the BPL’s Collections of Distinction.

To honor Boston Public Library’s long legacy and pioneering role in making its valuable holdings available to an ever wider public online, we will be awarding the 2017 Internet Archive Hero Award to David Leonard, the President of BPL, at a public celebration tonight at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco.

17 thoughts on “Boston Public Library’s Sound Archives Coming to the Internet Archive for Preservation & Public Access

  1. IMSLP

    As we’ve noted in some reviews, the mint condition 78’s often have surprisingly good sound, especially the electrical recordings starting in the late 1920s. Looking forward to hearing some amazing things. Also, a fair number of the restorations done here are better sounding than re-processed recordings issued by major labels of the very same thing.


    Hi Wendy Hanamura,
    Thanks for Sharing this kind information keep it up
    Also, a fair number of the restorations done here are better sounding than re-processed recordings issued by major labels of the very same thing.

  3. Donna Halper

    Can’t wait to hear this material. I know there’s some rare transcription disks from Boston radio in the collection– programs produced for the Yankee Network– and I’m eager to hear them too, as very little local radio from the 1930s and 1940s was ever preserved.

  4. E Dean Jones, Sr

    Such a remarkable project and a remarkable achievement to date. This makes me happier than ever to have learned to love Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Corelli, etc. when I was still in my teens. Since then I have also wrapped myself around the fabulous innovations of Francis Poulenc. I attended the 4th live performance of Poulenc’s Stabat Mater in 1956; it instilled itself into my soul. The marvelous about music is that once you’ve heard it, no one can take it from you.

  5. Rev. Donald R. Repsher

    I think his is absolutely wonderful. How will we the public be able to access such a fantastic treasure?

  6. keith martin

    this internet library has grown with leaps and bounds . our local library has adopted archive as part of it’s leap into the future. Archive bless you for all you share with the world/ pastor Keith.

  7. Bobbie

    This is so exciting. I was raised by a mom and dad who loved to sing. I was fortunate to hear songs from the 20’s on up and even today some friends and I get together and sing.
    Thank you.

  8. Dorothy Sieradzki

    I have 2 boxes of old 78s I would like to donate for preservation. I don’t know what condition they are in; they were stored in my father’s attic for 50+ years. do you have any suggestions?

  9. Pamela Grannell

    This is such a massive undertaking in a time where we are losing so much
    for our past. It will be exciting to hear these pure recordings. May they endure fo generations to come.

  10. Ernie

    Very cool! I am curious about the LP piece. Are the LPs being treated and released for access in the same manner as the 78s? I’m curious how are the rights being handled for these artifacts if they’re to be publicly accessible online.

  11. Spencer Smith

    It’s great that music I had to haunt flea markets to find is being put out there for the whole world to hear. Wanna hear some really good music? Look at Welter Ham’s Favorites on the archive and find the great bands and performers of the 1920s-30s.

    How anyone can listen to this music and not ask “why do we not have music like that now?” would surprise me. What we have traded for ensembles of trumpets, trombones, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones , clarinets, flutes, violins, piano, tuba, string bass, drums, banjo and guitar ain’t worth it. Big band sounds need big bands (10+ pieces). I just need more than a keyboard, guitar or two and a trap set to musically satisfy me, not to mention melodies that you can learn and whistle with lyrics that are understandable and meaningful, whether happy or sad. AM I THE ONLY ONE ??

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