How Deep Does the Library of Congress’s Collection of Sound Go?

An insightful look into a vast collection

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress.
Kurt Kaiser, CC0

The White House might have an excellent record collection of its own, but unless the president’s home abounds with secret LP shelves, it’s like that it’s not quite as vast as the audio collection found in the Library of Congress. Matthew Barton serves as the institution’s Curator of Recorded Sound; he’s worked there since 2003, and previously worked with collections of recordings made by Alan Lomax.

“[T]he collection is 3.8 million recordings,” Barton told The Washington Post in a recent interview. As he pointed out, that includes a vast array of music, but that’s far from all it contains.

“We do have things that take you far beyond just the sound bites of history that you usually get. Like the raw, unedited interviews that we have from journalists and radio producers and sportscasters,” Barton told the Post. “We’ve got some great sports collections of recordings of not just games, but in-depth interviews with players.”

His comments also point to how the Library of Congress handles emerging forms of audio. “We are just now getting our arms around the whole podcasting phenomenon,” Barton said. “That’s a situation where we’re trying to do two things: Get the early podcasts that do survive somewhere and trying to collect a representative sample of the podcasts being created.”

It’s an insightful look into how history is recorded — and of how important it can be to get the fullest popular picture of a new medium coming into its own.

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