May 27, 2016

Archivists at University of Alaska Fairbanks are Working to Preserve Obsolete Recordings

From the University of Alaska Fairbanks:

For decades, an old Webster-Chicago Electronic Memory recorder led a surprisingly anonymous existence in a corner of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library archives.

The device is easy to notice. It’s the size of a brawny toaster and is covered with a variety of old-fashioned switches, buttons and knobs. The file box it was stored in also included eight recording spools scrawled with some brief but enticing descriptions, such as “Gov. Mike Stepovich” and “Pioneer Hotel Fire.”

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he Electronic Memory recorder offered a particularly vexing problem. The machine, which was manufactured in the late 1940s, used technology that was employed for less than a decade. It preserved sounds by magnetizing a thin steel wire, a method that was soon phased out by magnetic tapes such as reel-to-reel and later cassette tapes.

A breakthrough arrived in the form of Art Thompson, the executive director for VFCM, a Nenana-based religious broadcaster. A former employee at the Multnomah University radio department in Portland, Oregon, Thompson became familiar with the old Webster-Chicago machines while transcribing Multnomah’s own collection of wire recordings.

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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