May 24, 2022

Let’s Hear It! IMLS Awards $250,000 to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for a System to Digitize Audio Recordings from Obsolete Formats

From the Institute for Museum and Library Services:

Imaging techniques from the physics lab are being used to preserve fragile and historic sound recordings. A grant of $250,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will help the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) provide for the first time a much-needed service to museums, libraries, and archives around the country. NEDCC will use new technologies to convert audio recordings from obsolete formats, such as wax cylinders and records, to new digital formats.

NEDCC will partner with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to bring the technology, dubbed IRENE/3D, to the Center for a pilot project to work with partner archives that have collections of obsolete physical audio recordings. The project team will deploy the new technologies and train NEDCC staff to deliver these digitization services in a way that is a sustainable and affordable.

An estimated 46 million audio recordings are held by these institutions, according to a 2010 study by the Library of Congress. The study says that a large portion of America’s sound-recorded heritage has deteriorated or is inaccessible to the public.


NEDCC Executive Director Bill Veillette said, “Reformatting has been a part of NEDCC’s services since it began offering film duplication and preservation microfilming in the 1970s. In the past three years, the Center has successfully transitioned its reformatting services to 100 percent digital photography with a dual focus on careful handling and adherence to best practices. The IRENE/3D system has great potential for preserving the nation’s rare and fragile sonic cultural heritage, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to add this groundbreaking new technology to NEDCC’s menu of digital services.”

Developed by particle physicists Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev, IRENE/3D permits optical scanning of historic materials without causing them any damage. It translates these scans into digital files that can be manipulated to correct audio distortions and noises and that can be played on computers. IRENE/3D was used in early 2008 to restore the earliest sound recording in history, a “phonautograph” paper recording by French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.

IMLS previously funded IRENE/3D technology research in 2009, with a $673,344 grant to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Direct to NEDCC Web Site

See Also: The Sound of Silence in the National Library (via Boing Boing)
An in-depth look at the world of audiovisual preservation by Glenn Fleishman. A must read!

See Also: Soundtrack to History: 1878 Edison Audio Unveiled (October 25, 2012)
Includes three videos.

See Also: Early Sound Recordings by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880s Played Back With New Technology (December 13, 2011)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( 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, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.