May 17, 2022

Reports: Two Projects from Research Libraries Working to Save Audio Recordings of Native Americans

Reports about two projects linked below.

From Indiana University Libraries Archives of Traditional Music:

Indiana University Preserves 90 Year Old Standing Rock Recordings

In 1928 researchers made 195 wax cylinder recordings at Fort Yates, North Dakota on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Thanks to a national effort to preserve America’s sound recording heritage, the Native American music preserved on those cylinders is now part of the National Recording Registry.

IU Libraries Archives of Traditional Music safeguards the delicate cylinders, now nine decades old, and recently digitized them in collaboration with the University’s ambitious Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This collection at IU  is one of 25 historically and culturally significant recordings added to the National Recording Registry this year.

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From the U. of California Berkeley Library

In the imaging lab, Stephanie Battle slides two fingers into a small brown cylinder, lifting against its smooth center. She’s careful to avoid the surface, whose priceless grooves could melt slightly under her touch.

Battle is the digital imaging specialist for Project IRENE, a campuswide effort to scan and digitize nearly 3,000 wax cylinders held in UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. There are over 77 Native languages from California represented in the collection, some of which have transformed or faded away.

“These cylinders are degrading every day,” Battle says. “We have to take this moment to capture them.”

The objects are artifacts of Thomas Edison’s 1877 phonograph, the first device capable of audio playback. A grandfather to the record player, the machine translated soundwaves into movement. Vibrations sent a small cutter bobbing up and down, carving patterns into tinfoil (and later wax, in Edison’s sequel) that a stylus could retrace.

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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.