NY Times: “Wax Cylinders Hold Audio From a Century Ago. The Library is Listening”
From The NY Times:
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts acquired a machine that transfers recordings from the fragile format. Then a batch of cylinders from a Met Opera librarian arrived.
Accessed by laptop in a conference room at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the recordings had been excavated and digitized from a much older source: wax cylinders, an audio format popularized in the late 19th century as the first commercial means of recording sound. These particular documentations originated with Lionel Mapleson, an English-born librarian for the Metropolitan Opera, who made hundreds of wax cylinder recordings, capturing both the turn-of-the-century opera performances he saw as part of his job and the minutiae of family life.
For decades, the Mapleson Cylinders, as they’re called by archivists and audiologists, have been a valuable but fragile resource. Wax cylinders were not made for long-term use — the earliest models wore out after a few dozen plays — and are especially vulnerable to poor storage conditions. But with the innovation of the Endpoint Cylinder and Dictabelt Machine, a custom-built piece of equipment made specifically for safely transferring audio from the cylinders, the library is embarking on an ambitious preservation project: to digitize not just the Mapleson Cylinders, but roughly 2,500 others in the library’s possession.
Within the next few years, the library hopes to digitize both the cylinders and the diaries, and make them available to the public.
The wax cylinders comprise just one aspect of the library’s ongoing audiovisual archival projects. Its archives of magnetic tape were recently digitized thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
See Also: Mapleson Cylinders (via NYPL)
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.