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Photograph shows Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, seated at a table in front of a microphone in the Library of Congress Recording Laboratory, Studio B, Washington, D.C.,
Pablo Neruda in the Library of Congress Recording Laboratory, Studio B in 1966.

Behind-the-Scenes with Our Archive!

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The Library recently released 28 new recordings as part of our Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature—including recordings of Maya Angelou and Lucille Clifton; a conference on the teaching of creative writing in 1973; and celebrations of Greek, Hungarian, Israeli and Scandinavian poets. I recently talked with Genevieve Havemeyer-King, a Senior Digital Collections Specialist in the Digital Collections Management and Services Division, about the work behind making these historic recordings accessible via our website.

Library of Congress Senior Digital Collections Specialist Genevieve Havemeyer-King. Credit: Genevieve Havemeyer-King.

Can you tell us about the work behind getting these recordings up online for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature (ARPL)—what’s the process, and what are the challenges?

For the 510 items that were selected and made available on loc.gov so far, publication rights were cleared, physical items were digitized by our colleagues at our Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpepper, VA, and the digital files were edited by Literary Initiatives staff and transferred to our Digital Collection Management and Services Division (DCMS) for processing. Processing files includes: creation of MP3 access copies for streaming on the web, updates to the MARC catalog records to include rights information and technical metadata, and arrangement of the MP3s using a specific file-naming and directory structure on a shared network server. The prepared access copies are then ingested into a content management system in preparation for ETL, or “extract, transform, and load”—a technical term referring to how the metadata and audio content are integrated within our backend web development system. The content is then reviewed in a test environment and finally presented on loc.gov.

Previous releases to loc.gov featured recordings in which the digital copies of both sides of the physical tape were studiously edited together—a tricky task that involves seamlessly matching overlapping content at the head and tails of digitized tapes. This year we transitioned to providing access to the separate tracks individually in a multi-part display, such as this recording of Richard Eberhart in the Coolidge Auditorium, Sept. 28, 1959. This posed a new challenge in naming and arranging files so that users can select and listen to each part.

In 2021, DCMS staff published a comprehensive article detailing the collaborative work that goes into each ARPL release, which I also poured over during my introduction to this collection. It’s also worth noting that this workflow was one of the first established following the implementation of the Digital Collections Management Compendium, which helped our team organize and routinize this work.

How does this archive compare to other collections of recordings you’ve worked on?

Practically speaking, the digital collection and processing work has been similar to other digitized tape collections I have worked with, but the history of ARPL as an initiative intended to inspire listeners during a time of great political complexity certainly sets this collection apart. ARPL’s digitization and digital publication has in many ways been a continuation of its original goal, though of course it evolved since WWII. Ensuring that it remains accessible to a new generation of patrons feels like a civic duty.

What’s the most exciting thing for you in working with digitized recordings?

There are so many things I could say about how exciting it is to be part of the digital lifecycle of collections like this one. Prior to coming to the Library of Congress, my work revolved around physical conservation and digitization of audiovisual collections, and here my role is centered on developing stewardship and access workflows for digital collections more generally. From start to finish, every component of the preservation is so crucial. Digitization and digital access give new life to physical collections and bring them to audiences that may never have gotten the chance to experience them—it gives these collections the chance to have a broader impact, and that is incredibly exciting.

 

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