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America’s Record Collection

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Vaults at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center
Vaults at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center

This post was co-written with Karen Fishman.

Welcome to the Vaults!

Welcome to the Recorded Sound Section and our portion of the Now See Hear blog. Each week we will share alternate posts with the Moving Image Section and hightlight the wonderful world of audio-visual collections at the Library.

The Recorded Sound Section

Posts to this blog will help you understand how the Library acquires, preserves and makes accessible over 3 million sound recordings held at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia, about 75 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. While the physical items are stored in Virginia, listening to these treasures takes place in the Recorded Sound Research Center, located in the Madison Building of the Library in Washington, DC.

The Recorded Sound Research Center
The Recorded Sound Research Center

You may not know it but your government has been collecting records for you since 1924. The collection has gotten rather large.

We have recordings of music, spoken word and radio broadcasts. Among our holdings are audio broadcasts of Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, early marches of John Phillips Sousa, a concert of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, and the Lemonheads signing “Amazing Grace” plus thousands more of opera, chamber music, folk, jazz, musical theater, popular music.

Sound recording formats
Sound recording formats

The collection covers over 120 years of sound recording history. That means we span the whole breadth of audio recording formats – cylinders, wires, acetate and vinyl discs, 78, 45 and 33 rpm discs, tapes on cassettes and reels, DATs, 8-track, CDs, digital files – you name it, we have it. And the equipment to play it on too. Our staff at NAVCC consists of audio engineers, technicians, catalogers and many others. Reference librarians at the Recorded Sound Research Center help you find what you’re looking for, make listening appointments and assist in obtaining copies of recordings if you need them.

Recordings come to us in many ways. In the 1920s, we received sound recordings when record companies gave the Library copies of their recordings. Since 1972, when U.S. Copyright law required the deposit of sound recordings our holdings have grown by nearly 100,000 annually, nearly doubling each decade. Acquisitions also include gifts and purchases.

The Now, See, Hear blog invites you to share our love of sound recordings and moving images and the stories they can tell.

Here’s a little something to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 11.


“That Wonderful Mother of Mine” was a promotional song for 1924 FBO film, The Spirit of the US. This version of the song, written in 1918 by Clyde Hager and Walter Goodwin, is performed by Canadian-born tenor Henry Burr. Burr was a charter member of the famous Peerless Quartet and a frequent collaborator with fellow Peerless member Albert Campbell. Among the many artists to release this song were Eddy Arnold and the Tennessee Plowboys.

As a Mother’s Day greeting, we leave you with this scan of a charming audio postcard from our collections.

"A Mother's Wish" (audio postcard, Voco 229, 1947)
“A Mother’s Wish” (audio postcard, Voco 229, 1947)

Comments (3)

  1. Great to see this blog finally up and running!

  2. Can’t wait to see / hear more! Very exciting window in; thanks.

  3. Mr. Burr – very nice transfer! It’s amazing what kind of sound could be captured in early recordings, if you just know how to get it out of the grooves properly.

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