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Recorded Sound Research at the Library of Congress

Curious about doing research in the recorded sound collections of the Library of Congress but don’t know where to start? Then this blog post is for you! Here we’ll discuss finding materials in our collections, offer some search strategies, and point out how to get in touch should you have further questions or want to schedule a listening appointment.

 

WHERE TO SEARCH

There are several ways to search for recorded sound materials in the collections of the Library of Congress, including the Online Catalog, SONIC (the Recorded Sound Section’s catalog), and collection guides and finding aids. It’s important to note, however, that not all of our materials are discoverable using the catalogs and strategies described here. The Recorded Sound Research Center has a number of onsite resources that are not searchable through the Library’s website. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in these online catalogs, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the librarians in the Recorded Sound Research Center!

Start your research in the Library’s Online Catalog. Here you will find commercial recordings in many formats and genres, Library of Congress concerts in the Coolidge Auditorium, literary readings, and more.

  • Library of Congress Online Catalog
    Search the general online catalog at this link. Here you will also find other catalogs and databases as well as links to helpful information for researchers.

The next place to search is SONIC, the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog. This database is not currently being added to, and is a great resource for radio broadcasts, archival recordings, and early copyright deposits.

  • SONIC
    SONIC (Sound Online Inventory and Catalog) is a database maintained by the Recorded Sound Section’s. SONIC allows you to search for 78’s, 45’s, copyright cassettes, and many broadcast and archival recordings.

The Recorded Sound Section also holds manuscript materials that supplement and complement our audio holdings. These can be the papers of individuals or companies, and include photographs, correspondence, scripts, paperwork, and more. A number of these collections have finding aids, available at the link below.

  • Recorded Sound Online Finding Aids
    The Recorded Sound Section also has finding aids to some of our manuscript collections available online. These finding aids list non-audio materials that can be accessed in the Recorded Sound Research Center.

 

GENERAL SEARCH STRATEGIES

In the Online Catalog, Advanced Search is the quickest way to access sound recordings. You’ll find a link to the Advanced Search screen in the middle of the Online Catalog homepage.

On the Advanced Search Screen, include “recording” in one of the keyword fields to limit your results to only sound recordings. This is the most reliable way to limit your results to sound recordings, because our catalogers include “sound recording” in the title of catalog records for audio materials.

The drop down menu next to each search box allows you to search for your keywords as a phrase rather than as individual words—this is useful for searching titles of recordings.

You can also use the limits below the search boxes to limit your search by year, location (“Recorded Sound”), and type of recording (“Music Recording” or “Nonmusic Recording”). However, due to some inconsistencies in the way the catalog tags the format of earlier catalog records, using the “recording” keyword is the most reliable method of limiting your results to audio materials.

SONIC offers several kinds of searches. You can search by nametitle, or subject, and by keyword. There are also special search screens that will limit your searches to specific kinds of items right off the bat—radio broadcasts (and radio news), commercial recordings, unpublished archival recordings, music, and spoken word. A Keyword Anywhere search in the center of the home screen is typically the best place to start.

A general Keyword Anywhere search (pictured below) will return records that contain your search terms anywhere in the record. You can search two terms or phrases using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and limit by date.

While both of the catalogs above offer some limited subject access, it is usually more effective to search by titledate, or performer.

For commercially released albums, it is best to search by an artist, an album title, or a composer. Because some of the catalog records for commercially released albums do not include song titles, it’s best not to rely on song title searches to retrieve information about an album.

Radio broadcasts present particular catalog and access issues. Many performers are not listed in our records for radio broadcasts, and while it is always worth trying to search a performer’s name, the specific program title and a date are often more useful for locating broadcasts. Often news broadcasts have very generic titles and our cataloging rarely includes information about the specific stories covered on a broadcast for a given day. You may be able to find program information in contemporaneous sources such as historical newspapers and trade magazines. For NBC, we have extensive documentation in the form of master books, log books, and program information cards.

Form and genre terms for audio materials may assist you when searching by subject. See our guide to those terms at the link below.

Get in touch! If you can’t find what you’re looking for using SONIC or the Library’s general catalog, we may still have it. A portion of our collections are not fully cataloged and searchable online, so always contact the Recorded Sound Research Center reference librarians if searching the catalogs doesn’t yield any results. The Library has several onsite indexes, card catalogs, and internal databases that are not searchable online. The Recorded Sound reference librarians are always happy to help locate materials.

For more advice on searching, visit:

 

LISTENING TO RECORDINGS

Now that you’ve learned about searching our catalogs and maybe even located a few recordings of interest, you may want to come to the Library to listen. Here are the basics:

Appointments are required for listening to most of the material in our collection. Recordings do not circulate. Listeners can use Ask a Librarian to set up listening appointments and request materials. Be sure to include the name and title of the items requested, the call numbers (e.g. RWD 3214; LWO 5599 gr12 r2a1-3b, NCPB 5434, Decca 12-1401), and your own contact information so we can confirm your appointment. We ask that you contact us as early as possible to ensure that all of your materials can be prepared for your appointment. Here’s why:

The Recorded Sound Section digitizes recordings as they are requested by researchers. A growing number of our recordings have been digitized and are available for immediate listening. All others will take at least two weeks for our engineers to digitize requests for your listening appointment. Certain audio formats that are especially fragile or unstable will require more time to digitize and will necessitate a longer wait. Please contact the Research Center as soon as possible with large requests or to identify previously digitized recordings.

Patrons are able to use the Research Center without appointment to access the catalogs, reference books, archival collections, microfiche, microfilm and other reference sources.

We hope to see you in the Research Center!

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