Even if you have been to the Recorded Sound Research Center of the Library of Congress in person, most of you never met Larry Miller, a longtime staff member of the section who died suddenly on September 26th. But if you have used the Library’s recorded sound holdings in some way, whether as a researcher or as a user of the our National Jukebox, you probably have benefited in some way from his years of service. We hope you enjoy this appreciation of the life of one of our colleagues, and how the work of such a person reaches well beyond the confines to the Library of Congress.
Larry’s official job title was “Preservation Specialist,” which is broadly accurate but still a poor measure of the man, who brought a unique skillset and personality to his work. He started at the Library in 1980, and gave us forty years of unique service and support. At that time, the Library’s Recorded Sound Section was housed in the Madison Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where until 2006, he oversaw the sprawling basement area known simply as “G-12.” Our recording collections lived there and were accessed by techs for fulfillment of listening requests that were piped to researchers upstairs.
He hired and supervised many who are still working for us in the National Audiovisual Conservation Center, some of whom have retired from our section or others at the Library after decades of service. Larry seems to have never considered retirement himself. Just seven weeks ago, a retiring colleague in our film section raised the idea with him and Larry dismissed it with a smile, saying he loved his job too much to leave it.
This love was multi-faceted. He loved design, and was instrumental in the building and operation of both G-12 and the Recorded Sound Section of the NAVCC that was opened in 2007. The sight of Larry, metal yardstick in hand, calculating the best ways to use our vault and shelf space, will endure for us. Often, the yardstick and other measuring tools just seemed to provide second opinions that confirmed his initial assessment.
He loved music of all kinds passionately and knowledgeably, and helped us address many gaps in our holdings. Prior to working at the Library, he had sold high-end audio equipment, and often advised on the best pressings and editions to seek out, and was happy to examine a stylus for wear under a microscope. Once, we were looking over a collection of early 1970s classical commercial reels that had been transferred to us. At first, they seemed to duplicate items already in our holdings, but Larry happened to walk by and said, “Wow, those are quadraphonic reels!” We kept them.
As close as he was to his work, he did not let it rule him. He was a native son of Missouri and a proud graduate of the University of Missouri—“Mizzou”– a devoted fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, and a close follower of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge comics were an enduring delight for him.
His “office,” such as it was, was in a cubicle between the above-ground complex where processing, cataloging and digitization are performed, and the network of temperature and climate controlled underground vaults where our millions of recordings are stored. It was a logical and practical place for him to work, but also symbolic of the nexus that he embodied between the past, present and future of the Recorded Sound Section, as well as between the measurable technical side of our work, and the unmeasurable riches that this work allows us all to draw from. All of us pass his office in our work, often several times in a day. Now we do it with feelings that no post or plaque will ever quite capture, but we’ll be thinking of Larry.