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The Library of Congress Remembers Its Own: Larry Miller

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Larry at his desk, c. 2010

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.

Larry Miller places the first 45 on the shelf at the brand new Packard Campus in 2007.

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.


Comments (6)

  1. Matt, this is a lovely tribute. The passion and mark that Larry has left with the Library of Congress will be enjoyed by generations long after we are all gone. He was such a fun person to talk to, especially as we were making decisions about the National Recording Registry. He always had interesting backstories and fun facts about the recordings and the artists. I wish peace in his memory to family and all who loved him.

  2. I met Larry in a class at MU the fall of 1970. He helped me a lot through the years with questions on music and movies. He has, also, been one of my best friends for 52 years. I will miss him ever so much. Matthew, I thank you for posting this very nice tribute. This tells me why I have been unable to reach him—-I write this through my tears.

  3. I’ve recently learned of Larry Miller’s death. It was my pleasure and honor to have been the person who interviewed and recommended Larry as supervisor of the Library’s G-12 facility those many years ago. To learn that he continued his work once he -and the collections- moved to Virginia simply reaffirms the strong impression Larry made on me and the outstanding job he did while I was still at the LC. It is staff of his quality and long-term consistency that have made the LC collections the resources on which the researchers and scholars of the world depend.
    Thank you, Larry.

  4. It was a privilege to work with Larry for 20 years. His knowledge of hifi, music, and recordings will be missed. To explain what he liked musically across all genres isn’t easy, but he had something for a certain kind of voice that was paired well with the accompaniment and told a story in a convincing way. And devoted to the work as he was, he’s one of a handful of employees that I think we’d consider are real legends of the NAVCC.

  5. I only worked under Larry from 27 Jan 1991– 27 Jan 1995, but he was a great boss who cared passionately about the collection. I last heard from him four years ago nearly to the day, in response to a music conversation we began long ago. He included links to remastered songs of the Incredible String Band that are on YouTube. RIP, Larry.

  6. I’ve known Larry since we were high-school students in Washington, Mo. In 1967, we were dorm mates at the University of Missouri, where he had the first high-performance stereo system I ever heard. I guess his destiny was apparent even then. He was passionate about all kinds of kinds. We saw rock concerts as undergrads and later both developed an interest in jazz. He liked to point out the works of musicians he thought were under-appreciated, such as Tim Buckley, who he claimed was his second-favorite male vocalist after Frank Sinatra–a very Larry Miller-like remark. He was a movie buff and introduced me to the works of the great Japanese director Jasujiro Ozu. He was a regular, if infrequent guest at our home in the Midwest and we stayed in touch via email. He got along very well with women, so I did not find Rebecca Nichols’ comment at all surprising. I’ll miss him, and I imagine a lot of other people will too.

    George Williams
    Highland Park, Ill.

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