Matthew Barton is the Man Behind the Library of Congress's Recorded Sound DivisionHistorians in the News
tags: Library of Congress, media, PRESERVATION, archives, Recordings
Matthew Barton, 61, is the curator of recorded sound at the Library of Congress, where he has worked since 2003. He lives in Fairfax, Va.
Your job sounds amazing to me.
Yeah, well, it is a great job. Parts of it can be a little tedious or redundant at times, but I am working with this amazing collection of recordings of all types. And not just music; there’s speeches, poetry, sound effects, radio broadcasts, all kinds of things. It’s a great array of types of recordings, but also formats. So it takes in the whole history of recorded sound, how it’s been done over the years from cylinders to the digital recordings of the present.
Is there something you consider the most essential recording in the collection?
Oh, gosh. I mean, the collection is 3.8 million recordings. So I guess I can’t zero in on one thing. I have my favorite bands, my favorite artists. But it’s really the totality of it. We do have things that take you far beyond just the sound bites of history that you usually get. Like the raw, unedited interviews that we have from journalists and radio producers and sportscasters. We’ve got some great sports collections of recordings of not just games, but in-depth interviews with players. And that includes the legends, but it also includes people or athletes who are a lot less legendary, but nonetheless very interesting.
Today there are billions of ways that people can create and collect sounds. How do you decide what gets in the collection or not?
Yeah, it just seems to increase exponentially all the time. We are just now getting our arms around the whole podcasting phenomenon. That’s a situation where we’re trying to do two things: Get the early podcasts that do survive somewhere and trying to collect a representative sample of the podcasts being created. I mean, we could probably hire several full-time curators just to work on that if you wanted it to be comprehensive.
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