Lawrence Gooley: The Spanish Swindle Revisited

Many of us have received e-mail scams from fake sources (bogus relatives, supposed political prisoners) promising great financial reward if we agree to help them recover a secreted fortune. I’ve received them from Ghana and Germany, and even one from the country of West Africa. Never heard of it? I can assure you it’s real—in 2008, world traveler Paris Hilton said “I love Africa in general. South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.”

The senders of these messages range from detained relatives and imprisoned citizens to dethroned kings, urgently seeking help. Most people think it’s “an Internet thing,” but the only thing new about it is the manner of delivery.

That particular scam has been around for more than a century. Known as the Spanish Swindle, it is believed to have originated in Spain’s infamous prisons during the late-nineteenth century. Inmates with far too much time on their hands took advantage of a corrupt system, developing many criminal strategies and exercising them to great effect.

The original Spanish Swindle hasn’t changed much, except that it was often a two-step process. The first was to hook the sucker with a plea for empathy and the promise of great wealth. When a nibble was received, the ante was raised with an urgent plea to help rescue the prisoner’s poor, innocent daughter from the clutches of some tyrant or lecher.

Just as is done with e-mail today, hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of such messages were sent at the same time by mail. In the Adirondacks, a few hotel owners were among those who received the letters, their addresses having been obtained from newspaper advertisements. The plea was appropriately modified— in the hopes of gaining sympathy, the sender claimed to have once been a hotel owner himself.

None of those in the Adirondacks who received the message were fooled by the scam attempt, but elsewhere, pharmacists, doctors, and others were victimized, much to their embarrassment. The Spanish Swindle became so successful that, in 1912, the US Official Postal Guide began including a complete description of the process in order to alert employees.

That’s not to say North Country folks are immune to trickery. All types of swindles have been attempted in the region, many of them successfully. A number of scams from long ago focused on obtaining a person’s signature. A sort of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) then took over: if your name was on a document, you were bound by its clauses. Even if a signature was obtained fraudulently, victims often paid to avoid court time and public embarrassment.

In 1888, teams of encyclopedia salesmen made the rounds in Franklin County, targeting schoolteachers. The first salesman gave his best pitch for a great new line of books, innocently asking the teacher to sign his log book to record the visit. A few days later, a second man delivered a full set of books, demanding payment from the surprised teacher, whose signed order was offered as proof of sale. (Sleight of hand and “bait and switch” were routine components of scams. Papers were subtly arranged to obtain signatures on documents hidden beneath.)

Sleight of hand was sometimes replaced by the latest technology. In 1889, swindlers focused on the devoutly religious, of which the North Country had many. An attractive female pleaded for donations of ten cents to aid overseas missionary work. Donors, asked to sign a sheet, were all too happy to have their names displayed on the list of generous givers.

But vanity came with a price. Beneath the sheet was “an ingenious copying paper which transcribed the name onto a promissory note.” In those days, a promissory note was as good as a check or a banknote. The notes were quickly cashed and the scammers moved on.

Photo: 1951 North Country headline noting the return of the Spanish Swindle.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

NY Journalism of Djuna Barnes Exhibit Scheduled

&#8220Newspaper Fiction: The New York Journalism of Djuna Barnes, 1913-1919,&#8221 an exhibition of 45 objects including drawings, works on paper, documentary photographs, and stories in newsprint by the celebrated writer and early twentieth-century advocate for women’s rights Djuna Barnes (American, 1892-1982), will be presented in the Herstory Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art from January 20 through October 28, 2012. Among the works on view will be eight illustrations Barnes composed to accompany her newspaper columns.

The Herstory Gallery is devoted to the remarkable contributions of the women represented in The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, on permanent view in the adjacent gallery. Barnes is one of 1,038 women honored in Chicago’s iconic feminist work.

Prior to publishing the modernist novels and plays for which she is now remembered, such as Ryder (1928), Nightwood (1936), and The Antiphon (1958), which present complex portrayals of lesbian life and familial dysfunction, Barnes supported herself as a journalist and illustrator for a variety of daily newspapers and monthly magazines, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, McCall’s, Vanity Fair, Charm, and the New Yorker.

Brought up in an unconventional household, Barnes developed an outsider’s perspective on &#8220normal&#8221 life that served her well as a writer. Her liberal sexuality fit in perfectly with the bohemian lifestyle of Greenwich Village and, later, the lesbian expatriate community in Paris. From her first articles in 1913 until her departure for Europe in 1921, Barnes specialized in a type of journalism that was less about current events and more about her observations of the diverse personalities and happenings that gave readers an intimate portrait of her favorite character-New York City. Attempting to capture its transition from turn of the century city to modern metropolis, Barnes developed her unique style of &#8220newspaper fictions,&#8221 offering impressionistic observations and dramatizing whatever she felt to be the true significance or subtexts of a story.

Image: Djuna Barnes, Sketch of a woman with hat, looking right, for &#8220The Terrorists,&#8221 New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine, September 30, 1917. Ink on paper. Djuna Barnes Papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries

An Early Schenectady Communications Experiment

In late 1932, on a dark mountainside in the far southern Adirondacks, a group of scientists prepared for a groundbreaking effort in the world of communications. The plan was to conduct a long-distance, telephone-style conversation with their counterparts stationed 24 miles away on the roof of the General Electric Company in Schenectady. No wires were involved. The voices of those on GE’s rooftop would be carried by a searchlight beam aimed directly at a concave, 30-inch mirror on a hillside near Lake Desolation.

This particular effort was the brainchild of GE research engineer John Bellamy Taylor. It involved a unique process he called “narrowcasting” because the tight focus of the beam differed substantially from the growing technology known widely as “broadcasting.”

Earlier in the year, Taylor had likewise communicated from the navy blimp Los Angeles floating high above the GE buildings. The effect was accomplished by making a light source flicker in unison with voice fluctuations. A photoelectric cell received the flickers, or pulsations, and converted them to electrical impulses, which were then amplified by a loudspeaker. The term narrowcasting was apt—any interruption of the narrow light beam halted the transmission.

This new attempt in the Adirondacks challenged Taylor’s abilities, covering more than ten times the distance of the dirigible effort and spanning some rough terrain. While trying to place the mirror in the Lake Desolation area, engineering crews twice buried their vehicles in the mud. Another technology—the shortwave radio— was used to effect a rescue.

A second issue arose involving the visibility of the large light beam. From 24 miles away, the searchlight blended among the stars on the horizon. Instructions were radioed to blink the light, which immediately solved the problem. Further communications by radio allowed the proper alignment of the light and mirror. With everything in place, the big moment was at hand.

A member of the extensive media coverage took part in the experiment. As Taylor waited on the distant hillside, famed newspaper columnist Heywood Broun began to interview him from atop the GE roof in Schenectady: “Do you suppose it might be possible in 50 or 100 years to communicate with Mars over a light ray?” Taylor’s reply included a bit of humor. “It might be within the range of possibility, but one difficulty would be how to inform the Martians what apparatus to set up.”

While Broun’s voice rode the light beam, Taylor’s end of the conversation was sent by shortwave radio back to Broun at Schenectady, where it was received and then rebroadcast on AM radio stations. The two-way conversation was the first ever of its kind.

In an area where few people had ever used or even seen a telephone, locals were suddenly talking across a beam of light. Old trapper James Link of Lake Desolation shared that “it’s getting mighty cold up here,” and two young women also spoke with Broun. It was a public relations coup for GE, and a powerful advertisement for Taylor’s wonderful innovation. The experiment was a resounding success, followed soon by other intriguing demonstrations.

A few months later, an orchestra played before a sole microphone high in New York City’s Chrysler Building. Pointing a beam of light at a lens in the window of a broadcast studio half a mile away, Taylor transmitted the performance to an audience of shocked listeners. Stunning successes like that would influence all future communications efforts in a variety of fields.

Among his many achievements, John Bellamy Taylor is credited with being the first ever to make light audible and sound visible, and with developing the first portable radio. Just how important was his work? The effects his discoveries had on radio, television, telephone, and other technologies are immeasurable. Due to the work of Taylor, Thomas Edison, and their contemporaries, the world was forever changed.

Top Photo: John Bellamy Taylor in Popular Mechanics magazine, 1931- Middle, map of the historic “narrowcast” area- Below, Taylor’s New York City experiment transmitting music.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Fort Ticonderoga, Champlain College Collaborate

Fort Ticonderoga and Champlain College are entering the second year of a growing collaboration, utilizing the needs of a non-profit institution while providing students at the Vermont institution with real-world experience as they prepare to enter the workforce.

“Talk about an effective engagement for student success! By employing a real-world competitive agency model, students are truly motivated to succeed,” said Nancy Kerr, Media Communication Program Director at Champlain College. Kerr’s senior-level students are currently working on a public relations project for Fort Ticonderoga.

The students are working with Lauren Grimaldi, from Brawn Media, on developing a viral social media campaign for the Fort. “With the increasing use of online campaigns as an effective marketing strategy,” Grimaldi said, “we gave them the challenge to create a viral campaign for the Fort. Working with the students at Champlain College has been a great learning experience on both ends.”

Champlain College senior Alisha Durgin, speaking of the project this semester, said “Overall, the research we did was very informative and even surprising. Just actually doing the research and collecting the results on our own was a great learning experience.” A final product from the group of students is due in December.

During the Spring 2011 Semester, students from one of Elaine Young’s marketing courses worked with Fort Ticonderoga and staff from Brawn Media developing potential marketing efforts for the Fort’s temporary exhibition “The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experience through the Eyes of America’s Great Artists.”

Dr. Young, Assistant Dean in Champlain College’s Division of Business, noted that “The opportunity to have students work with an organization provides enhanced learning outcomes through real world application. It’s a hallmark of a Champlain education and wouldn’t be successful without true partnerships with mission-driven organizations such as Fort Ticonderoga.”

Young continued, “Senior marketing majors were able to work closely with Fort Ti to help them plan for a major event. They learned the intricacies of working with a client with specific needs and had the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the success of the event for Fort Ti. You can’t get this kind of experience and learning in a classroom setting by itself. It is an excellent way for students to fully link theory to practice and they were able to make meaningful connections which will stay with them as they enter their careers.”

Nancy Kerr concurs, relating that students “come away with valuable skills and knowledge to make the transition to a work environment. Working with Fort Ticonderoga this semester, the Champlain College students in the Public Relations Campaign Development class are enthusiastically working to help promote Fort Ticonderoga to the public, while gaining valuable professional skills. What could be better?”

The Champlain College collaboration is just an example of a growing role Fort Ticonderoga envisions for college and university partnerships that utilize Fort Ticonderoga as a “learning campus” for both undergraduate and graduate students in multiple disciplines, not just history and historic site administration.

Photo: Nancy Kerr, Media Communications Program Director at Champlain College, has students working the Fort Ticonderoga this semester.

New-York Historical American Art Lecture Dec 1st

A huge range of print media — newspapers, magazines, short stories, even song lyrics— flooded the popular market in the early years of the 20th century. These publications relied on illustrations by William Glackens, John Sloan, George Luks and their contemporaries to inform, entertain and shape public attitudes.

The New-York Historical Society will host Dr. Mecklenburg’s free lecture, sponsored by the Sansom Foundation, about how these visual narratives helped Americans deal with the fast-changing circumstances of contemporary life. The lecture will be held on December 1, 2011, beginning at 6:30 pm. Seating is limited, and reservations are required- please call (212) 485-9266 or e-mail [email protected] to reserve seats.

Distinguished art historian and curator Virginia Mecklenburg, Senior Curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., will deliver the 2011 C. Richard Hilker lecture titled “Guttersnipes and Suffragettes: Ashcan Art and the Popular Press.” Dr. Mecklenburg earned both her BA and MA at the University of Texas at Austin, and her doctorate in art history at the University of Maryland at College Park. Her recent publications include Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and Modern Masters: American Abstraction at Midcentury. She is currently working on African American Art in the 20th Century, the catalogue for an exhibition that will open at the Smithsonian in April 2012.

The Sansom Foundation is a non-profit organization that supports numerous causes. The Foundation is named for the Philadelphia street where the American painter William J. Glackens was born, and was established in the 1950s by the artist’s son Ira Glackens and his wife Nancy. In 1990, after the founders’ deaths, C. Richard Hilker assumed leadership of the Foundation until his death in 2001, when the Sansom Foundation inaugurated a series of scholarly lectures to celebrate and commemorate his leadership.

Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered political, cultural, and social history of New York City and State and the nation and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

Illustration: Cover of The Masses by John Sloan following the Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914.

New-York Historical, NYC Media Offer Video Shorts

The New-York Historical Society and NYC Media, the official network of the City of New York, have partnered to produce When &#8220Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? & Other Questions about New York City,&#8221 a special series of 90 one-minute videos that feature the staff of the New-York Historical Society answering some of the most captivating questions ever posed to them about the City’s unique history. The video series airs every evening at 7:30pm on NYC life (Channel 25) in anticipation of the reopening of the New-York Historical Society’s Museum galleries on November 11, 2011. The series can also be viewed online on the NYC Media Video on Demand player.

“Inquisitive viewers will get the answers they’ve been looking for as the New-York Historical Society shares its vast knowledge and archive in our new series,” said Diane Petzke, general manager, NYC Media. “As part of our ongoing efforts to partner with local cultural organizations, we’re delighted to bring this fun and engaging perspective of City history to New Yorkers.”

“We are pleased to partner with NYC Media as we count down toward the re-opening of our galleries 90 days from now,” said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “As the oldest cultural institution in New York City, we have a history that is closely tied to the history of the City as a whole. What better way to celebrate than by exploring the fascinating, sometimes surprising questions put to us by curious New Yorkers and visitors?”

On Veterans’ Day, Friday, November 11, 2011, the New-York Historical Society will throw open its doors as never before after completing a three-year renovation of its Central Park West building. The face of the institution—the first museum established in New York—will be transformed as visitors of all ages are welcomed to this great cultural destination. Visitors will experience brand-new gallery spaces that are more open and hospitable, both to major exhibitions and to a vastly expanded public. Highlights include, a multi-screen presentation of American history seen through the lens of New York City- the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, the first of its kind in New York, where the past comes to life through the stories of real children- a new museum restaurant operated by Stephen Starr Restaurants in a light-filled, modern space- and a permanent exhibition taking visitors on an interactive journey from colonial times to the September 11th attacks, incorporating high-definition digital screens and original artifacts. For more information about the New-York Historical Society’s re-opening, visit

New Academic Book Takes on Mad Men

Since it premiered in July 2007, the AMC cable network’s &#8220Mad Men&#8221 series has won many awards and been syndicated across the globe. Its imprint is evident throughout contemporary culture—from TV advertisements and magazine covers to designer fashions and online debate. Its creator, Matthew Weiner, a former executive producer on &#8220The Sopranos,&#8221 has again created compelling, complex characters, this time in the sophisticated, go-go world of Madison Avenue of the 1960s, with smoking, drinking, and the playing out of prejudices and anxieties of an era long neglected in popular culture. As editor Gary R. Edgerton and a host of other well-known contributors demonstrate in this new title, Mad Men: Dream Come True TV, Mad Men is a zeitgeist show of the early twenty-first century.

Edgerton, who is Chair of the Communications and Theater Arts Department at Old Dominion University in Virginia, has edited this book to provide an academic yet still engaging read that sheds light on the appeal and attraction of the television series, as well as it’s cultural import.

Mad Men: Dream Come True TV features essays that analyze and celebrate the cutting edge TV series. It also includes an interview with the show’s Executive Producer Brett Hornbacher and an episode guide. The book presents essays under five parts: Industry and Authorship, Visual and Aural Stylistics and Influences, Narrative Dynamics and Genealogy, Sexual Politics and Gender Roles, Cultural Memory and the American Dream.

The book is part of the Reading Contemporary Television Series which offers a variety of intellectually challenging responses to what is happening in television today. Other books in the series have tackled CSI, Deadwood, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Sex and the City, The L Word, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Doctor Who, 24 and more.

Gary R. Edgerton’s previous books have included The Essential HBO Reader (with Jeffrey P. Jones) and The Columbia History of American Television. He is co-editor of the Journal of Popular Film and Television.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Ten Reasons Your News Doesnt Make The Paper

New York History is the only statewide online newsmagazine covering news about the history of the Empire State. As you can imagine, we get a lot of press releases announcing events, news, and other information from historic sites, museums, and cultural organizations from around New York, and bordering states. It’s probably safe to say that we receive more media releases from the local history and cultural sector than anyone on the planet.

It’s sometimes frustrating for site managers, PR folks and others who handle facility and event promotions to find out that their news never got covered online or at local newspapers, radio, or TV.

In an effort to help local organizations make the most of media, online and otherwise, here is a list of problems we most often encounter from organizations hoping to have their news and events appear here at New York History. With over 25 years of media experience, I can say for certain that most press releases from local organizations end up in the trash because they don’t follow one or more of these few important rules:

1. Your press release is incomplete. Leaving off dates, times, and contact information is not an uncommon problem, but more serious is the failure to let the media know who you are. Always include a paragraph describing your organization that includes a URL to your website. Directions, hours, and admission fees are also helpful. Don’t assume the person on the other end of your press releases understand the shorthand or acronyms your organization uses, what city or town you are located in, when you are open, or even what your mission is.

2. Your press release is too short.
Sure you’ve included your date, time and place of that lecturer, but also include a paragraph or two about who they are, why the topic is important, and what makes them an expert. A calendar listing is not a press release. News media, including New York History, typically need at least THREE paragraphs.

3. Your press release is formatted with strange fonts, bold, italics, and links without urls. The goal in writing a press release is to provide local media with an easy-to-use, ready-made story. If the media has to spend a lot of time reformatting all your text and putting it into paragraphs, they will probably just skip it and move on to the next press release. Always include your URL (beginning with www) even if you embed a link. Never use all caps, italics, bold, or other strange formatting.

4. You use a membership development service as your media list. Membership organization and contact programs and services like Constant Contact are fine for your membership, volunteers, and friends groups, but not for media. Simply adding media addresses to your membership development software will be sure to get you ignored, or worse, marked as spam. Learn to write a press release &#8211 treat the media as media professionals, not someone you hope will become a member. When the media gets your newsletter, 9 times out of 10, they delete it. A newsletter is not a media release.

5. Your press releases do not read like a news story. If your press release says things like &#8220come join us&#8221 or includes unnecessary hyperbole, you are asking for your news to be sent to the circular file. The best press release is one that the media reprints verbatim. Forget discussions of the role of the media, if your job is to get your story run as a news story &#8211 write it like a news story. One good indicator you are going down the wrong path &#8211 does your press release have exclamation points? Rhetorical questions? Avoid using the word &#8220you&#8221 in favor of &#8220participants&#8221, &#8220visitors&#8221, etc.

6. You don’t include photos.
Some websites, like New York History, require a photo or other illustration with every story. Many local newspapers and TV and radio stations will run a photo with your basic info on the front page, and/or on their social media profiles and webpages. If you don’t have a photo, find a relevant public domain image, or send along your logo. You are bound to get more play in the media if you provide them with what they need &#8211 often that means images. ALWAYS include a caption with the source for your image.

7. Your press releases include too much.
Keep press releases to one subject &#8211 a lecture series, a single event, exhibit, or conference. Listing every event on your upcoming schedule will get you tossed. Focus press releases on one specific news item or event, it’s better to send one per week if you need.

8. You don’t provide enough lead time.
Most media outlets need a few days to a week or more to run your story. Don’t expect to have a press release they received on Monday run by the end of the week. Here at New York History we have about a one or two week lead time.

9. You don’t respond to request for information, images, interviews, etc.
If you fail to respond to a media inquiry it’s likely the reporter or editor will declare you uncooperative and won’t bother assigning your press releases to reporters to write larger stories. Provide good contact info and respond to media requests quickly.

10. You send a flier or poster instead of a press release. We often get fliers for great events with a note asking that it be run. Odds are, like most media outlets, I don’t have the time to turn your event flier into a press release or short story and your flier doesn’t include enough information anyway. Fliers and posters are great for the wall, but they are not press releases.

Questions? Comments?

Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

John Warren

Newspaper Archive Summit Announced

On April 10-12, 2011, a diverse group of stakeholders will meet at the Reynolds Journalism Institute located at the University of Missouri School of Journalism to have a conversation about preserving news content. They’re calling it the Newspaper Archive Summit: Rescuing Orphaned and Digital Content.

More than 160 U. S. newspapers have either quit business or stopped publishing a print edition during the past three years. How can we make sure that a community’s history and cultural record does not cease to exist? How can we make sure that digital news products currently being created by online news organizations are preserved and accessible for citizens and scholars in the twenty-second century?

In 2010, a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, created and funded by the Library of Congress, NSF, Mellon Foundation, National Archives and a few other organizations, published their final report. Some of their recommendations were:

* To convene expert communities to address the selection and preservation needs of commercially owned cultural content

* To discuss methods for providing financial and other incentives to preserve privately held cultural content in the public interest

* That stewardship organizations (libraries, museums, historical societies) should model and test mechanisms for flexible long-term public-private partnerships that foster cooperative preservation of privately held materials in the public interest

These issues will be addressed at the conference which will bring six groups of diverse stakeholders together to have a conversation about how we can create public/private partnerships and define incentives for commercial entities to hand off public interest content to stewardship organizations for preservation.

Stakeholders will include:
* Stewardship organizations (libraries, museums, digital archives)
* Print and Online News content publishers and organizations
* Experts in news copyright
* Academic and community scholars who depend on news content for their research
* Genealogy community
* Commercial vendors and content aggregators

On the first day, participants will hear stakeholder panelists talk about how it is in the public interest to preserve and provide access to news content. They’ll talk about copyright and third party vendor issues- hear from scholars and genealogists about the need for preservation and access of this content and listen to the needs and concerns of news content creators and publishers. Attendees will also hear from stewardship organizations and successful commercial and non-commercial digitization projects.

On the second day, conference goers will work together in diverse groups developing a plan for creating partnerships and incentives to preserve and provide access to analog and digital news content.

The event will be held on Monday, April 11, 2011, at the Reynolds Journalism Institute on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, Missouri.

Visit their regularly updated conference website. Registration is free, go here to sign up.

Study: Audio Preservation, Access in Dire State

Digital technology alone will not ensure the preservation and survival of the nation’s sound history. That is one of the findings in a major study released by the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) detailing the state of sound-recording preservation and access. The study was mandated by the U.S. Congress under the &#8220National Recording Preservation Act of 2000&#8243- (P.L. 106-174) and is the first comprehensive study on a national level that examines the state of America’s sound-recording preservation ever conducted in the United States.

Titled &#8220The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age,&#8221 the study outlines the interlocking issues that now threaten the long-term survival of America’s sound-recording history. It also identifies the public and private policy issues that strongly bear on whether the nation’s most culturally and historically important sound recordings will be preserved for future generations.

Although public institutions, libraries and archives hold an estimated 46 million recordings, the study finds that major areas of America’s recorded sound heritage have already deteriorated or remain inaccessible to the public. Only an estimated 14 percent of pre-1965 commercially released recordings are currently available from rights-holders. Of music released in the United States in the 1930s, only about 10 percent of it can now be readily accessed by the public.

In his introduction to the study, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington noted: &#8220Sound recordings have existed as one of the most salient features of America’s cultural landscape for more than 130 years. As a nation, we have good reason to be proud of our historical record of creativity in the sound-recording arts and sciences. However, our collective energy in creating and consuming sound recordings in all genres has not been matched by an equal level of interest, over the same period of time, in preserving them for posterity.&#8221

Authored by Rob Bamberger and Sam Brylawski under the auspices of NRPB, the study points out the lack of conformity between federal and state laws, which has adversely affected the survival of pre-1972 sound recording. One of the major conclusions in the report is that the advent of digital technologies and distribution platforms has made inseparable the issues surrounding both the preservation of sound recordings and access to them.

The authors also conclude that analog recordings made more than 100 years ago are likelier to survive than digital recordings made today. In addition, the report warns that there must be a coordinated effort by the various stakeholders to address the scope of the problem, the complexity of the technical landscape, the need for preservation education and the copyright conundrum.

Finally, the report notes that newer materials such as born-digital audio are at greater risk of loss than older recordings, such as 78-rpm discs- that there is a lack of a comprehensive program to preserve born-digital audio- and that open-reel preservation tapes made in the 1970s and 1980s are deteriorating faster than older tape recordings. For more findings from the report, review the appendix at and the introduction/executive summary at

&#8220The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age&#8221 is available for purchase and as a free download at Information for this study was gathered through interviews, public hearings and written submissions. NRPB previously commissioned five ancillary studies in support of this final report, which will lay the groundwork for the National Recording Preservation Plan, to be developed and published later this year.

The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation has already begun initiatives to solve some of the problems identified during preparation of the study. For example, the Recorded Sound Section of the Packard Campus has obtained a license to stream acoustical recordings controlled by the Sony Music Entertainment for the Library of Congress National Jukebox, which will debut later in 2010.

The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation is a state-of-the-art facility funded as a gift to the nation by the Packard Humanities Institute. The Packard Campus is the site where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of motion pictures, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings ( The Packard Campus is home to more than six million collection items, including nearly three million sound recordings. It provides staff support for the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board, the National Recording Preservation Board, and the National Registries for film and recorded sound.

Photo: Vice-President Elect Harry Truman’s family listening to election returns, 1944.