Archiving the recorded audio history of the United States? The National Recording Preservation Foundation is just getting up and running, with some familiar folks on the governing board. I had to know more, so I called up Executive Director Gerald Seligman.
So what's the National Recording Preservation Foundation?
In the '90s, a National Film Preservation Act was enacted by Congress. They created the Film Registry, and they also created a foundation. Then in 2000, they decided that the same sort of effort should be done for audio preservation. By "audio" they mean broadcast, spoken word, speeches, music, and all the rest. So they created a National Recording Preservation Board, which is not us. That's the one that is directly a function of the Library of Congress. They do the registry, where they nominate 25 recordings. They were also charged with putting together a National Recording Preservation Plan, which they published last year. You can download that from the Library of Congress — it's really interesting. They created a foundation at the same time; but what they did was interesting, because they made us entirely independent. We're affiliated with the Library of Congress. In fact, they apply for matching funds for what we raise. But, other than that, we're entirely independent and we function according to the ideas and inspirations of our board.
How does that work? Is it really not a part of the government?
It's not. It's independent. It's a 501c3, which is a charity. They did it for quite a few reasons, one of which was pretty clever: they themselves could apply for grants from us, the Smithsonian, or any other institutional branch. It's good to be able to at least attempt to represent the interests of the archive community at large and not just government entities like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian.
The "archive community," as far as record labels and such?
Well, more like all the university archives, the library archives, the not-for-profits, and all of that. However, it makes a lot of sense to be liaising and working with commercial labels as well. In fact, the Library of Congress even has that National Jukebox site, which is so wonderful.
I've gone on there. It's amazing.
Yeah, so there are ways to work with commercial entities to make music accessible that wouldn't be otherwise. But the main purpose is the not-for- profits and the archives.
Are you out looking for things to archive, or are you taking suggestions from the Library of Congress?
What's interesting is that this act was in 2000, but the foundation was only really formalized in 2011 and 2012. So we're really only just getting started. I've been on board for about 15 months now. I'm still in the set up phase, trying to get enough funding to actually hire myself full-time, as well as hire staff to begin the work at hand. There's no need for us to be an archive. It's much better if we support the work of existing archives and function as a charity. But the more I looked into this and had various conversations, it also became clear thatwe should be creating some projects in each of the areas — music, broadcast, and so forth. There are certain projects that I think we're well placed to do, but always we'll do them in partnership with an archive. I've got a civil rights broadcast project we're developing that will be done with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There's another project that could be done with the University of Santa Barbara. It'll make sense to do it; I think it's best that we don't become an archive but rather help the existing ones do their job.
Right. As far as funding and suggesting the type of archiving project to take on, you mean?
We'll do open calls for proposals. We've created a grant committee, as well as designed a form with the kind of information that we'll need. One of the most important things is accessibility, to try to get this stuff out to the general public, or at the very least to where researchers and students can have access. We'll basically do a lot of open calls where we ask people to come to us with proposals. We have X amount [of resources] available. We'll evaluate the proposals and then distribute the funds. The ones that we'll be creating are partly from people coming...