SMPL and the Archive of Recorded Sound, working together

October 2, 2013
Nathan Coy
Stanford Mendicants cover from 1965

The Stanford Media Preservation Lab (SMPL) has many partnerships on campus and the recent move provided a great opportunity to spend some time working in the audio room of one of those partners, the Archive of Recorded Sound (ARS). Several recordings were digitized and documented while there. Two projects completed of interest are the digitization of several recordings made by the a cappella group the Stanford Mendicants and the transfer of cassette tapes from the book and audio set: Photochemistry of Organic Molecules (POM) held by the Media & Microtext Center.

The Mendicants are having their 50th anniversary in October and realized there was no better time to participate in the preservation of their legacy at Stanford. In the time since their inception the Mendicants have released recordings on media including long play discs, compact discs, and digital files; all of which were prepared at ARS for long-term preservation and access.  Their repertoire in that time has ranged from Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy to Huey Lewis and the News’s Power of Love and continues to evolve each year. With this work they can feel confident that their recordings will be available into the future through the continuous evolution of recording media.

Photochemistry of Organic Molecules

Image of one cassette from the multimedia object Photochemistry of Organic Molecules

While recordings specific to Stanford University are one aspect of audio preservation work at SMPL preserving rare commercial recordings is another. Significant amounts of audiovisual material in library collections are on outdated formats and have passed their service life. Compact cassettes often fall into that category. The earliest cassettes date back to the 1960’s but it’s unusual to see many from that time. Much more common are compact cassettes from the 1970’s and now at 40 years old they are facing problems related to binder breakdown, failed hubs, splices, and slip sheets. In the case of the POM cassettes their splices were failing during playback. The splices were repaired and the cassettes were subsequently transferred using correct gain staging and machine alignment. Often content like this can be used to inform contemporary research but more often it is useful for researchers studying the history of science.  While the nature of use is not always known to the preservationist, providing enduring access to general library collections can be as much a part of the Media Preservation Lab as archival work.

The Mendicants and POM recordings are just two of many outcomes from the time spent at ARS, there are many other positive aspects that came from working with the staff there. It is difficult to schedule spontaneous conversation  (well, clearly impossible) and having the opportunity to field direct questions face to face created exchanges on metadata, file delivery expectations, and thoughts on revised workflow. All of these things will positively inform future exchanges between ARS and SMPL. While SMPL is moving a little farther from the main Stanford campus the time at ARS reinforced the knowledge that the relationships SMPL has with our partners and the high quality of service to patrons provided through those bonds will continue on. 

Stanford Mendicants cover from 1965

Larger image of Mendicants '65 album cover