Audio Guidance: How To Play Back and Digitize My Materials

How Can I Play Back and Digitize My Materials?

    Should I try to run this on equipment that I have?

    While it may be possible to digitize textual documents and photographs with basic equipment, it can be much more complicated to make a high-quality copy of your audio records.

    Listed below are just some of the reasons that you will probably want to send your records to a trained professional for copying.

    • Working with audio may require expensive and/or specialized computer hardware and software.
    • Digitizing audio on a regular laptop or desktop computer may be possible, but more robust computers may be required to handle the large data throughput.
    • Records may exhibit signs of deterioration and/or be very fragile to handle so that playing back the materials becomes a complicated task.
    • Equipment required to play back materials may be old and even obsolete. This means it can be difficult to find machines in working order and you should not risk damaging your records by playing them on a machine that is in questionable condition.

    How do I locate a vendor who can copy my audio records?

    The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) works with a few different Washington, DC, area vendors that produce broadcast quality transfers of its holdings for customers seeking intermediate copies. Customers must contact the vendor to request the reproduction work be performed.

    These include, but are not limited to those vendors found at How To Order Sound Recording Copies through NARA.

    There are vendors nationwide who can also do this work. Some professional organizations in the field provide lists of recommended service providers:

    What should I ask the vendor to create, and how should the final product be delivered?

    You should ask the vendor for a preservation copy to be stored for the long-term and for an access copy to make your content readily accessible.

    • The purpose of a preservation copy is to create a high quality duplicate of the original record. This way, if the original record deteriorates beyond use the preservation copy will be able to take its place. A preservation copy should last for years or decades, at least long enough to plan for making subsequent copies once these become outdated.
    • The purpose of an access copy is to create a copy of your record that you can play back easily. For example, if you have an old and fragile grooved disc, you can have a CD or MP3 file created to allow you to play back that content on a computer or CD player. An access copy should be a well-supported format that is easy to play back.

    Audio preservation copies generally have the following characteristics:

    Audio access copies generally have the following characteristics:

    • Reduced sampling rate
    • Low bitrate
    • Fairly compressed

    Files may be delivered on hard drive, flash drive or optical disk; whichever method you select you should be prepared to make a second, or backup, copy to help ensure the safety of your records. More information is in the Digital Preservation section.

    Should I ask for anything else?

    • You may request that the vendor name your files and organize them in a certain way. Archives sometimes use a unique identifier to name their files; these can be auto-generated or they may be more meaningful identifiers that provide information about the content or creator of the item (similar to a library book’s call number).
    • Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects By the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA)

    Are there any other requirements that I should ask the vendor to meet?

    • You may also want to ask the vendor to incorporate metadata in your files. Metadata is basically information about your data. You may want to include descriptive information like a title, date, location, or occasion in your metadata. You could also request that the vendor include technical metadata about what type of hardware and software was used to digitize your materials.
    • Checksums can also be a valuable tool. They help to ensure that your data does not change over time.

    Where can I find more information?