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The Soundtrack of Special Collections

September 27, 2010

I listen to music when I work. Adhering to the stereotype of what libraries are like, this place is quiet. Really, really quiet. A problem I have, though, is that I sometimes get a song lodged in my head for days on end. The songs that stick are the ones I associate with work tasks.

We have a terrific photographic collection – the William H. Sumner Collection – that includes both prints and negatives. The condition of the negatives varies; some are pristine, and some are falling prey to Vinegar Syndrome. The technical term for this is “cellulose triacetate degradation,” and once it’s too far gone, affected film often cannot be restored using traditional conservation methods. Digitization is a way that repositories can preserve the contents of the film (although the copies’ quality may not be as high as that of the originals). I have a strong sense of immediacy to get these negatives digitized before the physical objects disintegrate and we lose the material.

Here’s where the music comes in.

Every time I think about the digitization plan for these images, I get the 1981 smash hit “Urgent” by Foreigner in my head. All day. And it will not leave. In my brain, the connection is forged between that collection and that song.

Speaking of music in the archives, I cannot recommend this highly enough. This is brought to you by the clever folks at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and inspired by the brilliant web comic Derangement and Description. For the rest of the day, I’ll be singing “I love the archives – and all the archivists! Boom de yadda boom de yadda…” up here on the 10th floor. Come sing along.

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