By Mark Wolfe, Curator of Digital Collections

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives and The Alice Hastings Murphy Preservation Department are collaborating to digitize more than a thousand hours of historic audio on magnetic tape. 

As Curator of Digital Collections, I have coordinated the acquisition of the Bill and Andy Spence Papers, which are a significant national collection that documents the folk music festival scene through recorded audio and video, still photography, and printed programs of live music events. 

Cassette with magnetic tape

More than 160 hours of reel-to-reel audio tapes document the Fox Hollow Music Festival, from 1966 to 1980, a festival held in Petersburgh, New York. In continuation of the folk music traditions, the Bill and Andy Spence Papers also includes materials that document the history of the Old Songs Festival, dating from 1981 to the present. 

The University Libraries' Preservation Librarian, Karen Kiorpes, and I have provided guidance on best practices to preserve and digitize moldy acetate and reels with "sticky shed" syndrome to ensure these audio treasures may be properly digitized. Sticky shed refers to the deterioration of magnetic tape; as chemicals rise to the surface, the tape itself becomes sticky and effectively unusable. 

Karen has directed funding from the New York State Education Department Conservation/Preservation Grant program to fund this initiative. We are working with George Blood Audio, a trusted digitization vendor, to transfer this invaluable music history from fragile magnetic tape to digital format. Once digitized and properly described, recordings of famous musicians like Pete Seeger, Michael Cooney, and David Bromberg will be freely accessible to the public through the department’s digital repository.  

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