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The Work is Underway: Carnegie Hall's Digital Archives Project

With 2012 quickly coming to a close, it's a natural time to reflect on the year's accomplishments. At Carnegie Hall, we were grateful to have launched our Digital Archives Project this year, taking many new steps toward making our collections more accessible to researchers and the public than ever before.

At our offsite storage facility in Long Island City, we have been processing and cataloging our historic audiovisual items. This painstaking work entails going through the boxes of old video tapes, audio tapes, and film, inspecting and labeling each item, and creating inventories. Since many of these items are on obsolete formats such as fragile lacquer disks and open-reel videotape, we are not able to listen to or view the recordings. The description on the item or box and accompanying documentation are the only clues we have until we send the items to a reformatting vendor.

Our inventory details 1,900 hours of audio, 480 hours of video, and 17,000 feet of film! During this first year of the project, that's what we plan to digitize. Included are recordings of concerts that were broadcast on radio in the 1940s, as well as contemporary recordings of events such as Carnegie Talks, a conversation series from 1999–2003 that featured leading classical musicians such as James Levine, Mitsuko Uchida, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and Maurizio Pollini, among others. The film collection includes original outtakes of construction scenes and interviews from a 1986 documentary on the interior renovation of the Hall. Most of the older audiovisual items have been untouched and dormant for years in storage. Our goal is to eventually make these items accessible, to be able to bring them to life and share snippets of Carnegie Hall history on our website.

As for our paper collections, we recently received our first batch of digital files back from Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), who performed conservation work and digitized our oldest concert programs. The concert programs are among the best resources we have, detailing events in the Hall going back to 1891. Over the years, they have been collected individually as loose programs or bound in volumes. The early loose programs suffered from embrittlement and discoloration due to the acidic nature of the paper. Small tears, adhesive stains, and rust from aging staples also made this first batch require special conservation treatment. The conservators at NEDCC immersed the programs in filtered water to reduce acidity and adhesive residue and then alkalized the papers. Tears were meticulously mended and the programs were humidified, dried flat, and rehoused into archival folders. Basically, the programs went to a high-end spa for a much needed rejuvenation. See the difference?

Conservators at Northeast Document Conservation Center immersed the programs in filtered water to reduce acidity and adhesive residue.

The programs were humidified, dried flat, and rehoused into archival folders.

A concert program from May 14, 1892, before conservation treatment. Notice the discolored and brittle edges and small tears.
The same concert program after conservation. The conservators removed the surface dirt, filled the tears and small holes along the left side, and used mending paper to protect the brittle bottom and right edges.

2013 promises to be a busy time as work on our project moves full steam ahead. We look forward to sharing more updates in the new year. Until then, Happy Holidays!

Digital Archives Project
Carnegie Hall History

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