The Apocalypse is upon us! “How Streaming Media Could Threaten the Mission of Libraries” (cue timpani roll and dissonant chords on low brass)
I am not sure how to feel about this article — Is the advent of new avenues of distribution for recorded music a CHALLENGE? Absolutely. However, I think calling it a “threat” is a little bit of an exaggeration. And by a “little bit,” I mean “a lot.”
Libraries buy subscriptions to Naxos, and tons of other databases for articles. Why is this different? I wonder if that particular recording is on Naxos — they do have a recording of Dudamel with the LA Phil playing this work.
Of course, the challenge for libraries is that before they paid $25-$30 dollars to be able to perpetually supply their users with a specific audio material and now they gotta pay services like Naxos to provide the same competitive access. An individual would have to pay a considerable amount of money to get a subscription to Naxos (right now it stands at $31.50 a month or $315 a year). They don’t even give a special discount for the yearly membership :(. So yeah, people will still use library access for this one. Mr. Kolowich can chill. Or can he?
Sound Recordings and Copyright. What is going on here??
I will not touch on the issue of commercially-available recordings of today, however, there should be a minimum of permissiveness when it comes to access to things which are really old and might serve a purpose larger than just entertainment and sales (of course for a holder, anything that might generate money is important).
So the first thing that caught my attention from Brooks’s article was four pages into it, when the author explains that a certain company didn’t really own the rights for a recording he needed, but a librarian thought they did and that was enough to pose a roadblock for the researcher. In this particular paragraph, Brooks makes a simple-yet-incredible claim: NOBODY HAS ANYTHING TO WIN when it comes to really old recordings, unless we have substantial amount of market research proving that recordings with wax-cylinder quality are breaking charts on iTunes. However, the author’s interactions with libraries showed less of a preoccupation for “providing access” (as Kolowich was concerned), and more of a preoccupation for libraries to “cover their behinds.” Of course, libraries have to be particularly careful about observing the law –their reputations could be jeopardized and people’s jobs could be on the line– but the librarian who didn’t really know who was the owner of that recording should’ve known better.
The second thing that caught my attention was the argument that copyright ownership can be used as a means of censorship: even when holders want to avoid controversy they are still holding back the often politically INCORRECT content that was out there before 1972, and people have the right to know: we wouldn’t know better if we hadn’t heard/seen/read histories of World War II. Likewise, we can gain more insight into our history by being able to access the media that copyright holders are not sharing, and using their ownership to protect it.
Hopefully agreements will be made with regards to historical recordings. If no one has anything to win by holding on to these recordings tightly, as Brooks argues, then why keep them out of reach from everybody? At least, let organizations like libraries have access to it for preservation purposes.
I still think Mr. Kolowich’s statement that streaming media could become a “threat to the mission of libraries” is exaggerated. Even a little irresponsible: Why would we require open-mindedness and adaptation from the rights holders, when authors like Mr. Kolowich spread fear with such a clickbait-y title? Consider both articles were released with considerable amounts of time in between them for one to be informed by the findings of another. At the same time there is a big gap from 2009 to 2016 and we’d have to look at how the situations described by Brooks actually played out.
Belfer Audio Archive, National Jukebox
It is great to know that there are organizations funded and put in place with the sole purpose of sharing recordings that would otherwise be inaccessible to the general public. Particularly interesting are other branched efforts from the Belfer, like Sound Beat, a 90 second podcast hosted by VO artist Brett Barry, with the goal of highlighting the holdings at the Belfer. It must be noted that these are a little clunky on Safari and work their best on Chrome, FYI.
This is a nice recording of the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” from the Belfer collection, click here.
At the National Jukebox, I found a curious recording of “Hail to the Chief” for male vocal quartet prefaced by an intro played on bagpipe. I wonder what the circumstances for such a performance were. Check it out.
Honestly I thought both articles were a little dramatic, even if I agreed with the main point they were making. But that’s an effective way to get people’s attention, I suppose.
You make a good point about censorship. 1923-1976 was a pretty ugly time period in the US and I would argue it was pretty important to forming some of the cultural elements that persist until today. I found it interesting that there’s actually a disclaimer about offensive language on National Jukebox Project to this effect. You would think people pursuing these recordings wouldn’t have need of such a warning, so there’s an element of trying to broaden their listener base here as well.
Thank you for your comment David! Never realized that their intention of broadening the listener base might actually be expressed by the presence of the disclaimer on the National Jukebox — thank you for pointing it out. I wonder how many people outside of research circles actually use this though: maybe one day they’ll release usage statistics that will tell us more specific info about who uses this resource.