The Library of Congress goes digital - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

The Library of Congress goes digital

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A Library of Congress employee digitizes a movie. (Source: CNN) A Library of Congress employee digitizes a movie. (Source: CNN)
Some materials are not able to be preserved.  (Source: CNN) Some materials are not able to be preserved. (Source: CNN)

(CNN) – When the Library of Congress comes to mind, you probably don't think of movies, TV shows or old school vinyl. But every year, artists from decades past are making their way into the digital archives of the library's National Recording Registry

It's a massive undertaking, combing through analog records that date as far back as the late 1800s.

Here's a look at how it's done.

As a record plays, Gene Deanna of the Library of Congress' Recorded Sound Division plays a record.

"Our mission at its most fundamental is to transfer the analog recordings of the last 125 years to digital files," Deanna said.

Deanna explains that each recording must be played back in real time.

"We have three and a half million sound recordings here that probably have an average play time of somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes," Deanna said.

Another worker works on digitizing Star Wars.

Mike Mashon of Library of Congress' Moving Images Division explains that part of their job it to "acquire and preserve a record of America's audiovisual creativity."

For video tapes, the library uses mass digitization.

"We have the robots; we have a lot of tapes," Mashon said. "In film, it's a little different."

An employee shows an original cameral film negative from 1903.

"It's going to be much more of a one-on-one, hands-on, boutique sort of preservation," Mashon said.

One of the biggest issues the Library of Congress faces is the massive amount of material that is out there.

"A lot more is coming in that we can immediately address, and catalogue, and preserve," Mashon said.

Library of Congress National Audio Visual Conservation Center Chief Gregory Lukow said that the biggest challenge the library faces is having the resources, staff, and technologies to handle the scale of materials.

"There are inevitably going to be films that we don't get to," Lukow said. "We celebrate the things that we can save, and we mourn those that we just can't rescue."

Lukow goes on to talk about how important the initial digital migration is.

"It's something that can be migrated, moved, and played on many different platforms," he said. "Now we're in a digital age where we're creating all of these files."

Lukow says there's much to learn from the past.

"They tell us who we were, where we are, and can even give us clues as to where we're going," Lukow said.

A library spokesperson says the next step is to make the material available to everyone online.

More than 10,000 historic audio records are already available through the Library of Congress' National Jukebox Project.

You can check out playlists at loc.gov/jukebox.

Copyright 2014 CNN. All rights reserved.

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