Boston Public Library Transfers Sound Archives Collection to Internet Archive for Digitization, Preservation, and Public Access

Boston Public Library has approved the transfer of significant holdings from its Sound Archives Collection to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library offering permanent access to historical collections for researchers, historians, and the general public. This project will catalog and digitize a major component of the BPL’s Sound Archives Collection, which will be available where rights allow to all for free online upon the project’s completion. The BPL Sound Archives Collection contains the Library’s collection of non-circulating commercial sound recordings in a variety of historical formats, including 78 rpms and LPs. The collection includes American popular music of many genres, including classical, pop, rock, jazz, and opera from the early 1900s on the 78 rpms and through the 1980s on the LPs. The collection has remained in its current state for several decades, in storage, uncataloged and inaccessible to the public.

“Through this innovative collaboration, the Internet Archive will bring significant portions of these sound archives online and to life in a way that we couldn’t do alone, and we are thrilled to have this historic collection curated and cared for by our longtime partners for all to enjoy going forward,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library.

“Boston Public Library is once again leading in providing public access to their holdings. Their Sound Archive includes hillbilly music, early brass bands and accordion recordings from the turn of the last century, offering an authentic audio portrait of how America sounded a century ago,” said Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “Every time I walk through BPL’s doors, I’m inspired to read what is carved above it:  ‘Free to All.’”

The 78 rpm records from the BPL’s Sound Archives Collection fit into the Internet Archive’s larger initiative called The Great 78 Project. This community effort seeks to digitize all 3 million minted sides (~3 minute recordings) published on 78 rpm discs from about 1898 to the 1950s, supporting the preservationresearch and discovery of 78 rpm records. While commercially viable recordings will have been restored or remastered onto LP’s or CD, significant research value exists in the remaining artifacts among the often rare 78rpm discs and recordings. To date, over 20 collections have been selected by the Internet Archive for physical and digital preservation and access. Started by many volunteer collectors, these new collections have been selected, digitized, and preserved by the Internet Archive,  George Blood LP, and the Archive of Contemporary Music.

“The simple fact of the matter is most audiovisual recordings will be lost,” says George Blood, an internationally renowned expert on audio preservation. “These 78s are disappearing right and left. It is important that we do a good job preserving what we can get to, because there won’t be a second chance.”

Boston Public Library began working with the Internet Archive in 2007, and it is one of two digital partners-in-residence at the Central Library in Copley Square. The Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages, and also provides specialized services for adaptive reading and information access for the blind and other persons with disabilities. The Internet Archive scans and digitizes select bound materials for Boston Public Library, including the John Adams Library, one of the BPL’s Collections of Distinction.


Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit


The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library founded by Brewster Kahle in 1996 with the mission to provide “Universal access to all Knowledge.” The organization seeks to preserve the world’s cultural heritage and to provide open access to our shared knowledge in the digital era, supporting the work of historians, scholars, journalists, students, the blind and reading disabled, as well as the general public. The Internet Archive’s digital collections include more than 35 petabytes of data:  300 billion Web pages, and millions of moving images, audio recordings, live concerts, texts, software and television.  Each day, one million visitors use or contribute to the archive, making it one of the world’s 300 most popular sites.  The Internet Archive has created new models for digital conservation by forging alliances with more than 1,000 libraries, universities and national archives around the world.