Special Features

The New National Audiovisual Conservation Center

A single, huge, mostly underground former bunker now stores the AV archives of the Library of Congress

Published on December 18, 2007

The New National Audiovisual Conservation Center
During the Cold War, the U. S. Federal Reserve – fearful that in the event of a nuclear war, the U.S. economy would be destroyed – constructed 90 minutes south of Washington D.C. a huge bunker large enough to hold sufficient U.S. currency to replenish the cash supply east of the Mississippi. Commissioned in December 1969, the bunker was also a backup for continuity of the government. The entire facility is 140,000 square feet – a steel-reinforced concrete building with lead-lined radiation-proof steel shutters to seal off the bunker from the surface in a matter of seconds.  It also housed the Culpeper Switch – the central switching station for the Federal Reserve’s Fedwire electronic funds transfer system, and it served as a data backup point for member banks east of the Mississippi.
 

 
In 1988, all the money was removed from the bunker, and in l992 the Culpeper Switch ceased operation, and the bunker’s status as a government site was removed. In l997 the bunker was put up for sale and was purchased by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. With assistance from Congress, the facility was transformed into the National Audiovisual Conservation Center, which opened this year. It offers – for the first time – a single site to store all nearly six million pieces of the library’s historic film, TV and sound collection.  The collection ranges from 1890s motion pictures to today’s TV programs – an unparalleled record of American and international creativity in moving images.  The nation’s largest public collection of sound recordings is held by the Library of Congress – nearly 3.5 million recordings in all. There are music, spoken word and radio broadcast recordings from over 110 years and representing every audio format from cylinders to CDs (including even Dictabelts), with a wide range of subjects and genres.

The Center has 90 miles of shelves, rooms crammed with every known type of playback equipment, a commercial film development lab, a wing just for cleaning and restoration. Most of the building is underground, with seemingly endless media vaults under central Virginia’s Pony Mountain.  The digital archives will soon surpass those of Google. Terabytes are becoming dated terminology for storage – it’s now petabytes. A three-minute video transfer uses 400 GB of storage space.

The Conservation Center uses the Millennia LOC Archiving Phono Preamp Systems in its state-of-the-art transcription rooms. The systems provide analog preamplification and EQ for the Library’s entire collection of LPs, 78s, 16” transcriptions, Edison cylinders and many other electromechanical formats. It provides an acoustically invisible signal path for the digitizing of priceless audio treasures for posterity. The director of the AV Conservation Center, Greg Lukow, said “Not only will these technologies enable exponential increases in the production of high-quality preservation copies of materials that are deteriorating in their current formats, but they will provide researchers with better, faster access to more of these materials in the future.”

[Our thanks to Joel Silverman of Millennia and to Wikipedia for information in this article.]




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