New York’s ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC) has been preserving audiovisual materials since 1985, and a little over a year ago, it partnered with the Internet Archive to bring its Great 78 Project to the public. Along with audiovisual digitization vendor George Blood L.P. and additional volunteers, the Great 78 Project to date has put over 50,000 digitized 78rpm discs and cylinder recordings on the Internet Archive, which can be listened to in all their crackling glory.
An ongoing project, the Internet Archive actually has over 200,000 donated physical recordings, most of which are from the 1950s and earlier. These early recordings were made from shellac, not the resin that records are made with today. A brittle material, shellac became outmoded around 1960 as it often creates unusual levels of surface noise and can quite literally break apart in your hands if not handled appropriately. Without digitization, it’s possible some of these recordings would eventually crumble and be lost to history forever.