Flash in the Library of Congress’s online archives

Everybody recognizes that Adobe Flash is on the way out. It takes effort to convert existing websites, though, and some sites aren’t maintained, so it won’t disappear from the Web in the next few decades.

When it’s minor or abandoned sites, it doesn’t matter so much, but even the Library of Congress has the issue. Its National Jukebox currently requires a browser with Flash enabled to be useful. Turning on Flash for reliable sites such as the Library of Congress should be safe, at least as long as those sites don’t include third-party ads from dubious sources. Not everyone has that option, though. If you’re using iOS, you’re stuck.

I came across the National Jukebox while doing research for my book project Yesterday’s Songs Transformed, and it’s frustrating that I can’t currently use it without taking steps which I’d rather avoid. The good news is that this is a temporary situation and work is already underway to eliminate the Flash dependency. David Sager of the National Jukebox Team replied to my email inquiry:

Sometime later this year, the Library of Congress will be absorbing the National Jukebox into its own website, at which time it will operate using the player that the Library is using now.

For example, please see https://www.loc.gov/audio/. You will note that many Jukebox items are already accessible in this format.

National Jukebox

The LoC launched the National Jukebox in 2011. The website explains: “The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives.” The recordings came from the library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, as well as other sources. There are lots of early recordings of operatic and other classical music, as well as songs by well-known writers which have fallen out of today’s repertoire.

Digitizing the recordings, which were mostly on 78 RPM records, was a big task. The project dealt with lots of finicky issues. “78 RPM” was more a rough figure than a reliable playing speed to match the performance’s pitch and tempo. Different records needed different styli for best results. Just getting some of the records to play without skipping must have been a challenge.

The archival files were apparently 320 Kbps MP3 files, not an ideal choice. Still, as long as those files exist, it should be possible to rework the site to play MP3 files directly. It will be great to be able to play all these files in modern browsers once the conversion is finished.

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