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American Women: Resources from the Recorded Sound Collections

Using the Collections

Get in touch! If you can't find what you're looking for using SONIC or the Library's general catalog, we may still have it. A portion of our collections are not fully cataloged and searchable online, so always contact the Recorded Sound Research Center reference librarians if searching the catalogs doesn't yield any results. The Library has several onsite indexes, card catalogs, and internal databases that are not searchable online. The Recorded Sound reference librarians are always happy to help locate materials.

About the Recorded Sound Research Center

The Recorded Sound Research Center provides access to the commercial and archival audio holdings of the Library of Congress. The collection dates from 1926 when Victor Records donated over 400 discs to the Library's Music Division to supplement its print and manuscript holdings. In the custody of the Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division since 1978, the collection has grown to include over 2 million items encompassing audio formats from cylinders to CDs.

General Search Strategies

  • In the Library of Congress Online Catalog, Advanced Search is the easiest way to find sound recordings. Include "recording" as a keyword in the second search box to limit your results to only recordings!
  • While both of the catalogs above offer some subject access, it is usually more effective to search by title, date, or performer.
  • For commercially released albums, it is best to search by an artist, an album title, or a composer. Because some of the bibliographic records for commercially released albums do not include song titles, researchers should not rely on song title searches to retrieve information about an album.
  • Many performers are not listed in our records for radio broadcasts, and while it is always worth trying to search a performer's name, the specific program title and a date are often more useful for locating broadcasts. Often news broadcasts have very generic titles and our cataloging rarely includes information about the specific stories covered on a broadcast for a given day.

Form and genre terms may assist you when searching by subject:

Finding Aids & Research Guides

The following finding aids and guides will assist you in locating and accessing audio recordings at the Library of Congress.

Other Catalogs

In addition to the Library of Congress Online Catalog and SONIC, the following catalogs will be useful in locating and using audio collections.

Recorded Sound Research Center Card Catalog Supplement

The Card Catalog Supplement is a card index that is available in the Recorded Sound Research Center. It contains information about recordings inventoried by the Library between 1951 and 1990. These recordings are held in the Library and include mostly archival recordings plus all types of music, the spoken word, and radio broadcasts. The card catalog supplement is searchable by name, title, and subject. The division's unique archival collections, which are often difficult to catalog, come from a variety of sources, including individuals, broadcasting networks, and organizations. Staff members rely on this catalog for information on radio broadcasts, special collections, noncommercial pressings, and miscellaneous archival recordings. A below-minimal-level-cataloging card index, the supplement provides little topical access to the material. A search on “women,” however, yields many pertinent recordings, including:

  • dozens of radio broadcasts
  • a 1960 radio documentary series on the history of women's suffrage called Women Who Won (RWD 7915)
  • a debate on women's liberation between Phyllis Schlafly (b. 1924) and Congresswoman Martha Griffiths (b. 1912) (RZA 0760)
  • a radio broadcast (RWA 3069) of the 1938 Wimbledon women's singles tennis match between Helen Jacobs (1908-1997) and Helen Wills Moody (1905-1998)
  • a recording of Pope John Paul II at the 1979 Mass on the Mall in Washington, D.C., where he spoke on abortion, marriage, and family (RZA 0781)

Rigler and Deutsch Index

The Rigler and Deutsch Index to 78-rpm recordings indexes commercial recordings of all kinds of music and the spoken word. Recordings in the index are held by five libraries, including the Library of Congress, and so they may or may not be held by the division. The index is searchable by name, song title, and label name and number, and is available on microfiche in the Recorded Sound Research Center.

Copyright Office Online Catalog

The Copyright Office online catalog contains information about recordings received by the Copyright Office and registered for copyright from 1978 to the present, particularly music and spoken word commercial recordings. The bibliographic records are searchable by author, claimant name, album title, and often by song title. These recordings may or may not be held in MBRS as the Library does not retain all recordings submitted for copyright. Recordings that are selected for the collections are cataloged and can be found by consulting the Library and divisional catalogs described above.

Recordings that are not retained by the division are sent to offsite storage and are accessible only through the Copyright Office online catalog. The reference staff will assist you in locating items not retained for the collections by the division. Copyright deposits from 1972 to 1977 are listed in a printed index called the Catalog of Copyright Entries: Sound Recordings, available in the Recorded Sound Research Center.

A Note on the Importance of Copyright Recordings

For years, composers and songwriters were required to deposit sheet music, lead sheets, or other written transcripts of their music in applying for copyright. When the copyright law changed in 1978, claimants could instead submit recordings of their musical works. As a result, the Library receives thousands of copyright recordings every year—some by established performers, others recorded at home in someone's basement. The change in the law allowed amateur musicians and performers to share their opinions in musical form on social issues such as abortion and women's rights. “The Ballad of Anita Hill” (1991 copyright deposit, RYD 1817), sung by Sally Chappell; Tania Wahl's composition “Ride, Sally Ride!” (1983 copyright deposit, RYG 4601) in honor of the first American woman in space, astronaut Sally Ride (b. 1951); and Lindy Gravelle's feminist tune “We've Come a Long Way, Ladies” (1992 copyright deposit, RYC 2714) are all in this collection.

Reference Materials

Published discographies are extremely useful resources in the field of recorded sound. They are descriptive lists of recordings by such categories as label, performer or artist, composer, or genre. They cover primarily commercial recordings of various musical genres. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the recordings listed in the various discographies found in the Research Center are not necessarily held in the division. You must search for particular recordings in the various Library and divisional catalogs to determine their availability within the division.

Three discographies in the Recorded Sound Reference Center are particularly relevant to the study of American women composers and performers. The following discographies are guides to classical-music recordings written by women composers.

Only the first volume (A-F) of this title has been published and it may be the only existing annotated discography that includes information on performers from the lesbian and feminist music scene.