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Recorded Sound Research at the Library of Congress

Using the Sound Recording Collections

Underwood and Underwood, photographer. [Woman with headphones listening to radio]. [between 1920 and 1930]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Listening Appointments

Appointments are required for listening to most of the material in our collection. Recordings do not circulate. Listeners can telephone the Research Center at (202) 707-7833 or submit an email request through [email protected].

A growing number of our recordings have been digitized and are available for immediate listening. All others will take at least two weeks for our engineers to digitize requests for your listening appointment. Certain audio formats will require more time to digitize and will necessitate a longer wait. Please contact the Research Center as soon as possible with large requests or to identify previously digitized recordings.

Patrons are able to use the Research Center without appointment to access the catalogs, reference books, archival collections, microfiche, microfilm and other reference sources.

Listening Requests

Requests to listen to materials are submitted to our reference librarians. Be sure to include the name and title of the items requested, the call numbers (e.g. RWD 3214; LWO 5599 gr12 r2a1-3b, NCPB 5434, Decca 12-1401), and your personal contact information so we can confirm your appointment. Our engineers can typically prepare 8 items for a listening session. Please contact the Research Center if you have a longer list of items.

Researchers should begin their search by using the Library of Congress Online Catalog or the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC). A variety of search strategies exist for navigating our collections, but please be aware that not all of our material has been processed and is publicly searchable. If you can't find a recording in the catalogs, that doesn't mean we don't have it! Always contact our reference staff if you can't find what you're looking for.

Record notes and jackets may also be requested for viewing.


Recording equipment of any type is not allowed in the Research Center. Photographing images from the screen for reference purposes will be permitted only when authorized in advance by our reference staff.

Reader Identification Card

See the section on "Using the Library of Congress" for information on how and where to obtain a Reader Identification Card.

Copyright & Obtaining Copies

Sound recordings are some of the most copyright-restricted items at the Library. Essentially all sound recordings in the United States are protected by copyright law. Until recent legislation, the earliest date at which copyright will expire for sound recordings is 2067. This is still the case for many sound recordings, but the Music Modernization Act (H.R. 1551) passed in 2018 has changed that date for early recordings and those published before 1972.

There are always exceptions, but for the time being it is generally safest to assume that there are no sound recordings in the public domain.

The Library of Congress does not hold the rights to the sound recordings in our collections. For more information on copyright and public domain, see:

Obtaining Copies

The Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) requires anyone wishing to obtain copies to secure written permission for the Library to make the reproductions from any and all rights holders. Rights holders may include donors, copyright holders, record companies, artists, radio networks, licensing organizations, unions, etc.

While Recorded Sound Research Center staff can usually be of some assistance in determining what permissions are required, the responsibility is on the researcher to obtain them. We strongly urge requestors to listen to recordings before ordering copies. Since our cataloging information occasionally derives from incomplete or inaccurate sources, we cannot guarantee that our catalog records for unpublished materials reflect the contents. In addition, the audio quality may vary, as it is dependent on the fidelity and condition of the original recording.

After contacting Recorded Sound Research Center staff to identify the specific items to be copied, customers will be referred to the Division's Public Services Office, which operates a fee-for-service operation for the duplication of audio and moving image materials. The Public Services Office will then contact the customer directly to complete the order.

Reference Materials & Other Resources

The Research Center also holds subject files, catalogs, in-house databases and extensive print materials available to researchers in the reading room for immediate access.