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Recorded Sound Reference Center (Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division)
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Conducting Research in the Library's Recorded Sound Collections

The Library of Congress maintains two online databases containing bibliographic descriptions of recordings: the Library of Congress online catalog and SONIC. In addition, there are subject files, catalogs and in-house databases that are only available to researchers in the reading room. If you are looking for a specific recording, you may need to contact the reference staff in the Recorded Sound Reference Center to locate the recording. A chart listing the type of recordings to be found in each database is here.

Basic Guidelines on Locating Recordings

When searching for recorded sound materials, the most specific information will yield the best search results. 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 specfic stories covered on a broadcast for a given day.

While both of the catalogs below offer some subject access, it is usually more effective to search the catalogs by title, date, or performer. A list of radio form and genre terms used in SONIC and the Library of Congress online catalog can be found at .

It is always worth using a variety of search strategies before concluding that an item is not held by the Library.

Locating Recordings in the Library of Congress Online Catalog

To locate sound recordings in the Library's collections, start by accessing the Library of Congress's online catalog on the web at To enter the catalog from this page, click the tab marked "Advanced Search." You will then be presented with a screen containing two search boxes and two pulldown menus for each search box. In the first search box you should enter the title of the recording, the name of a composer or performer, or a song title. To ensure that your search only retrieves sound recordings, you will wish to enter the term "recording" in the second box. Because our catalogers include the phrase "sound recording" in the title of all recordings, searching for the word "recording" is the most reliable way to filter out all other formats.

The Library of Congress Online Catalog includes holdings of commercial LPs, CDs, taped lectures, and performances from the Library of Congress.

Screen shot of the LC online catalog

Note that by clicking the green button marked "Search History," you can edit your search and obtain additional search boxes to enter more terms.

Locating Recordings of Music Division Concerts in the Library's Online Catalog

The Library of Congress holds recordings of concerts performed in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium and produced by the Music Division dating from the 1930's. This collection has been fully cataloged in the Library of Congress online catalog. Because our catalogers include the location of the performances, a search on the phrase "Coolidge Auditorium" combined with the word "recording" will yield a near complete listing of the performances. On the results page, a pulldown menu marked "resort results by" allows researchers to list the results in chronological order.

Locating Recordings in the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC)

Recorded Sound materials have also been cataloged in a second database known as SONIC which is available on the web at SONIC includes information about many of our 45-rpm discs, instantaneous broadcast recordings, approximately half of our 78-rpm collections, cassette tapes from the Copyright Office, and many other archival recordings. Because many of these formats would also be cataloged in the Library of Congress online catalog, you will need to search both catalogs to be thorough. No new records are currently being added to SONIC and the Library plans to migrate the data to the Library of Congress online catalog in the future.

Sonic includes many specialized search screens, but researcher's will most often be able to locate recordings using the screen labeled "Keyword (Anywhere)." An example of typical search limited by date is listed below.

Screen shot of the Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC)

Note: You must click the button marked "search" to start the search. Hitting the "enter" key on your keyboard will not work.

Field Recordings

If you are interested in field recordings collected by the Library's Archive of Folk Culture, contact the Folklife Reading Room.

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  November 27, 2012
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