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Jesse Johnston appointed to board of the National Recording Preservation Foundation

Jesse Johnston. UMSI Clinical assistant professor. Appointed as secretary of the board of directors for the National Recording Preservation Foundation.

Tuesday, 03/12/2024

University of Michigan School of Information clinical assistant professor Jesse Johnston has been appointed as secretary of the board of directors and executive director for the National Recording Preservation Foundation. Created by the Library of Congress, the National Recording Preservation Foundation’s mission is to “foster the preservation and public accessibility of the nation’s sound recording collections.”

Dr. Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, says the new board members have a plethora of “accomplishments in the performing arts, archival effort, and various aspects of the recording industry. I know these new directors will be of great help for the Foundation in achieving its ambitious goals. I thank them for taking on this leadership role in preserving the nation’s sound recording heritage.”

During the four-year appointment, Johnston will lead initiatives to fund and coordinate critical audio preservation work throughout the country, including the maintenance and digitization of vulnerable audio recordings. 

“One of the challenges with audio preservation is that outside of big institutions, this work tends to be under-resourced,” he says. “Individual people hold significant collections, but they may be keeping them in their basements, and if those tapes are lost, they’re irreplaceable.” 

Many audio collections, Johnston says, are stored improperly, degrading over time, or vulnerable to natural disasters. For example, master tapes from thousands of music recordings were lost during the 2008 Universal Fire, including work from Nirvana, Elton John and John Coltrane. 

“Those were on magnetic tape reels that are now gone,” Johnston says. “Digitization is the main preservation action for these collections. We don’t even know what was lost, because there aren’t reliable inventories of them.” 

For more than a decade, Johnston has been working in audio preservation and the cultural heritage field as a civil servant, when he served as a program officer for preservation and access at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). At NEH, he coordinated a program portfolio that awarded an average of $1.5 million through competitive grants annually. Before joining UMSI, he was a senior librarian for digital content at the Library of Congress, where he led digital preservation policy development and training initiatives at the Library's Digital Collections Management unit. 

“The window of time for this work is small, and I’m excited for the opportunity to support work to stabilize and preserve these collections,” Johnston says. “I think it's a big chance to make an impact in this space and do work I’ve been involved in for a long time.” 


Read more about Jesse Johnston’s work by visiting his UMSI faculty profile


— Noor Hindi, UMSI public relations specialist