Faster than real time

The National Library of Sweden has 148,000 gramophone records in its collections and wishes to make them accessible. A method based on optical image scanning and transfer of the information from the record faster than real time could be the solution.Digitizing all of the records in the National Library of Sweden’s collection with conventional methods, by playing them, would take more than 20 years, Stig-Lennart Molneryd is trying to find a way to do it faster through pre-commercial procurement. Photo: Annika Hjerpe

There are three types of analogue gramophone records: 78 rpm or ‘shellac’ records, acetate records, and vinyl records.

The National Library of Sweden has only Swedish records in its collections. The total playing time of the records would be five years – that is, if they were played consecutively, non-stop. Thus, digitizing the records using conventional methods – by playing them – would take more than 20 years.

Too time-consuming

Stig-Lennart Molneryd, A/V technical expert at the Swedish National Library, was contacted by a company that conducts image analysis and had experimented with contactless playback of a 78 rpm record. He thought their method might provide a solution to the problem of digitizing the vast record collection, which if conventional methods were used would be unacceptably time-consuming.

“Using pre-commercial procurement (PCP) for the ‘Development of contactless playback of analogue records to digital sound files,’ we are now trying to find someone who could produce an innovation method that would work faster than real-time playing of the records and that would have a sound quality corresponding to normal playing. The procurement has not yet been announced, but it will be announced in May this year,” Stig-Lennart Molneryd says.

Towards a prototype

Simply put, the method involves scanning a picture of the sound tracks from the record discs. The digital picture must be so detailed and precise that it can be converted into digital sound files.

The procurement is divided into phases, phase one being a theoretical phase in which the interested parties describe how they plan to construct their innovation and how they expect it to function. The innovation projects that seem most interesting and viable will receive funding from the National Library of Sweden and from Vinnova, the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems, to refine their innovation.

Develop automated robot

In phase two, the most promising innovations will be given more funding to develop a functioning prototype. Stig-Lennart Molneryd says that the plan is to have a functioning prototype by the end of August next year.

“With the prototype as starting point, the next step will then be to develop an automated robot for the digitizing process,” he says.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden