The Library of Congress needs a few Citizen DJs

April 30, 2020

The Library of Congress is celebrating its 220th birthday this year with a present for music-makers and music-lovers everywhere—a chance to play with Citizen DJ, a groundbreaking project that invites the public to make hip hop music using the library’s public audio and moving image collections.

In the process of embedding these materials in hip hop music, listeners may discover items in the library’s vast collections that they likely would never have known existed, the library said in an April 24 news release.

The Library of Congress—which is the largest library on Earth—is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the U.S.A.. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States.

Citizen DJ is an open-source web-browser application created by Library of Congress 2020 Innovator in Residence Brian Foo in partnership with LC Labs. Using some of the Library’s free-to-use audio and moving image collections, Citizen DJ enables users to select short samples to create their own beats and sound mixes.

While the project is scheduled to officially launch in the summer of 2020, Foo—who is an artist and computer scientist—believes that building a tool that is useful, educational and inspiring to everyone requires public testing early in the design process so users can help shape the final product.

“My goal is to develop a simple way to discover and use public domain audio and video material for music making so that generations of artists and producers can use it to maximize their creativity, invent new sounds, and connect listeners to materials, cultures and sonic history that might otherwise go unremembered.

“That’s what Citizen DJ is all about – an easy to use tool that unlocks the amazing treasures in the Library of Congress for music makers and their audiences,” Foo said. “I’m excited to say that we’ve built a tool that aspires to meet these goals. Now we need help from everyone to ensure that it does.”

The sound collections available in Citizen DJ were specially curated by library staff, and all of them are free-to-use with no special permission needed to create songs for personal or commercial purposes.

The library says, “While some of the sounds are over 100 years old and others come from the past decade, all of them are unique, compelling; and in many cases hold deep historical and cultural relevance. The sounds come from musical performances, theater productions, interviews, speeches, oral histories, ambient sound recordings and many other holdings in the Library’s collections. Foo is continuing to work with staff to see what other collections can be added before its summer launch.

“It’s my hope that digital projects like Citizen DJ can offer musicians ample new creative material at no cost and can continue to engage and inspire all Americans from home,” Foo said.  He added that as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, “it’s fitting to remember that music is something that has the power to bring all people together, even when we physically need to be apart.”

The public can experience Citizen DJ and provide feedback by visiting the test site and following the prompts. The demo takes about 15 minutes to complete. User testing is open until May 15. To stay up-to-date on Citizen DJ when it goes live, visit labs.loc.gov or subscribe to the LC Labs Letter.

Find more ways to celebrate the Library’s 220th birthday and engage with the national library at loc.gov/engage.

Research contact: @librarycongress

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