Fifty Years of Sesame Street to Be Preserved for Posterity

Sesame Street cast. Source: Library of Congress
Sesame Street cast. Source: Library of Congress

WGBH Educational Foundation and the Library of Congress Will Preserve and Make Accessible Historic and Contemporary Episodes of Sesame Street

As Sesame Street begins to mark its 50th anniversary, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the WGBH Educational Foundation, has announced that Sesame Workshop has donated a collection of digitized episodes from the past 50 years of Sesame Street, to be preserved for posterity. Over the next year, nearly 4,500 episodes from the first 49 seasons of the iconic children’s television program will be incorporated into the AAPB’s extensive archive of public media from across the United States. The Sesame Street collection will be available to view on-site at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and by appointment at WGBH in Boston.

Said Sesame Street co-founder and AAPB Executive Advisory Council Member Lloyd Morrisett Jr.:

“Sesame Street changed the landscape of children’s media at a time when television was viewed as a ‘vast wasteland’ and transformed a medium that strongly appealed to children into a source for knowledge and social development for our youngest citizens. I am proud that we are entrusting the American Archive of Public Broadcasting with the task of preserving Sesame Street’s stories and characters for future generations.”

The Sesame Street preservation project comes on the heels of Sesame Workshop’s announcement last week detailing plans to celebrate Sesame Street’s 50th year of broadcast. Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit education organization behind Sesame Street, which has been teaching and inspiring children since its first episode aired on November 10, 1969. Sesame Street’s groundbreaking research-based methods, dedication to entertaining educational content and outreach to families in underserved communities established a legacy for educational television and for public media as a whole.

Among the episodes preserved in the AAPB’s Sesame Street collection are indelible scenes like the touching “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” in which Big Bird, the program’s guileless surrogate for curious children, learns about death and how to cope;  Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie, You’re the One,” which made it to the 16th spot on the Billboard top singles chart in 1970; Grover’s frantic back and forth in “Near/Far,” Cookie Monster’s turn as “Alistair Cookie,” the cookie and classics-obsessed host of Monsterpiece Theater; and Kermit the Frog’s hopeful tune, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” which stressed self-acceptance.

Said Kathryn Ostrofsky, PhD and author of the forthcoming book Sounding It Out: How Sesame Street Crafted American Culture:

“As a historian and academic, I can’t stress enough the importance of preserving groundbreaking media like Sesame Street, which was the first TV show to address big issues like poverty, family and the environment in a way that children could understand. Early episodes of Sesame Street provide a window into the pressing issues of the times, as well as changing views about education. The American Archive of Public Broadcasting’s Sesame Street collection is a critical resource for studying and understanding so many facets of these societal changes.”

The mission of the AAPB is to digitize, preserve and make accessible historic public media content from across the country, dating back to the early 1940s. Given its age, much of the original audio and video tape is fragile and deteriorating. The AAPB is in a race against time to ensure that future generations, researchers and the public will be able to access these programs for years to come.

Said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden:

“We’re honored that Sesame Workshop has entrusted the preservation of their decades of work to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. To this day, Sesame Street is a key part of our national educational, television and public broadcasting landscape. I hope that everyone whose lives were touched by Sesame Street will visit the Library and WGBH to experience this historic collection.”

Now in its fifth year of service, the AAPB has preserved for posterity over 90,000 digitized and born-digital audio and video materials. Among the collections preserved are more than 8,000 episodes of the PBS NewsHour Collection, dating back to 1975; more than 1,300 programs and documentaries from National Educational Television, the predecessor to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); full gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings; raw, unedited interviews from the landmark documentary “Eyes on the Prize;” raw, unedited interviews with eyewitnesses and historians recorded for American Experience documentaries including “Stonewall Uprising,” “The Murder of Emmett Till,” “Freedom Riders,” “1964,” “The Abolitionists” and many others. The AAPB also works with scholars to publish curated exhibits and essays that provide historical and cultural context to the Archive’s content.

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the WGBH Educational Foundation to coordinate a national effort to preserve at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity and provide a central web portal for access to the unique programming that public stations have aired over the past 70 years. To date, over 50,000 hours of television and radio programming contributed by more than 100 public media organizations and archives across the United States have been digitized for long-term preservation and access. The entire collection is available on location at WGBH and the Library of Congress, and more than 35,000 programs are available online at americanarchive.org.

WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Pinkalicious & Peterrific, and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. Find more information at www.wgbh.org.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the US Congress and the home of the US Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov.

 

Source: Sheryl Cannady and Emily Balk, US Library of Congress

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