There are many different ways to look at the UCSB Cylinder Project. On the one hand it seems only natural that a library would want to archive things from the past, it’s just something that libraries and museums do. However the fact that they are digitizing the contents offers another look at why cylinders are important.
The Cylinder Project’s website discusses how cylinders have been fascinating for collectors and archivists. This is part of the physical aspect of the cylinder at work here. They are curiosities, media forms that no longer exist like the 8-track tape and the HD DVD. It helps that their shape is also different than the dominant disc shape of the vinyl records and most modern storage media take (DVDs and CDs). However this places a greater focus on the physical form the cylinder. On the one hand, it is an important moment in technological history and is worth keeping in that respect, but on the other, the cylinders were created to store and play sound, so what is the point of keeping them if their contents are no longer experienced?
The Cylinder Projects digitization of the contents suggests that the contents are also important. It removes the content from the context of the physical device. By removing the physical aspect of the cylinders you remove that part of their appeal. While it sounds negative, initially what it means is that the allures of the form do not detract from the content. What makes the cylinders worthy of preservation is not their collectability but what they hold. However once you separate the message from the media is the message still worth keeping? A quick look through the archives shows that it contains things like “whistling,” “cakewalks,” and decades old instructional language lessons. While at first these do not seem like important things to archive, the homepage of the Cylinders Project says that these show us what the popular culture of a bygone era was like. The sheer breadth of the collection says something all on its own about how cylinders, and by extension all modern storage media, shifted the perception of things worth recording. It stands in stark contrast to Goethe’s description of writing, in Kippler’s article, as a very sparse record of history.