James E. Carty Dictabelt Digitization Project

Project Description

The Library's Archives and Special Collections is seeking measures to preserve and provide access to a half dozen dictabelt tapes from its James E. Carty Collection. The dictabelt tapes are a part of a series of materials documenting James E. Carty’s role as an attorney for the depression-era gangster and leader of the Karpis—Barker gang, Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis. Carty, a Washington State University alumnus and former Clark County (Washington) Prosecuting Attorney, was hired as a personal attorney by Karpis in 1969. At the time Karpis was serving a life sentence at McNeil Island Penitentiary for his role in the 1933 kidnapping and ransom of William Hamm, the millionaire giant of Minnesota's Hamm's Brewery. Karpis was one of only four individuals to be listed on the FBI’s Public Enemy No.1 list and is documented as the first major arrest by J. Edgar Hoover, which placed him in the national stage. Documentation in the collection indicates that the dictabelt tapes contain conversations between Carty and Karpis, building a case for early parole. The tapes likely have significant information from the point of view of Karpis regarding his arrest and his time in prison. The tapes could have historical significance on the national level.

Currently, the dictabelt tapes are inaccessible. Dictabelt technology is obsolete and the players used to play the tapes are rare. Additionally, the tapes in the James E. Carty collection have some damage from being folded and creased over a long period of time. This damage would prevent the tapes from being played even if a dictabelt player was available.

The Library's Archives and Special Collections has reached out to the Northeastern Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) for assistance with digitizing the dictabelt tapes. NEDCC is a preservation and conservation service that is highly regarded by the profession. NEDCC offers a unique opportunity for the digitization obsolete audio formats through use of its IRENE technology (developed through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), a preservation service that can optically scan grooved media and render digital audio files for access. More information about IRENE technology can be found here https://www.nedcc.org/audio-preservation/irene.