What is the modern definition of a Sound Librarian? Do studios / houses still hire Sound Librarians, or have the responsibilities simply fallen to the sound effects editing team as a whole?

In my mind, the original Sound Librarian was the keeper of vast vaults full of endless rows of reels containing precious recordings that had to be cataloged and pulled at the demand of Sound Editors. Not much of an editor, per se. But very knowledgeable of the recordings in their collection and the tech necessary to duplicate them for use by the Sound Editors. I'd imagine nowadays, both the libraries and the Librarian exist at only the largest of facilities (studios mostly). Further, I would hazard a guess that those rows of reels have been (or are still being) digitized for the fastest and easiest availability.

This portion of this article was the spark that lit the question off in my mind:

“There’s often eight to 10 [recorders] going from different positions,” adds Cohen. “You’ve got one that’s kind of on the side of the gun so you try and record the mechanism. There are a couple that are further away to get the boom. And some that are downfield. And some that are close to the muzzle but in back of it so the pressure wave doesn’t hit the capsule. Then we’ll take all these recordings back, and the librarian will line them up so all the recordings are in sync to each other. And that gives you a wonderful tool kit to create an interesting shot.”
- Excerpt from mixonline.com article

From reading the blog postings by many of you, it sounds as though you act as your own librarian. Which makes perfect sense to me. You were there, you're familiar with the material. They're probably your notes. But on these large-scale productions, it seems the Sound Editors have more immediate responsibilities, so this "grunt-work" gets divvied up.

Are these "librarians" present for these recording sessions in the field, taking notes, moving mics, monitoring levels? Or are they back with the vault and they get a pile of CF cards and a log handed to them and are told to make sense of it all?

As Jay mentioned over here, the modern Sound Effects Editor is expected to have these librarian skills as well. Clearly the responsibilities of the position are vital and still exist in today's workflow. But what are the basic (or advanced) Librarian skills that one needs? My assumption is cleaning the field recordings, entering metadata, having a mental catalog of what's on file, and maintaining multiple databases, drives and backups. Am I far off?

3 Answers 3


I carry the title of Sound Librarian at Dallas Audio Post (amongst others)

Its my responsibility to edit, import and tag all of the sfx for our library as well as maintain the databases and the media backups for our (5 seat) facility. This includes both custom recordings and library purchases.

I kind of love that though, because that means that all sounds go through me before they hit the library, and I can tag the cool stuff the way that I like so that I'm positive that I can find it later on. As lead sound designer that's some invaluable intimacy with some sounds that I'm not always involved in capturing.

I tend to record a fair amount more than the other guys, but I don't record anywhere near 100%. Putting my hands on all of the sounds as they're coming in is just a huge part of what I do as a sound designer.

For the stuff that I'm not present for, I'll get elements anywhere along the continuum of raw undocumented audio to edited, named and photographed stuff. It all depends on the context in which it was captured and the amount of time the recording engineer spent with the material before handing it over to me. I have a pretty high standard of the way I like stuff tagged, so I tend to spend a steady amount of hours each week tending to that.

Sometimes I get busy with projects and a backlog will build up. When I see that happening I'll just devote some after hours or weekend time to getting caught up.

I tend to tag and embed the files separately from the primary library in a smaller soundminer database on an as-needed basis. Once the files are edited, tagged, photo embedded and metadata embedded I'll move them to our primary SFX server and update the databases across the facility. Then I'll shoot an email to the crew listing the new stuff and some keywords with which they can find it.

Occasionally I'll make judgement calls as to whether to catalog separate layers of certain sounds (like vehicles and weapons) or just put the mixed stuff in there. I try not to junk up the library with a bunch of stuff we'll never use, while staying flexible enough to have all of the elements we'll need for any given project. My perspective as a sound designer informs those judgement calls.

we're a small facility, but we're not tiny. I take this part of the gig pretty seriously.

  • Awesome answer Rene! So, as the lead sound designer, you find it important enough to dedicate even chunks of your "off-time" to tackle this stuff yourself, rather than delegate the task to someone else on the team, as it builds an intimacy with your library that you couldn't achieve through searching alone... Makes perfect sense to me. What's the typical growth-rate of your library, ~100GB / a month? a week? Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 22:12
  • our library probably only grows 20-80 gigs/month project and time availability dependent. Again, I do the majority of the recordings/cataloging and I'm only one guy. :) With all of that said I do appreciate when the other guys take the time to edit their own stuff, though I still insist on going through it before it hits the library.
    – Rene
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 23:08
  • +1 I wholeheartedly agree about the library. Way back when I was in school, the sound library already existed so I never really knew how to find anything because I didn't "know" what was in there. The same holds true for a place I worked at for a while too because there was no involvement in sound librarian tasks. however, my personal library contains many of these same things any much more, but as you said, by taking to time to prepare and integrate it all myself, on my own time, has left me with a deeply intimate understanding of whats in the library, how I tagged it, and how to get to it Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 23:35

When I first started in the business I did a internship and my main jobs were organizing and maintaining the sound library and backing up each days work.

This was back when 1 or 2 gig drive was extremely expensive so you could not fill up a drive with random sounds that would never be used. I had to carefully top and tail each file, make sure mono sounds were stored as mono files to save space on the drive ect....

I really got to know the library and it sparked my dreams of being a sound editor in the future. Once Soundminer came along the library management sophistication skyrocketed. The early versions of Soundminer had a function called CLI (Command Line Interface) that made it a bit like writing code to do batch processing on files. It took a while to learn to really get it cooking, but once you figured it out you could do a lot. Now with Soundminer everything is pretty straight forward to append and batch name files.

Currently I am still in charge of the SFX Library for my own suite. I make sure I hear each sound before it goes in the library (huge purchased collections can be an exception, I am still working my way through the General HD and will be for years possibly). I have code words that only I understand to help my searches but it is also universal at the same time.

I really feel knowing the library is half the job. What good is a sound if you don't know it is there.


Sound Banker :)

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