Save our Sounds

Edison Concert Cylinder in the British Library sound archive, containing aboriginal language recording made in Stevenson Creek, South Australia, by Baldwin Spencer, 1901. Photo by Clare Kendall.

Save our Sounds is the British Library’s programme to preserve the nation’s sound heritage

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The nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.

The British Library is home to the nation’s Sound Archive, an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings of speech, music, wildlife and the environment, from the 1880s to the present day. We need both to ensure that the existing archive is properly preserved, and that there are adequate systems in place for the acquisition of future sound production in the UK.

The Save our Sounds programme has been created to answer this imperative need. It has three major aims:

  • to preserve as much as possible of the nation's rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK
  • to establish a national radio archive that will collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output, working with the radio industry and other partners
  • to invest in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure their long-term preservation.

Watch the BBC Arts film about the British Library Sound Archive

£9.5 million boost from Heritage Lottery Fund

In May 2015, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that the Library will receive received funding of £9.5 million to help save the nation’s sounds and open them up online for everyone to hear.

The funding enables us to digitise and make available online 500,000 rare, unique and at-risk sound recordings from our Sound Archive and other key collections around the country.

From 2017-2022, we will work with partner institutions across the UK to develop a national preservation network via ten regional centres. Together we will digitise, preserve and share our unique audio heritage. We will also run a major outreach programme to schools and local communities to celebrate and raise awareness of UK sounds.

This support from the Heritage Lottery Fund answers an urgent call to save some of our most endangered sounds from being lost forever.

This is an important step in our journey to Save Our Sounds for future generations. You can read more about the scale of the remaining challenge in our Living Knowledge vision, published in January 2015.

UK Sound Directory

As part of our Save our Sounds project, we undertook a national audit to map the condition of sound archives around the country and identify other threatened collections. Our aim is to create a comprehensive picture of the nation’s sound collections with the creation of a UK Sound Directory.

Support the project

Please get in touch with us if you would like to donate to support this project, or to discuss how you or your organisation can help preserve the nation’s audio heritage.

Find out more about the Sound Archive

Visit our Sounds website which includes over 60,000 sound recordings for you to enjoy, covering the entire range of recorded sounds: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.

There is more information on the Sound Archive on our Help for Researchers pages, including how to order and listen to collection items in our Reading Rooms. 

Follow us on Twitter @soundarchive and use the hashtag #saveoursounds

Keep up with the latest news on Sounds through our Sound and vision blog.

For further information about the Sound Archive and the Save our Sounds project, contact sound-archive@bl.uk.

See also

Blog posts

The Great British Bread-Cake Debate

25 August 2016

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Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan

23 August 2016

The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report. Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016 It is hot. No,...

From bronze to basalt: Jane McAdam Freud's life in sculpture

18 August 2016

This month National Life Stories interviewer, Liz Wright, completed an oral history recording with the artist Jane McAdam Freud. The chronological structure of the life story approach to interviewing means that the progression of an artist’s practice can be allowed...

Theatre of Sound. An interview with Aleks Kolkowski

04 August 2016

Theatre of Sound is a nine-minute video which highlights the creative re-use of archival sound recordings in the field of sound art and music composition. It also touches on the use of early audio recording technologies in contemporary performance. These...

More blog posts

Projects

Directory of UK Sound Collections

The British Library has created a directory of UK sound collections

Living Knowledge: The British Library 2015 – 2023

Our vision as we look ahead to 2023, our 50th anniversary as the national library of the UK.