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Literature: audio and video collections

We have a unique collection of audiovisual recordings of poetry and literature in performance.

Audio recordings

The collection includes:

  • British Council recordings - the Sound Archive holds the masters of the British Council's The Poet Speaks series of readings and interviews covering over 200 poets, recorded between 1955 and 1975.
  • National Poetry Centre readings - Sound Archive recordings of poets' readings from 1979-1989.
  • ICA - In Conversation events, featuring writers interviewed about new work, from 1981-1993.
  • BBC Radio - readings and critical discussions from the 1930s to the present day.
  • Literature Festivals and other events - Poetry International, Cambridge Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival.
  • Readings and discussions at PEN, the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Literature.

Published recordings

The Sound Archive aims to collect all UK-released recordings of literary performance and sound art, supplementing our holdings with otherwise inaccessible audio and video material from Europe and the USA. Historic and rare recordings include the voices of: Sarah Bernhardt, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Antonin Artaud, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, William Burroughs, CĂ©line, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Kurt Schwitters, and Sylvia Plath.

Accessing the collection

To access sound and moving image material:

  • Use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
  • The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can be accessed in Boston Spa also.
  • The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
  • Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited Higher Education establishments.
  • The Transcription Service can provide copies of recordings once the appropriate copyright has been cleared.

Further information

Drama and Literature Section
The British Library
Sound Archive
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7447
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441