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Popular music: audio and video collections

The British Library Sound Archive holds one of the most wide-ranging collections of popular music in the world. The collection reflects the diversity of styles that have been popular over the years, from early 20th Century music hall to the latest rock, jazz and dance music. It is the premier public research facility for pop music in the UK.

The Sound Archive aims to collect copies of all commercial releases in the UK. It also collects pop videos, radio and television programmes. In addition, the Archive makes its own recordings at festivals, conferences and seminars.

Commercial recordings

All types of pop music are collected regardless of the dictates of fashion, and the collection contains representative samples of pop music from all over the world.

The collection  includes:

  • 7 and 12 inch singles, cassettes, LPs, CDs together with new formats as they emerge
  • hundreds of thousands of 78rpm discs covering earlier forms of popular music
  • a large collection of music videos including compilations of promos and live concert footage.

A collection policy for acquiring recordings only available on the internet is currently being instigated.

Since there is currently no legal deposit requirement covering sound recordings published in the UK, we rely on the generous support of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) trade association as well as individual record companies.

Offers of donations of recordings from commercial organisations and private collectors alike are welcomed.

Non-commercial recordings

The British Library Sound Archive provides the only public access to the BBC's sound archives including radio sessions, interviews, documentaries and live performances. Vintage John Peel sessions, a ten-part history of reggae, broadcasts from Glastonbury festivals and the world-famous Beatles at the Beeb programmes are just a few of the highlights accessible through the Archive.

Recordings and archive material are also received from Capital radio and other independent broadcasters and production companies. These reflect the programming and development of Independent broadcasting in the UK at national and local level and include syndicated programmes such as the Pepsi Chart Show.

The Sound Archive holds collections accumulated by individuals involved in the music and broadcasting industries such as the Kenny Everett collection, a fascinating insight into the life and work of one of Britain's most innovating and entertaining broadcasters.

The pop collection contains of over 10,000 promo videos, many of which have never been available to the public. This collection is increasing by over 1,500 items per year.

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

Andy Linehan
Curator, Pop Music
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7433
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441