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The British Library is developing its collection of soundscapes to support research.

'Soundscape' is an overarching term used to define sounds that are location specific and pertain to an acoustic identity of place. Examples are: 

  • Environmental recordings
  • Vanishing sounds
  • Recreational events

Soundscape research, also referred to as 'acoustic ecology', crosses many disciplines, ranging across social, cultural and ecological aspects of the acoustic environment.

Collection overview

Emerging strengths include: cultural traditions, weather systems, sounds of society, sounds of nature, soundscape composition, earwitness accounts, environmental sound art and sculpture.

Due to the diversity of recordings that are relevant to soundscape research, material may be found under other subjects, notably geography, music, sport and wildlife, though from the point of view of a defined 'soundscape' collection a particular focus is placed on the human experience of the soundscape.

Selection is governed by the broader Sound Archive Collections Development Policy. As a rule, recordings are preferred that reflect UK research council priorities, such as identities and cultures, environment and human behaviour.

For information on donating soundscape recordings to the Sound Archive, please consult the guide to donating soundscape recordings (PDF format, 87KB).

Example collections

Regional studies

Recordings which reflect particular aspects of British culture or regional studies:

Core soundscape studies

Representative/historical examples of the development of the field of soundscape study (worldwide – representing different cultural approaches):

  • World Soundscape Project (catalogue no. C1064) – Crossing Canada and European Tour tapes
  • Japanese 100 Soundscape videos (Japan's sound scenery (top) 100 compilation: in sound and images: catalogue no. 1CV0003363 – 1CV0003382; 100 Japanese Sounds to Remember: catalogue no.1CV0003383 – 1CV0003392).

Cultural perspectives

Collections which support research or where the purpose of the recordist is to document an aspect of cultural sound:

  • Industry: Milnthorpe Gas works (catalogue no. C326), Lotus shoe factory (catalogue no. C323/7/1-3)
  • Transport: British Aerospace collection (catalogue no. C325), Brugsch recordings (catalogue no. C450), Sailing boats (catalogue no. C322/19)
  • Leisure and recreation: Football (catalogue no. C521), Circus sounds (catalogue no. C520)
  • Festivals and other events: Holy Week processions in Seville (catalogue no. C1338)

Disappearing sounds

Recordings of unique or disappearing sounds of the environment:

Natural soundscapes

There is a distinct category of natural soundscapes to be found in the wildlife sounds collection, many of which have already been added to the British Library Sounds site.

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

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691


PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.