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Searching the Sound Archive catalogue for world and traditional music

The Sound Archive catalogue provides access to details of over 150,000 traditional music recordings.

The catalogue holds information in three linked files: the WORKS file, the RECORDING file and the PRODUCT file.

The WORKS file

This consists of catalogue entries relating to single works, such as songs or pieces of music. A very small proportion of the recordings held in the World and Traditional Music Section has known or acknowledged composers. Rather, the majority represents musical repertoire of a community or people. The World and Traditional Music Section therefore makes very little use of the works-file.


You will find one catalogue entry per unique recording. There may be only one, or many of these, depending on how many different performances we hold of a particular song or piece of music. A relatively small proportion of our material is currently documented to recording level. 

The PRODUCT file

This represents the recordings' physical format. It may be an LP, a reel of tape, or a compact disc, and it may link to one recording entry, or many (in the case of, say, an LP or CD). Many of these entries contain enough detail about performers, tracks and their country of origin to permit a degree of precision when searching.

In the World and Traditional Music Section we have concentrated our documentation efforts so far on five types of information: country, culture/language, music category/genre and/or a description of the content, performer name, and record label. This choice is informed by our experience of the ways in which our users normally access our material. Searching for one or more of these types of information would be a good way to discover what is in the catalogue.

Simple Search / Keyword / Search Everything

This is the recommended first-step approach to World and Traditional Music recordings. Work on the catalogue proceeds on a daily basis but in some cases pieces of information were not entered in the expected fields. We have made extensive use of free text notes fields. Many product level entries, for example, have track listings in the contents fields. Also, a country name may not have been entered into the country field, but it may appear as a word in a title. If you search for the name in the PLACE index only, it may not come up. In these, and many instances, searching by Keyword/ Search Everything is therefore the best way to obtain comprehensive results.

Advanced search

Here are some more specific ways to search for recordings:


If searching with a general term such as a country name, select the ADVANCED SEARCH tab and add your search term to the General/Keyword box, but select COLLECTION= WORLD AND TRAD MUSIC in SEARCH LIMITS. This will search only among records attributed to the World and Traditional Music Section, but it will search in all fields of those records.

Music category/genre

This information only appears in the Recording file. Since we have so far concentrated our efforts on developing the Product file we have mostly entered this kind of information in free text form in the Contents notes. Thus, in general it is more comprehensive to search for genre using an 'ANY WORDS OR NUMBERS' search. While this might return a larger than desired search result, at least you will pick up all the items relevant to your enquiry. We are working hard on this particular type of information, and in time you should be able to obtain a satisfactory result via a SUBJECT search.

Performer name

Not all recordings in the collection are performed by a named artist; the performance might be by an unnamed xylophone orchestra, for example. However, where names are known we have attempted to make sure they always appear in the performer fields. Thus, if searching for a particular artist, search by NAME. You might find it useful to use the browse/Begins with index to discover our preferred name spellings.

Record label

This information exists for every commercial product in the collection. A satisfactory search can be done via the name index. However, if a record label produces a range of types of music, you can limit the search to World and Traditional Music items by setting COLLECTION to WORLD AND TRAD MUSIC in the search limits menu available in ADVANCED SEARCH. Please note too that a number of relevant labels are fully indexed on independent company web sites:

By using information about record numbers obtained from these sites it will be possible to look these up on the Sound Archive catalogue even when our copy has not been catalogued.

Further information

Janet Topp Fargion
Curator, World and Traditional Music
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7427
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441