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Listening and Viewing Service

The Sound Archive's Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to our collection of recorded sound and video. Users can hear any item from the Archive's extensive holdings of published and unpublished recordings of music, wildlife, drama, literature and oral history. The service provides access to BBC broadcasts.

How to use the service

There are two kinds of service available: Readers can use the walk-in service, SoundServer, or they can make an appointment to listen to an item.


SoundServer provides instant access at the British Library to over 100,000 recordings of music, spoken words and environments, including our most frequently requested items, and is growing daily. It is available from computer terminals in all Reading Rooms. SoundServer is self-operated and does not require an appointment. It is available during Reading Room opening times at St Pancras:

10.00 - 20.00 Monday-Thursday

10.00 - 17.00 Friday-Saturday.

These Reading Room opening times are different from the listening and viewing appointments times detailed below.

Readers who wish to view sleeve notes and artwork, or to listen to selected recordings not yet added to SoundServer, should contact the number below.

Sounds can be added to SoundServer upon request within 5 working days, after which readers may listen to their chosen recordings via a specially prepared Playlist or by searching the Jukebox. Individual Playlists of existing SoundServer recordings may also be compiled upon request.

Listening and viewing appointments

Many of the Sound Archive's recordings are held on unique or fragile formats and cannot be delivered via SoundServer. When you book your listening request, you may be asked to make an appointment as we need to ensure the availability of equipment and may have to undertake essential preservation work prior to playback. To book appointments in person please come to the Listening Service Enquiry desk in Rare Books and Music Reading Room.

Both individual and group listening and viewing facilities are available.

The Sound Archive catalogue of sound recordings can be accessed directly online. This includes information on two-and-a-half million published and unpublished recordings. You can search for artists, composers, musical works, interviews, recordings of plays and poetry, wildlife sounds, oral history, sound effects, record companies and radio broadcasts.

After selecting the recording you wish to hear, please note its reference call number. Call numbers are listed at the top of each entry in brief display (see image below) and under HOLDINGS in full display. This will help us deal with your request more quickly.

Sound Archive catalogue entries with a call number highlighted

How to identify the Sound Archive reference call number

If you are unable to find the recording you want, please contact the Enquiry Service, who may be able to give you further information. Some recordings held in the Sound Archive's collections are not yet included in the catalogue.

Appointments for the Listening and Viewing Service can be made by phone, fax, post or email. The opening hours are as follows:

10.00 – 17.00 Monday. Last appointment at 16.00

12.00 - 20.00 Tuesday-Wednesday. Last appointment at 19.00

10.00 - 17.00 Thursday-Saturday. Last appointment at 16.00.

Users of the service need to hold a valid British Library Reader Pass. Please contact Reader Registration in advance of your visit if you do not already hold a pass.

BBC broadcasts

The Sound Archive is the main public access point for recordings of BBC radio broadcasts. The material is not for sale, hire or loan but you can arrange a listening appointment for research or study purposes. Recent programmes may be available online via the  BBC Radio Player.

Contact details

Listening requests and enquiries
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7418
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441