We have extensive, rich and wide-ranging collections of recorded sound and sheet music, and some moving image holdings. These collections are particularly strong in music, and also include literature and drama, oral histories, news broadcasts and material relevant to a wide range of themes including anthropology, history and politics, and linguistics.
About the collection
The British Library has very strong collections of music recordings. These range from bands such as Monsoon and the Birmingham rapper Apache Indian, in our pop music holdings, to Bhangra music in our world and traditional music collections. We also record and make available live performances, including the annual WOMAD festival in the UK. Our printed sheet music collections include the works of Indian composer John Mayer.
Our radio collections are strong in music, including, for example, live performances of musicians who never recorded albums.
We have an extensive collection of UK drama and literature recordings, including poetry, plays, readings and discussions. As well as collecting published recordings, we make our own recordings at events, performances and literary festivals.
We also have selective, but rich and varied, moving image collections, including footage of dance, music and drama, ethnographic film and documentaries of performers’ lives.
Our sound recording collections include a wide variety of resources relating to history and current affairs. We hold radio recordings from across the UK, dating back to the 1930s. Our Broadcast News service, which records both television and radio programmes, includes content from the BBC Asian network.
Our oral history collections include recordings of:
- the experience of many people who have arrived in the UK, including from India and East Africa
- Bengali music, poetry and life stories from East London
- many varieties of spoken English
- interviews with people of colour about their working lives.
What is available online?
You can find out more about what we have by using our online catalogues:
- Explore the British Library for printed music, books and journals
- Sound and Moving Image catalogue for sound and video recordings
- Explore Archives and Manuscripts for music manuscripts.
On British Library Sounds, you can listen to some of our sound collections, including:
- Between Two Worlds: Poetry and Translation, a British Library collaboration with Amarjit Chandan
- ICA talks, featuring leading writers, artists and filmmakers
- Music recordings from Asia and other parts of the world
- Early recordings from India and Pakistan
- Evolving English Voice Bank and Word Bank.
Other British Library audio resources:
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
For most sound and moving image recordings, you will need to come in to our London Reading Rooms and use the Listening and Viewing Service. This provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and moving image in St Pancras.
The Sound Archive Information Service is based in the Humanities Reading Room in St Pancras, where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.
For printed sheet music and music manuscripts after 1500, head to the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.
What is available in other organisations?
Europeana, the European digital library, gives access to extensive audio-visual collections from European institutions.
The 1947 Partition Archive consists of oral histories of Partition.