We hold a unique collection of audio-visual recordings of drama, poetry and literature in performance. Material is drawn from commercial releases, private collections, the BBC Radio sound archive and the Library's own live recording programme.
About the collectionThe Library aims to collect, as comprehensively as possible, all UK-released recordings of drama, literary performance, stand-up comedy and sound art, supplementing our holdings with otherwise inaccessible audio and video material from Europe and the USA.
Live performance audio recordings include productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company (1964-present), the National Theatre (1963-2008) and the Royal Court Theatre (1970-2013).
Live performance video recordings include fringe theatre and live art from venues including the ICA, Battersea Arts Centre and the Chelsea Theatre.
Literary recordings include the master tapes of the British Council's series 'The Poet Speaks', featuring over 200 poets, recorded 1955-1975; National Poetry Centre readings 1979-1989; BBC Radio readings and critical discussions from the 1930s to the present day; and many live festival recordings.
Ongoing literary recording programmes include collaborations with the Royal Society of Literature and Poet in the City, although these are paused at the moment due to COVID-19.
What is available online?Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on British Library Sounds. A large number of the recordings are freely available for listening online though some are restricted to users in accredited higher education establishments.
You can also use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras.
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.