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Unlocking our Sound Heritage is a UK-wide project that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.
The British Library is home to the nation’s Sound Archive, an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings of speech, music, wildlife and the environment, from the 1880s to the present day.
However, sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation, and as the means of playing such sounds disappear from production. Professional consensus internationally is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save many of our sound collections through digitisation, before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.
The Unlocking our Sound Heritage project – part of the Save our Sounds programme – aims to preserve and provide access to as much as possible of the nation's rare and unique sound recordings: not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK.
The project runs from 2017 to 2022, and by the end of the five years:
- almost half a million rare and at-risk sound recordings will have been digitally preserved
- a network of audio preservation centres will have been established across the UK
- more people will have engaged with sound recordings.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is funded by a £9.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as generous funding from charities and individuals, including the Foyle and Garfield Weston Foundations.
The work will be delivered by a consortium of institutions, led by the British Library. The 10 consortium partners are:
- National Museums Northern Ireland
- Archives + in Manchester
- Norfolk Record Office
- National Library of Scotland
- University of Leicester
- The Keep in Brighton
- Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
- National Library of Wales
- London Metropolitan Archives
- Bristol Culture
Together, these organisations will focus on rare and unique recordings. These are at risk of being lost because they are held on formats that are physically degrading and the playback equipment required is no longer produced.
The consortium will deliver a programme of public engagement activities, including workshops, learning events for families, public tours and exhibitions, and in late 2019, a new website that will allow listeners to explore a selection of recordings online.
Unlocking our Sound Heritage forms part of a core British Library programme Save Our Sounds, which pledges to preserve and represent the nation’s sound heritage. You can read more about the scale of the remaining challenge in our Living Knowledge vision, published in January 2015.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been generously supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and trusts and foundations including major grants from Garfield Weston Foundation and Foyle Foundation