Save our Sounds

Edison Concert Cylinder in the British Library sound archive, containing aboriginal language recording made in Stevenson Creek, South Australia, by Baldwin Spencer, 1901. Photo by Clare Kendall.

Save our Sounds is the British Library’s programme to preserve the nation’s sound heritage.

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The nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unplayable and are effectively lost.

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. We need both to ensure that the existing archive is properly preserved, and that there are adequate systems in place for the acquisition of future sound production in the UK.

The Save our Sounds programme has been created to answer this imperative need. It has three major aims:

  • to preserve 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; in July 2017, the Library started a five-year The National Lottery Heritage Fund-funded project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, which will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up online for everyone to hear
  • to establish a national radio archive that will collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output, working with the radio industry and other partners
  • to invest in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure their long-term preservation.

We are also developing a ground-breaking new ‘Universal Player’ for sound as part of the programme. Funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, the Universal Player is built using the same infrastructure as the Library’s ‘Universal Viewer’ for images and aims to offer an improved user experience for listening to sound recordings on our website and Reading Rooms. The Player is open-source and uses the IIIF standard for interoperability, so other organisations are free to use it for their own collections.

Watch the BBC Arts film about the British Library Sound Archive

    UK Sound Directory

    As part of our Save our Sounds project, we undertook a national audit to map the condition of sound archives around the country and identify other threatened collections. Our aim was to create a comprehensive picture of the nation’s sound collections with the creation of a UK Sound Directory

    Support the project

    Please get in touch with us if you would like to donate to support this project, or to discuss how you or your organisation can help preserve the nation’s audio heritage.

    Find out more about the Sound Archive

    Visit our Sounds website which includes over 90,000 sound recordings for you to enjoy, covering the entire range of recorded sounds: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.

    There is more information on the Sound Archive on our Help for Researchers pages, including how to order and listen to collection items in our Reading Rooms. 

    Follow us on Twitter @soundarchive and use the hashtag #saveoursounds

    Keep up with the latest news on Sounds through our Sound and vision blog.

    For further information about the Sound Archive and the Save our Sounds project, contact sound-archive@bl.uk.

    Projects

    Directory of UK Sound Collections

    The British Library has created a directory of UK sound collections

    Digital Audio Collection

    The Digital Audio Collection aims to preserve a broad spectrum of sounds to reflect the UK’s audio publishing industry.

    National Radio Archive

    We aim to create a digital radio archive which will preserve a representative proportion of ongoing UK radio output.

    Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

    Unlocking our Sound Heritage is a UK-wide project that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.

    All projects

    Blog posts

    Voices of British theatre design: Explore the world of theatre behind the scenes

    Wednesday, January 12, 2022

    Celebrating the launch of 'Voices of British theatre design', an exciting new British Library website featuring over 50 audio clips from National Life Stories oral history recordings.

    Recording of the week: A new year song from Vanuatu

    Monday, January 10, 2022

    This week’s selection comes from Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow. In early 1924, just before leaving the island of Efate due to ill health, the Presbyterian missionary Eric Raff used a phonograph to record around 30 songs on wax...

    Recording of the week: 'Kuli milimo', there is work in the house of the Lord

    Monday, December 27, 2021

    This week’s selection comes from Edoardo Marcarini, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. Inspired by the festive atmosphere, I bring you not one but two recordings this week. These are meant to be appreciated together just like the...

    Ian Rawes and the London Sound Survey

    Tuesday, December 21, 2021

    By Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings. In October this year many of us at the British Library were distressed to hear of the death of Ian Rawes. Best known to the wider world for his field recording...

    More blog posts