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

    Recording of the week: Barbara Kruger in conversation

    Monday, July 6, 2020

    This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance. Barbara Kruger, ‘You Are Not Yourself’, 1981 © Image: callejero / VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND Listen to a recording of visual artist...

    The Santals, Scandinavian missionaries, and salvage ethnomusicology: an encounter of three worlds

    Tuesday, June 30, 2020

    Since 2015, Christian Poske has conducted his PhD research on the Bengal recordings of the Arnold Bake Collection. A Collaborative Doctoral Scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, situated his PhD within two institutions: the British Library Sound...

    Recording of the week: A charm to ward off evil

    Monday, June 29, 2020

    This week's selection comes from Andrew Ormsby, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. Unknown author (unidentified "17th-century English chapbook") / Public domain Staverton Bridge - Holy water (C604/19 C8) In the 1970s, folk song collector Peter Kennedy taught...

    From Dick-dick-the-devil to Pan-pan-boolala: onomatopoeic identities of the Crested Bellbird

    Thursday, June 25, 2020

    A few months ago the onomatopoeic call of the Eastern Whip-poor-will was featured in the sound archive’s Recording of the week series. Listen to the voice of this North American nightjar and it’s easy to see how the standard common...

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