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 was the British Library’s programme to preserve the nation’s sound heritage.

Published date:

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

The Save our Sounds programme was created to answer this imperative need. It consisted of three major projects:

  • The National Lottery Heritage Fund-funded project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, which ran from July 2017 and March 2023. Its aim was to preserve and open up access to the nation's rare and unique sound recordings – not just those in our collections but also from ten partner institutions across the UK. You can read about the success of the project in the evaluation reports.
  • The National Radio Archive was established to collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output. Much of what is broadcast by local radio stations is not archived anywhere else. This unique output can be requested through our listening and viewing services.
  • Investment in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, directly from artists and distributors, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure long-term preservation and onsite accessibility.

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. The Player aims to offer an improved user experience for listening to sound recordings on our website and in our 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

    Find out more about the Sound Archive

    Visit our Sounds website which includes over 120,000 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 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


    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 was a UK-wide project that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.

    All projects