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.

Published date:

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.

    Blog posts

    Unlocking Our Sound Heritage hubs digitise 10,000 recordings

    Tuesday, December 10, 2019

    BBC Radio Leicester broadcasts fronted by archaeologist Alan McWhirr, a ground-breaking oral history archive of the lives of ordinary Mancunians, historical recordings relating to the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth; these are just a few of the rich...

    Recording of the week: sheep gathering in Wales

    Monday, December 9, 2019

    This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds. Most of the library's wildlife recordings focus on the sounds of wild animals, whether that be singing birds in the Australian outback, echolocating dolphins in the Caribbean...

    Recording of the week: Kagura - dancing for the Gods

    Monday, December 2, 2019

    This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist. The origin of dance in Japan can be traced back to the age of the gods and the Japanese kagura can be considered a prototype of all Japanese rituals. Kagura combines...

    A tribute to Stephen Cleobury by Jessica Duchen

    Tuesday, November 26, 2019

    Jessica Duchen pays tribute to Sir Stephen Cleobury who she interviewed for National Life Stories at the British Library.

    More blog posts

    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