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.

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

    Recording of the week: securing the right to read

    Monday, August 19, 2019

    This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining...

    Napoléon Bonaparte

    Thursday, August 15, 2019

    First Consul Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean Gros c. 1802 By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music In May of this year I wrote a blog on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Wellesley, Field Marshall His Grace the Duke...

    Recording of the week: women conscientious objectors of WW2

    Monday, August 12, 2019

    This week's selection comes from Vikki Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. C880 is a fabulously intriguing collection of interviews, conducted by Rena Feld, of twenty-nine women who either were or are conscientious objectors. Their reasons varied...

    The nightingale sings again - the life, career, and recordings of Beatrice Harrison

    Friday, August 9, 2019

    Beatrice Harrison with cello (BL Collections) Guest blog by Edison Fellow Chas Helge who is currently writing his dissertation on Beatrice Harrison Suddenly, the door opened and the King came in. He was quite alone. He came up to me…...

    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