Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

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.

Published date:

Background

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.

However, sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation, and as the means of playing such sounds disappear from production. Professional consensus internationally is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save many of our sound collections through digitisation, before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.

The Unlocking our Sound Heritage project – part of the Save our Sounds programme – aims to preserve and provide access to 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.

The project

The project runs from 2017 to 2022, and by the end of the five years:

  • almost half a million rare and at-risk sound recordings will have been digitally preserved
  • a network of audio preservation centres will have been established across the UK
  • more people will have engaged with sound recordings.  

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is funded by a £9.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as generous funding from charities and individuals, including the Foyle and Garfield Weston Foundations.

The work will be delivered by a consortium of institutions, led by the British Library. The 10 consortium partners are: 

Together, these organisations will focus on rare and unique recordings. These are at risk of being lost because they are held on formats that are physically degrading and the playback equipment required is no longer produced.

The consortium will deliver a programme of public engagement activities, including workshops, learning events for families, public tours and exhibitions, and in late 2019, a new website that will allow listeners to explore a selection of recordings online.

Unlocking our Sound Heritage forms part of a core British Library programme Save Our Sounds, which pledges to preserve and represent the nation’s sound heritage. You can read more about the scale of the remaining challenge in our Living Knowledge vision, published in January 2015.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been generously supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and trusts and foundations including major grants from Garfield Weston Foundation and Foyle Foundation

Heritage Lottery Fund logo (black on white background)

Projects

Save our Sounds

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

National Radio Archive

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

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.

All projects

Blog posts

Recording of the week: Montserrat Volcano Observatory

Monday, October 15, 2018

This week's selection comes from Emme Ledgerwood, Collaborative Doctoral Award student with the British Library's Oral History department and Leicester University. “I think great science comes from this natural curiosity” This recording for #EarthScienceWeek comes from Stephen Sparks, a volcanologist...

Recording of the week: from the days of the demo tape

Monday, October 8, 2018

This week's selection comes from Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. When you work in a sound archive it’s not uncommon to find yourself drawn into a listening experience which is both immersive and enriching. For...

Sound, stories and new perspectives: site-specific curated sound tours of the British Library

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Have you ever wandered around the British Library in St Pancras and been intrigued the art, architecture and spaces? Have you ever wanted to hear more voices from the many narrators in the sound collections? Then lucky you – we have the perfect way for you to spend 40 minutes of your time this October!

Recording of the week: a Tamil lullaby

Monday, October 1, 2018

This week's selection comes from Christian Poske, AHRC Collaborative PhD candidate and Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage. The English musicologist Arthur Henry Fox Strangways recorded this Tamil lullaby with the title Lālishrīta in South India during a...

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