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.

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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. These recordings, from the UK and around the world, date from the birth of recorded sound in the 1880s to the present day. The sound archive forms a vital part of the nation’s collective memory and tells a rich story of the diverse history of the UK.

However, sound items are under threat, both from physical degradation, and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Professional consensus internationally is that time is running out to save many of our sound collections. There is an urgent need to preserve as much as possible in the next decade 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 thousands of the UK's rare and unique sound recordings: not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK.

The project

Now into its fourth year, the ambitious, five-year project is increasing awareness and enjoyment of sound today, while safeguarding the UK's long-term capacity to care for and use audio collections. The project has already:

  • Established a network of audio preservation centres has been established across the UK, with expert staff in place to catalogue, digitise and preserve sounds
  • Preserved 250,000 rare and at-risk sound recordings
  • Through new and improved cataloguing records, discoverability and access to sounds is being improved
  • Delivered a programme of learning and outreach activities across the UK, including workshops, learning events for families, public tours, exhibitions and engaging websites like Coast.

Our Partners

A consortium of institutions, led by The British Library, is delivering the work. The 10 partners from across the UK are:

Together, these institutions are focusing on preserving remarkable recordings, including rural mythologies, regional radio, and stories of underserved communities. The consortium will deliver a programme of public engagement activities.

Find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is funded by a £9.3 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as generous funding from charities and individuals, including the Foyle and Garfield Weston Foundations.

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.

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage

Compressed magenta sound-wave graphic. Logo for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage. National Lottery Heritage Fund crossed fingers logo


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