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

Creative States of Mind: a new collection of interviews exploring artists and the creative process

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What does it feel like to be an artist? Patricia Townsend spoke to professional artists to find out and the interviews are now available at the British Library.

Recording of the week: croggy or backy?

Monday, February 18, 2019

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English. Sadly, despite growing up in Yorkshire and the West Midlands in the 1970s, I never owned a Chopper, although I certainly remember the thrill of a croggy [=...

Andrea Levy

Friday, February 15, 2019

We’re sad to hear of the death of novelist Andrea Levy who passed away yesterday, aged 62. In 2014, Andrea agreed to make a recording for Authors’ Lives which will be made available to listeners in the weeks to come.

Recording of the week: the endingidi and the erhu – two types of the spike tube fiddle

Monday, February 11, 2019

This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds. The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system is a way of grouping types of musical instruments by structure and the way in which sound is produced, rather than the culture from...

More blog posts