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Unlocking our Sound Heritage is a UK-wide project that will help save the nation’s sounds and open them up to everyone.
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 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 half a million 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.
Now into its third year, the ambitious, five-year project is increasing awareness and enjoyment of sound today, while safeguarding the nation’s long-term capacity to care for and use audio collections:
- A network of audio preservation centres has been established across the UK, with expert staff in place to catalogue, digitise and preserve sounds
- 100,000 rare and at-risk sound recordings have been digitally preserved
- Through new and improved cataloguing records, discoverability and access to sounds is being improved
- A programme of learning and outreach activities is being delivered nationwide, including workshops, learning events for families, public tours and exhibitions; by the end of the project, even more people will have engaged with sound recordings
Our Consortium Partners
A consortium of institutions, led by The British Library, is delivering the work. The 10 consortium partners from across the nation are:
- National Museums Northern Ireland
- Archives + in Manchester
- Norfolk Record Office
- National Library of Scotland
- University of Leicester
- The Keep in Brighton
- Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
- National Library of Wales
- London Metropolitan Archives
- Bristol Culture
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, and in 2020, a new website that will allow listeners to explore a selection of recordings online.
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