November 26, 2020

The British Library Announces Plan to Digitize and Share 500,000 “At Risk” Rare and Unique Sound Recordings Online

From The British Library:

We are delighted to announce that the British Library has been earmarked funding of over £9.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help save the nation’s sound recordings and open them up online for everyone to hear.

For those of you familiar with our Save our Sounds project, this is very welcome news. According to the predictions of sound archivists the world over, we have fifteen years in which to digitise historic sound recordings before the equipment required to play some formats can no longer be used, and some formats such as wax cylinders and acetate discs start to naturally decay.

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Thanks to the £9.5m funding from the HLF, we will be able to digitise and publish online up to 500,000 rare and unique sounds from the Library’s own collections and those around the UK which are most at risk, including local dialects and accents, oral histories, previously unheard musical performances and plays, and vanishing wildlife sounds.

From 2017-2022, we will work with partner institutions across the UK to develop a national preservation network via ten regional centres. Together we will digitise, preserve and share our unique audio heritage. We will also run a major outreach programme to schools and local communities to celebrate and raise awareness of UK sounds.

From the BL’s News Release

The £9.5 million will enable the British Library to:

  • digitise and publish online up to 500,000 rare and unique sounds from the Library’s own collections and those around the UK which are most at risk, including local dialects and accents, oral histories and previously unheard musical performances and plays, and vanishing wildlife sounds
  • work with partner institutions to develop a national preservation network via ten regional centres of archival excellence which will digitise, preserve and share the unique audio heritage found in their local area
  • run a major outreach programme to schools and communities to celebrate the UK’s sound heritage, and raise awareness of this treasure trove of living history held in archives across the country

Sounds held by the British Library include:

  • Famous writers reading their own works, including Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sylvia Plath and James Joyce
  • Radio broadcasts going back to the 1930s, including Radio Luxembourg and long-defunct pre-war stations such as Radio Lyons and Radio Normandie
  • A recording which helped to save the bittern from extinction in the UK, as well as many other sounds of British wildlife, coastlines and nature
  • A huge corpus of slang, dialects and accents recordings of every social class and regional area of the UK, from the 1950’s Survey of English Dialects collection which reveals just how far our voices have changed over the past century, to the BBC Voices archive containing the diverse voices of contemporary 21st century Britain
  • Previously unheard musical performances and plays, including Laurence Olivier playing Coriolanus in 1959, and full recordings of theatre productions going back 40 years
  • Life story interviews with people from all walks of life, from Kindertransport refugees, to second wave feminists and people with a range of disabilities

Learn More About the Save Our Sounds Project

Learn About the UK Sound Directory Project

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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