May 22, 2022

The British Library Releases “National Audit of UK Sound Collections” (Final Report)

From the Exec. Summary:

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 environments, from the 1880s to the present day. In January 2015, the Library launched a new initiative titled Save Our Sounds1. One of its key aims is to preserve as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in the Library’s collections but also key items from other collections across the UK.

The UK’s sound collections face a real and immediate threat from the degradation of physical media and declining support for older audio formats from today’s technology industries. To mitigate this threat, the solution is to migrate recorded sounds from so-called ‘legacy’ media to stable digital files, and to preserve those files on replicated digital storage.

To understand and to demonstrate the need for this preservation, the Library conducted an Audit of recorded sound collections held across the UK by institutions, societies, associations, trusts, companies and individual collectors. The information from this census can be used to determine the extent of recorded sound collections in the UK and to map the risks they face.

The outputs of the Audit are a database hosted by the British Library of collections, a final report summarising the results, and a PDF document presenting details from the database of the collections that holders have agreed to make publicly accessible.

The Audit ran from January to May 2015.

Selected Findings

The Audit recorded the following results:

  • Over a period of 20 weeks, from January to May 2015, we collected information on 3,015 collections, from 488 collection holders, with collections totalling 1,870,946 items.
  • The majority of responses were received from libraries and archives (36%), individuals (18%), museums and galleries (16%) and schools, colleges and universities (10%), with a relatively even spread between the remainder of categories.
  • Of the total number of items surveyed 78% are held on obsolescent ‘legacy’ formats and thus require migration to stable digital formats in the near future.
  • Oral history was the largest subject area reported by collection holders, with 36% of collections described as containing oral history recordings, mainly of local and regional interest.
  • 56% of collections were reported as containing ‘unique’ recordings. 23% contain items described as ‘rare’ and 2% contain items described as ‘common’. Respondents reported being ‘unsure’ as to the rarity of 19% of reported collections.
  • The majority (86%) of responses were received from collection holders located in England. 10% were from Scotland, 2% from Wales and 1% from Northern Ireland. The Isle of Wight, Isle of Man and Guernsey submitted a single response each constituting 1% of the total returns.
  • The majority (69%) of collections were reported as being ‘in copyright’; 2% as being ‘out of copyright’ and 7% ‘partially in copyright’. Respondents were ‘unsure’ of the copyright status of 22% of collections surveyed.
  • The majority (38%) of collections were reported as having electronic catalogue records, 25% partially catalogued electronically and 37% of collections were reported as having no catalogue records online.
  • Only 27% of surveyed collections were reported as having digital copies, and 10% were described as having some digital copies and partially digitised. 57% of collections were reported as having no digital copies. 6% of collection holders uncertain as to the digital preservation status of their collection.

Read the Complete Report (41 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( 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, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.