Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

15 January 2015

Help Us Create a Directory of UK Sound Collections

Amongst the literary treasures held in the basements of the British Library sits an extraordinary collection of sounds.  From recordings of extinct species, voices from the past, to music across all genres, the British Library’s sound archive is held on more than 1.5 million physical items, just waiting to be heard.

But all of these recordings, from those made on the earliest wax cylinders to contemporary CD-Rs, face a real and immediate threat.


Edison 'Concert' wax cylinders in the collections of the British Library

Within 15 years, the combination of physical degradation and the disappearance of the technologies that support physical media will make accessing the nation’s sound archive difficult, and in many cases impossible.  Without taking steps to preserve these recordings now, they will be lost.

These risks face all recorded sound collections, across the country; from boxes of forgotten cassette recordings to professional archives.

To understand the risks facing the UK’s sound collections, the British Library has initiated a project to collect information about our recorded heritage, to create a Directory of UK Sound Collections.

By telling us what you have, we can understand more about the breadth of the nation’s collections and the risks that they face, and this will help us plan for their preservation, for future generations.

Our aim is to be comprehensive; to search out sounds that exist in libraries, archives, museums, galleries, schools and colleges, charities, societies, businesses and in your homes.  And we’re not just interested in large collections: a single item might be just as important as a whole archive.   

So if you think you might have a rare or unique collection of sounds, or just a recording that should be preserved, let us know!

The census is live now and will run until the end of March 2015.  You can read more about the project, and send us information about your collections here:

Responses have already started to come in, and we’ll be publishing updates on the project, and some of the things we’ve found on this blog, so enter your email address and click the Subscribe button at the top of this page to receive notifications by email.

The British Library’s Directory of UK Sound Collections is one of the first steps in our Save our Sounds programme; one of the key strands of Living Knowledge, the British Library’s new vision and purpose for its future.

You can follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds


Hello, this is Shawn Borri from the U.S. I am inspired by your article. I would love to help you physically transcribe cylinders, and other sound recording holders. I still make brown wax phonogram blanks such as made about 1896, and there is quite a demand for them, still.

Many thanks for your message Shawn, which we've passed on to our technical department.

Best wishes,

Adam Tovell

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