Building on the British Library's ground-breaking work in creating the first online fully-searchable digital library of sound recordings from one of the world's treasure houses of audio heritage, these nine new digital collections will make available around 4,200 hours of audio content.

Archival sound recordings 2

Latest News (May 2009): Nearly all of the collections in this project have now been made available via the project site at http://sounds.bl.uk. The Gerzon recordings is the collection still awaiting IPR clearance.

The project

Archival Sound Recordings provides free online access to selections of spoken word, music and environmental sounds from the British Library Sound Archive, one of the world’s treasure houses of audio heritage. The groundbreaking service features many rare, unpublished or out-of-print recordings, including classical, world and folk music, oral histories, radio programmes, wildlife vocalisations and sounds of the natural and industrial worlds.

By deepening the critical mass of archival audio material for online access, the service meets the needs of many more users. It also increases the visibility of audio content in the digital domain and its availability for repurposing to teachers, researchers and lifelong learners.

The content

Over 2,000 of the recordings are available to the public online. These include classical music, accents and dialects, British wildlife, Holocaust testimonies, ethnographic wax cylinders and Ugandan field recordings. Staff and students at UK FE and HE institutions can also log in and play or download recordings to cut, loop, transcribe, embed and otherwise repurpose for academic use. By making rare and often unpublished primary source material available online for the first time, Archival Sound Recordings has been opening up new areas of research for academics, teachers, researchers and students.

Michael Gerzon Recordings (638 hours) represents a unique opportunity for researchers to assess both the practical work of one of the 20th century's leading audio scientists, and one of Europe's most extensive extant collections of unpublished contemporary music-concert recordings, documenting the music's development over a period of almost 30 years.

Recordings of Canonical Classical Repertoire 926-1956 (425 hours) includes all recordings held from the repertoire of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms on 78rpm shellac discs together with early long-playing vinyl discs. The package illustrates developments in performance styles for the period in question and will be invaluable in the analysis of performance trends and styles.

Institute of Contemporary Arts, London - Talks, 1981-1992 (850 hours) contributors to this wide range of readings and discussions covering literature, film, theatre and other cultural subjects include: Brian Aldiss, Norman Mailer, Julia Kristeva, Derek Jarman (with Ken Campbell), Richard Dawkins, Arnold Wesker, Primo Levi, James Kelman, and Salman Rushdie reading from The Satanic Verses.

Early Record Catalogues (7,000 images) the Sound Archive collection of record catalogues is extremely rich in data about the sale and distribution of recorded media. The collection is un-catalogued and only accessible in the reading rooms of the Library.

Decca West Africa "Yellow Label" Series (39 hours) these recordings were made and issued during the 1940s and 1950s. The post-war period is a significant moment in the development of African popular music and these recordings document some of the first attempts at local popular musical styles from Ghana and Nigeria with early recordings of highlife and juju musicians.

Early Spoken Word Recordings (34 hours) this includes published spoken word recordings (pre-1955) held by the Sound Archive. Some of these are iconic, including In a Solemn Hour by Winston Churchill, My Message to the World of Islam by HH The Aga Khan and Conan Doyle Speaking by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sony Radio Awards 1986 and 1997 - News and Current Affairs (850 hours) these are all high quality submissions to the award made by radio stations. Included are submissions to the following award categories: news and current affairs, specialist speech, response to a news event (outside broadcast), magazine and feature documentary. (Note - it has not been possible to digitise this collection due to IPR issues. This has been replaced by 20 ethnographic collections, totally around 5,000 files from the Sound Archive.

 Holocaust Survivors' Centre (380 hours) 149 interviews with Holocaust survivors, from the Holocaust Survivors' Centre in Hendon.

Traditional Music in England (1020 hours) these collections come from all regions of England and represent a broad range of traditions and genres, from songs and children's games to folktales.

The process

The project has built on existing infrastructures, processes and methodologies developed as part of the ASR project. The project pioneered access to the full metadata for each recording with the recording itself being accessible only for authenticated users. Once again, metadata will be available to search engines and visible to any member of the public interacting with the service website. Wherever possible, rights will be cleared to provide public access to recordings.

The future

The British Library has committed to a 10 year sustainability plan for the ASR service including free-at-point-of-delivery access and re-use of materials. The British Library has a strategic commitment to widening and sustaining access to its collections including increasing proportion of online access.

The Final Report

Download the final report here.

Lead site: The British Library

documents & multimedia