Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

10 November 2015

Celebrating 80 years of talking books

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80-years-of-talking books

The gathering of famous literary characters pictured above - I think that's Hercule Poirot at the back there - took place at the British Library on 5 November. It was organized by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to highlight the 80th anniversary of the Talking Books service for people who are blind or partially sighted.  

The RNIB's Talking Books service provides 4,000 audio books every single day to people with sight loss.

In celebration of its 80th anniversary, the service will be provided entirely free for all blind and partially sighted people, starting today.  

The first talking books were issued on 24-rpm discs with Braille labels, under the series title 'Talking Books for the Blind'. 

The British Library holds a collection of around 200 or so of these. They were donated by the RNIB in 2009, long after the format had been discontinued.

The content ranges from Bible stories to classics like The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and thrillers such as The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain.

However many of the sets are incomplete and many titles are not represented at all, including the very first: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Library is keen to expand the collection should the opportunity arise. If you have any of these discs please do get in touch.

And if you would like to know more about the history of talking books I can recommend this 2013 blog post by Matt Rubery: The First Audiobook.

03 November 2015

National Life Stories interviews used in new science teaching resources

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I have no memory of any teacher of science at my primary, middle or secondary school telling the class about a particular scientist.  Or even about the work of science - the extent to which it was a field of day-to-day effort - an occupation, a job.  Science consisted of special names for things and observable/measureable phenomena (habitat, electrical resistance, malleable, etc.).  It was a method (control all variables but one) and a more or less interesting body of knowledge and understanding that just existed.  That people worked for and on it was not pointed out.

Contrast this with a new set of resources for teachers on the National STEM Centre website that have been developed from oral history life story interviews (long audio and short video) with ten British scientists from ethnic minority backgrounds, recorded by National Life Stories at the British Library in partnership with The Royal Society.  In these new resources, particular scientific questions - how do you get a satellite into orbit?, how does the human body's immune system work?, what kinds of energy should society develop? - are taught through the life stories (summarised in profiles, timelines and the videos) of people who faced these questions in their own jobs or postgraduate studies - interviewees Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Professor Saiful Islam, Dr Jassel Majevadia, Dr Jo Shien Ng, Dr Donald Palmer.  Additional resources based on the other five life story interviews - with Professor Sir Harry Bhadeshia, Professor Sanjeev Gupta, Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles, Dr Mark Richards and Dr Charlotte Armah - will appear in December. 

For the full audio interviews on which the educational resources are based, visit the British Library's Sounds website.

Dr Paul Merchant

30 October 2015

Europeana Sounds Editathon

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As part of our Europeana Sounds project we will be holding an editathon at the British Library between 10am and 4pm on Saturday the 7th November, and would love you to join us.


Europeana Sounds is a two year European funded project, coordinated by the British Library. As part of the project we are aggregating over half a million audio recordings into Europeana and have been working on licensing and enrichment and participation which includes smaller crowdsourcing projects.

As part of our editathon we’ll be working with our British Wildlife sounds collection to expand Wikipedia and enrich existing pages. Whether you’re a fan of editing Wikipedia, have a passion for sounds or would like to work with our collection come along and spend the day with the Europeana Sounds team. There will be Wikimedians available throughout the day for hands on training so if you’ve never edited before, now would be an ideal time to come and learn how it’s done. If you have previous experience of editing, bring your headphones and listen to some of our wonderful collection whilst improving Wikipedia.

The full event details are available on our project website, and the sign up page can be found here. We just need you to your laptop, headphones and enthusiasm and we’ll provide the rest (including lunch!).

Workshop Programme:

10.00-10.30 Arrival and welcome coffee. Log on and computer checks.

10.30-10.45 Introduction to the British Library and an introduction to Europeana Sounds.

10.45-11.00 Introductions to British Library Sounds and Wildlife collection from curator Cheryl Tipp

11.00-11.15 Introduction to Wikimedia

11.15-12.45 Hands on session editing Wikipedia and training available throughout.

12.45-13.00 Recap and sharing

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.45 Edits continue

15.45-16.00 Recap of the day and work done

16.00 End!

If you have any further questions or would like to know more please contact Laura Miles: