Sound and vision blog

20 May 2015

£9.5m boost from Heritage Lottery Fund for our Save our Sounds campaign

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.

Examination of a damaged lacquer disc in our sound labs
Examination of a damaged lacquer disc in our sound labs

This problem doesn’t just apply to the national sound archive of over 6.5m recordings held at the British Library; it applies to collections around the country.

As part of our ongoing UK Sound Directory project, we have identified over 1m sound collections on dozens of different formats across the UK which also risk disappearing, which range from recordings of killer whales made off the coast of Shetland (held by the Centre for Wildlife Conservation, University of Cumbria), to a collection of sounds held in the Canterbury Cathedral archives spanning 50 years of services, choral and opera performances and other recordings, many of which are thought to be unique.

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.

Some of the many rare recordings in the British Library's sound archive
Some of the many rare recordings in the British Library's sound archive

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.

Our challenge, as outlined in our Living Knowledge vision published earlier this year, is to preserve as many as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, and also to protect the future of our audio heritage, by improving the way in which we collect sounds digitally.

We are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for answering that urgent need, and enabling us to take this first major step in our plans.

Find out more about our HLF funding on our Press site and join in the conversation on Twitter using #SaveOurSounds


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