Save our Sounds

Save Our Sounds

Saving the nation's sound heritage

We must save our audio heritage in the next 15 years before the recordings become completely unplayable.

By digitising the sound collections and storing them in secure, preservation-format storage, they will be safe and remain accessible to the public forever. 

We are home to the UK Sound Archive, an extraordinary collection of over 6 million irreplaceable recordings dating from the birth of recorded sound. Other collections across the UK hold other important sound recordings documenting local life, wildlife, customs, music and traditions. Sound holds an important place in our national memory and engagement with history. If someone asks you to think about Winston Churchill, chances are that you'll hear his voice in your mind rallying the nation just before the Battle of Britain. Sound has the capacity to transport us to a precise moment in time. But these recordings risk being lost forever as tapes, minidiscs, laquer, vinyl and shellac discs degrade or the equipment for playing them becomes obsolete.

Interested to help preserve the nation's audio heritage?

Please contact
Michele Burton
Head of Trusts and Foundations
T +44 (0)20 7412 7030

We must save our audio heritage before the recordings become unplayable.  This is urgent – we have 15 years in which to save our sounds before they become unreadable or degrade too far and are lost forever. We need to digitise and store our sounds in our secure digital depository, making them safe and accessible to the public for years to come. This is an ambitious project, working with 10 partner institutions around the UK to save 500,000 of the most rare and fragile recordings from all over the country and make them freely available online to all. A comprehensive learning and engagement programme will raise awareness and appreciation of these unique materials. We are launching a major fundraising campaign to save these sound collections and have received a first-stage pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund earmarking £9,568,900 to undertake this work. We must now raise £1.5m matched funds by the end of 2016 to enable the project to happen.

Excerpts from a selection from our extensive collections of unique sound recordings, which cover the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.

How you can help

Please get in touch with us if you would like to discuss how you or your organisation can help preserve the nation's audio heritage. To make a donation today, simply click donate now and choose "Save our Sounds".

What else is the British Library doing to preserve the nation's audio heritage?

Sound archives all across the country also risk being lost forever if they are not digitised. We are launching a national audit to map the condition of these sound archives around the country, and to raise awareness and understanding of the value of these collections. We’re not just looking back; we want to preserve the future of sound recordings too. We’ll be working intensively with industry partners to streamline the way in which the Library collects the UK's radio and music output digitally, ensuring an effective sound archive for future generations of researchers.

Why are sound recordings particularly at risk?

Sound recordings are at risk of both technological obsolence and degradation. Physically, audio visual carriers, discs, tapes etc, typically have a shorter life span than paper or text documents. As technology marches on, the means to play these recordings quickly become outdated and disappear from production. 

Read more about our project to preserve the nation's audio heritage at