British Library project preserves the UK’s rare sound recordings

Preservation of unique recorded heritage may be impossible by 2030.

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'Save our Sounds' project aims to rescue threatened material and create a comprehensive picture of the nation's sound collections

Sound collections are under threat. It is estimated that by 2030, the lack of availability of older audio equipment needed to play diverse formats such as wax cylinders or MiniDiscs, the deteriorating condition of the recorded media themselves, and the loss of associated skills will make the preservation of collections costly, difficult and in many cases impossible. According to the British Library, the risks "face all recorded sound collections, across the country, from boxes of forgotten cassette recordings to professional archives."

The British Library 'Save our Sounds' initiative, launched in January, aims to address this by preserving the UK’s rare and unique sound recordings.

The first stage of the project will create a Directory of UK Sound Collections, mapping the extent of sound collections in the UK and identifying the risks they face in order to begin to plan for their preservation.  The project team is appealing for information about sound collections large and small, held in libraries, archives, museums, galleries, voluntary organisations, companies, studios, record labels, broadcasters, press and in private hands.

Since the beginning of the year, the project team has received information on more than 800,000 items held on everything from wax cylinders to digital files. The material includes lost radio broadcasts, recordings of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ella Fitzgerald and J.B. Priestley, oral history interviews with groups as diverse as nurses, London dockers, rugby players, booksellers and lifeboat crew.

The census results will be published in June, along with advice on understanding and looking after sound collections.

Data gathering is still ongoing -- the project deadline is 31 May and the team is keen to gather even more information about collections. Find out more, and discover how to submit information about your own collections, on the project web page: www.bl.uk/projects/uk-sound-directory

Image by Nan Palmero via Flickr.