old sound recordings


Funding boost enables National Library of Scotland to partner with the British Library in a new national network to preserve our sound heritage


A major £18.8 million sound preservation and access project, which has received a £9.5 million National Lottery grant, is launched today. The funding will enable the formation of the first ever UK network of ten sound preservation centres, including one at the National Library of Scotland.

The Unlocking Our Sound Heritage network is led by the British Library. It will now come together  to save almost half a million rare and unique recordings that are threatened by physical degradation or stored on formats that can no longer be played.  

These recordings tell a rich story of the UK’s diverse history through traditional, pop and world music, drama and literature readings, oral history, regional radio, and wildlife sounds from around the country. (Examples of recordings are available on request - see details at the end of the release).

The major grant from the National Lottery will allow the network to preserve unique and rare regional sounds and develop a range of engagement activities to connect the wider public with their sound heritage.

The National Library of Scotland will work with archives, libraries and museums across Scotland who have sound recordings in their collections. Examples of the recordings that will be preserved by the project in Scotland include stories of the working lives of people across the country; interviews with prominent literary figures including Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Muir; and recordings of traditional Scots music and songs.

Across the UK, the project will preserve oral histories from the two world wars; recordings of  local dialects; pirate radio and  iconic theatre recordings; music from around the world; and sounds of rare and extinct species. They all shed light on the past and the world we live in, providing a reminder that history is recorded in many forms

A vital element of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage will be an interactive website hosted by the British Library, allowing listeners to explore a wide selection of recordings. This website is scheduled to go live in 2019.

“Our sound heritage is under threat as tapes, minidiscs, lacquer, vinyl and shellac discs degrade or equipment to play them becomes obsolete,” said Dr John Scally, Scotland’s National Librarian. “This is a vitally important project that will help to save the nation’s sounds and preserve them to be enjoyed for many generations to come.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library said: “We are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and all our supporters for recognising the urgent need to save these rare, unique recordings from around the UK. The British Library is the home of the nation’s sound archive, and we are delighted that this funding will help us preserve our audio heritage for people to explore and enjoy.”


Editor’s Notes

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Headley Trust, the British Library Trust and the American Trust for the British Library and other kind donors.

For more information on the British Library’s Save Our Sounds project visit http://www.bl.uk/projects/save-our-sounds

Examples of recordings that can be made available include:

  • A recording of Auld Lang's Syne from 1898
  • The story of a survivor of the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster in 1988
  • An unheard Manchester concert recording by Louis Armstrong
  • Recording of a WW2 air raid over London
  • A survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp recalling playing in the camp orchestra

Please contact Bryan Christie if you would like to get copies.  

About the National Library of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland is a major European research library and one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Scotland and the Scots - an information treasure trove for Scotland’s knowledge, history and culture. The Library’s collections are of world-class importance. Key areas include digital material, rare books, manuscripts, maps, music, moving images, official publications, business information, science and technology, and modern and foreign collections. The Library holds more than 26 million physical items dating back over 1000 years in addition to a growing library of e-books, e-journals and other digital material. The collection includes over four million books, eight million manuscripts, two million maps and over 45,000 films and videos. Every week the Library collects around 4,000 new items. Most of these are received free of charge in terms of Legal Deposit legislation. Further information is available at www.nls.uk

About the British Library

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

The British Library is home to the UK’s Sound Archive, a treasure trove of living history containing more than 6.5 million sounds including music, spoken word, oral history, wildlife and the environment dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the 19th century. Discover more and listen at www.bl.uk/sounds

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery



Contact Information

Bryan Christie

0131623 3738