The British Library Sound Archive: Saving Sounds for the Future

The British Library maintains a huge number of recordings that would take more than a lifetime to listen to.

The British Library Sound Archive is one of the largest collections of sound recordings in the world. It has more than 1.5 million recordings so you have to spend more than a lifetime (120 years) to listen to them.

The Sound Archive was founded by a music fan named Patrick Saul. Around 1930, being a teenager, Saul went into a record shop trying to find a recording of a particular violin sonata. He was very disappointed to know that production of the recording had been discontinued so he couldn’t find it anywhere. After contacting various libraries and institutions, including the British Museum, he decided to create a national archive of sound recordings that would be available for public consultation.

With the help of Decca Records and a Quaker trust fund, Patrick Saul managed to open the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1955. People supported Saul’s idea and music fans donated thousands of recordings - so in 1966 the archive opened premises in South Kensington, behind the Albert Hall. In 1983 it became the British Library Sound Archive and is now located at the British Library building in St Pancras, London.

Although Patrick Saul loved classical music, he wanted to archive every aspect of sound recording, from spoken word, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds to drama, literary readings and every type of music.

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Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

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