About British Library Sounds
British Library Sounds presents 50,000 recordings and their associated documentation from the Library’s extensive collections of unique sound recordings which come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.
The selection available here comes from the 3.5 million sounds held in the British Library. You can search and browse the entire collection with the sound and moving image catalogue.
The original selections were made during the Archival Sound Recordings (ASR) project that ran from 2004 to 2009 and which was funded by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) under its Digitisation Programme. British Library Sounds is the new name for Archival Sound Recordings. It retains all of the ASR content to which many thousands of new recordings have been added. New features and an improved player are available and the whole website has undergone a thorough re-design.
On the web
Where copyright permits, many recordings are available worldwide to the general public to listen to online. The main exception concerns the classical music recordings which are not available for streaming to the United States.
UK Higher and further education
Staff and students at licensed UK higher and further education institutions can listen to all recordings online and download the majority of them for academic use. Institution librarians can request a free licence from the Reference Team.
- See a list of licensed institutions
- See a sample licence agreement
- Read about legal and ethical use of recordings
In the British Library
Anyone with a Readers Pass can listen to the recordings on the computers in British Library reading rooms.
The recordings on this website have been selected by British Library curators using the following criteria:
- User need
- Complexity of digitisation
- Availability of documentation
- Complexity of Intellectual Property Rights
Initial encodings of the sound recordings are made in .wav format – an archival standard lossless file which retains all the original information. To make access possible from this website, files are converted to compressed formats: .wma for streaming (listening directly from the website) and .mp3 for downloads. To replay the .wma recordings streamed from this website, Mac users may need to download the free Windows Media Components for QuickTime by Flip4Mac (Mac OS X version 10.4 or later). An alternative is Windows Media Player for Mac that also supports older Mac systems but opens a pop-up player.
Every recording on this website is accompanied by metadata – the descriptive, technical and administrative information about the item. The basic descriptive metadata presented with recordings typically includes:
- the name of the recording
- the date it was recorded
- where it was recorded
- who recorded it
- who is performing or speaking
- a brief description of the contents
Further information on how the digitised files were processed is available by clicking on the link "View full metadata for this item". To return to an item page from the metadata page please use your browser's back button.
Most of the descriptive information about the recordings comes from the Sound Archive catalogue, some is gleaned from materials found with the original physical carrier (such as a record sleeve or a tape label) and some may come from accompanying notes provided by the person who recorded it. Logged in users from licensed higher and further education institutions can supplement this data by adding tags and contextual information about the recordings for other researchers to use.Read more about metadata standards used on this website
Intellectual property rights
The clearance of third-party rights has been essential to the success of this website. Innovative licensing arrangements to permit use of material in an educational and research environment have been sought with commercial publishers as well as with individual rights owners and their representatives. Where possible, rights for full public access have been obtained.
The site is governed by an ethical use policy and a notice and take down procedure is provided in the event that an unidentified rights owner comes forward. If you consider yourself a rights owner or know of the whereabouts of a rights owner please contact the Reference Team.
There are a number of ways users can interact with this site:
- mark useful recordings as favourites
- add searchable tags to help other users find the recordings they need
- add contextual notes, providing extra detail about recordings
- follow and comment on the blog
- submit a case study on how you are using the resource. This may be used on the website or on leaflets, helping to showcase how audio can be used in teaching learning and research.
During the Archival Sound Recordings project (2004-2009) the British Library digitised tens of thousands of recordings of music, spoken word and environmental sounds from the British Library Sound Archive.
The project was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under its Digitisation Programme.
The first phase of the project, ASR1, ran from 2004 to 2007 and provided 12,000 recordings online to licensed UK higher and further education institutions. The second phase, ASR2, ran from 2007 to 2009, increasing the number of recordings to over 44,000 and, where rights permitted, extending access to many recordings to anyone.
- the delivery of metadata
- digitisation of audio and images
- the development of the web interface
Having evaluated the various standards for the encoding and delivery of metadata, the Library decided to employ the XML-based Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS).
METS can incorporate many disparate kinds of information in a single record or group of records while providing a consistent archival structure. For instance, METS can contain legacy information about the archival original while also documenting the process of digitisation and audio segmentation, together with the provision of standard descriptive data encoded in Dublin Core.
The descriptive data has been delivered as the British Library Application Profile for Sound (BLAP-S).
An Archival Sound Recordings METS profile has been created specifically for archival audio. This profile may be reused by other projects.
The ASR website contains many oral history interviews, some over 40 hours long. These interviews have been segmented for accessibility, but have been presented in such a way that the user can easily locate all the other parts of the interview, as well as their descriptions.
The ASR website is fully compliant with the Open Archive Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), allowing third-party projects to provide access to the ASR files. Please contact the Reference Team if you would like to access the mechanism for harvesting metadata from the site.
Standards used for audio digitisation follow the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives’ Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects (IASA TC-04; second edition, 2009).
For more information on standards used in ASR please see: