British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access


(photo courtesy of British Library national Sound Archive)
The British Library Sound Archive holds the national collection of sound recordings and collects video and DVD recordings in selected areas. The Archive aims to receive copies of all sound recordings commercially published in the UK, and to maintain major research collections of published recordings from elsewhere in selected subject areas. Recordings of interviews, performances and events are made or commissioned by Sound Archive staff, and unpublished recordings made by others are acquired. The Archive provides access to the holdings of the BBC Sound Archive and holds significant additional BBC material recorded off the air and from other sources such as the Kenny Everett collection. Among holdings of independent radio material are the complete annual entry for the Sony Radio Awards competition, the IBA radio archive, the AIRC programme sharing scheme tapes, and the Capitol Radio archive. Video recordings are collected in specific areas such as pop music, and limited off-air TV recording is carried out, in order to complement and enhance audio holdings. The collection currently includes more than a million discs and around 200,000 sound tape items, and is strong in all subject areas covered by sound recordings. Subjects which receive specific curatorial coverage at present are Classical Music, Popular Music, World and Traditional Music (folk and non-western classical music), Oral History (eg The Century Speaks: BBC Millennium Oral History Project), Drama and Literature, and Wildlife Sounds. The collection also includes major holdings of language and dialect and sound effects recordings. The Sound Archive operates an open-access reference library at St Pancras, which includes a very wide range of audio-related periodicals and books from many countries, microfilm of record company archives, record company published catalogues including many rare early editions, and a wide range of discographies in all subjects.
Music; Drama; Theatre; Oral History; Broadcasting; Poetry; Radio; Radio drama; Sound effects; BBC; Recordings; Sound; Language, communication; Literature
All videos are available for viewing. The Sound Archive operates the main public listening facility for BBC radio programmes. Any programme in the BBC Sound Archive or in the Archive’s holdings of BBC and independent radio recordings can be heard in the Listening and Viewing Service. BL opening hours: Mon, 1000-2000; Tue - Thu, 0930-2000; Fri-Sat, 0930-1700. For admission to BL reading rooms, including the Listening and Viewing Service, a BL reader’s ticket is needed. The Listening and Viewing Service operates by appointment only (direct line: 020 7412 7418).
Access for outsiders
The Listening and Viewing Service in the Rare Books and Music reading room at the British Library, St Pancras.
Free of charge.
The Sound Archive has only carried out a very small amount of video recording, mainly of theatrical events. The recording copyright in these events would be owned by the Archive but no other rights. The Archive does not hold any copyright in most of its audio or video holdings.

Moving Image, Audio and Related Documentation Holdings

A proportion of the Sound Archive open access library relates to radio recordings. Other areas of the British Library obtain a much wider range of publications relating to moving image.
The Sound Archive has no moving image (or, specifically, radio) equipment but holds one of the two major public collections of audio recording artefacts in the UK.
Minor items of radio ephemera are held. (However, the Sound Archive has a very significant collection of record company ephemera such as release sheets.)
Some UK radio periodicals are held. Also UK and foreign periodicals relating to sound recordings. See above re the BL’s overall more systematic coverage.
None. However, significant BBC-related material is held in the BL Music Library and Manuscripts Department.
The Sound Archive does not hold ‘masters’ in the film sense, though in some cases it holds the original video recordings of performances (perhaps 1,000 tapes in all). Almost all our video holdings are on VHS format.
Approx 1,050,000 discs and 200,000 tapes.
Ditto. The BL Newspaper Library at Colindale is the main repository for this material.
Approx 85,000 discs and 60,000 tapes.
Still Images
The Sound Archive holds an estimated 50,000 tapes of recordings made off-air.


Online catalogue
The British Library Sound Archive’s online catalogue is available via the internet at This includes entries for almost two-and-a-half million recordings, making it one of the largest catalogues of its kind anywhere. Subject coverage includes published and unpublished recordings in all genres from pop, jazz, classical and world music to oral history, drama and literature, dialect, language and wildlife sounds.
Related website
See Sound Archive pages on BL website at
Digitised catalogue
Almost all the Sound Archive’s current audio intake is digital. Total holdings of digital discs and tapes amount to about 600,000 discs and tapes. It is the Archive’s policy to digitise its entire holdings as soon as possible, and various strategies to achieve this are in progress.
Online delivery
A JISC-funded project started in 2004 to digitise some of the Sound Archive’s audio collections for online delivery to the Higher and Further education communities.

Main Contact

Mr. Crispin Jewitt
Job title
Director, British Library Sound Archive
020 7412 7676
020 7412 7441
96 Euston Road

Alternate Contact

Rod Hamilton
020 7412 7676
020 7412 7441

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