Jisc digitisation programmes Projects 2003-2007

Project launch: British Library Archival Sound Recordings

Launched today at the British Library, a massive digitisation programme by the British Library and JISC makes 3,900 hours of historic sound recordings available to students, researchers and academics.

A major new online resource, available free to everyone in further and higher education, will provide easy access to thousands of hours of rare and historic sound recordings. Archival Sound Recordings, launched today by JISC and the British Library, will make some 12,000 unique materials from the start of recording history up to the present day available to students, researchers and academics.

The archive breaks new ground in the delivery of digitised sound recordings for use in education and research and features a huge range of material, including classical and popular music, radio drama, oral history, and field and location recordings of traditional music.

Highlights of the fully searchable archive include:

  • Unique and previously unpublished recordings of East African and South African music and cultural activities;
  • The story of six decades of jazz in the UK, its varied styles, venues and characters told by musicians, promoters and label owners;
  • A comprehensive archive of performances of Beethoven string quartets – unique in the way it reflects changing styles over the past 100 years;
  • Insights into the lives and concerns of painters, photographers and sculptors, including interviews with Elisabeth Frink, David Bailey, Fay Godwin, Eduardo Paolozzi and Anthony Caro;
  • BBC World Service material illustrating the richness and diversity of African writing during the middle of the twentieth century.

The £1m project has been made possible through JISC funding and is part of an overall programme amounting to a total investment of £10m in the digitisation of high-quality online content including sound, moving pictures, newspapers, census data, journals and parliamentary papers for long-term use by the further and higher education communities in the UK.

The ASR service website is accessible to any web user interested in learning about the content: access to the audio content will be password-authenticated for members of the UK HE and FE communities. The full service will also be available to users in the British Library’s reading rooms in London and Yorkshire. The interface for the ASR website has been developed following extensive user testing to devise the best format for retrieving, playing back and repurposing the recordings. The digitisation work for ASR was carried out by Memnon Audio Archiving Services, which transferred recordings from a variety of analogue carriers to digital format, applying digital restoration techniques where appropriate.

“This was a particularly challenging and complex project,” said Michel Merten, Director of Memnon. “We worked with some very delicate collections, ranging from African field recordings on fragile analogue tapes to Beethoven String quartets on early 78rpm. To handle a project of this scale, we developed innovative new techniques with the British Library, enabling us to preserve these important cultural records for future generations.” Memnon also provided technology to deliver the metadata necessary to allow full search and retrieval.

Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library welcomed the launch of the Archival Sound Recordings resource: “Sound recordings represent a massively untapped resource in the field of education. Its possibilities across almost all subject areas are immense. The Web offers a means of widespread access to rare, historic and hugely valuable sound resources and this resource demonstrates the British Library’s commitment to research and further education.”

Sir Ron Cooke, Chairman of JISC, said: “The scale and scope of this archive is ambitious, groundbreaking and truly exciting. Not only will it be an important resource to a wide range of disciplines and subject areas but also, we believe, a landmark for the use of sound recordings in education and research. JISC is delighted to have worked closely with the British Library in developing and making available such an innovative resource.”

For more information visit the website at:

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