It now seems like a long time ago that we became aware of the British Library’s ambitious plans for a national project that will preserve nearly half a million ‘at risk’ audio recordings. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) is the audio preservation and access strand of a larger project called Save Our Sounds, which is funded by the British Library and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The first step in planning the project was for the British Library to conduct a national audit of sound collections and this was done in 2015. The audit, which can be read here – https://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/subjects%20images/sound/national%20audit%20of%20uk%20sound%20collections%20-%20final%20report.pdf – identified over 1,000,000 sound recordings located in museums, libraries, archives and private collections. As part of this early scoping of collections I found myself getting covered in dust and cobwebs as I tried to count the number of BBC Radio Stoke tapes that were in the roof of a garage in the Peak District (these are now safely at Staffordshire Archives).
The University of Leicester has been involved with oral history across the East Midlands since 2000 and we were aware of many of the major collections in the region, with a fair idea of the likely issues around digital preservation. In 2014 the University of Leicester decided it would like to take part in the project and be a ‘hub’ for the Midlands. Have a look at us here – https://www2.le.ac.uk/library/find/specialcollections/unlocking-our-sound-heritage/
The Audit helped to establish a need for the project and enabled targets to be set. The next few years saw planning for a three year project based at the British Library and ten partner ‘hubs’ around the UK. You can see a list of the partner hubs here – https://www.bl.uk/projects/unlocking-our-sound-heritage . Here at the University of Leicester we are covering the Midlands and have identified a number of collections from these counties that we think are important to preserve. We are starting with local radio programmes from Leicester and will follow with a mixture of oral history, radio, and other recordings from Nottingham, Derbyshire and Worcester. Other collections will follow.
We have high hopes for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage both here in the Midlands and nationally. It is a great feeling to be working on a project that is of national importance. As we progress we will blog about the sound collections we work with and some of the issues we encounter as we digitise and catalogue them. We are going to engage with a lot of volunteers over the next few years and we will encourage them to record their thoughts on the project as well.
Contact us and follow us on Twitter @MidlandSounds and on our website at https://www2.le.ac.uk/library/find/specialcollections/unlocking-our-sound-heritage/