The British Library is an institution known mainly for its huge collection of books, of which it receives approximately 3 million extra every year (occupying 9.6 kilometres of new shelf space per annum!). Famously housing a copy of every book ever published in the British Isles, the world’s largest library is also committed to retaining its vast audio recording library, which includes a recording of the sound of Florence Nightingale’s voice and the first night of Laurence Olivier’s production of Hamlet starring Peter O’Toole at The Old Vic.
Many of these recordings are on outdated and degrading formats like wax cylinders and cassettes which need to be digitised before they are lost forever. The estimate is that this, along with updating all digitisation technology used at the library, will cost approximately £40 million. With up to 70% of the UK’s published music and 90% of radio output apparently not being archived properly, this is an essential task for social historians in the coming years.
With many electronic artists becoming ever more inventive with their sampling, perhaps we’ll be seeing more of things like Herbert’s Boiler Room from last year, where he used audio recordings from the archive. If you’re into all things weird and interesting, have a listen below!