Does this sound right to you?

For most of us, sound is a good thing. Our personal entertainment systems, myriad music channels, as well as downloads, mean we pretty much listen to what we want to most of the time. But how did this come about? How did we get to have such a wide choice? And just what is the history of radio and recorded sound anyway?

The British Library has decided to preserve as many sound recordings as possible. This will be a national project covering public and private collections. Recordings could be 100 years old, as old as the work of Thomas Edison himself.

The technology used back then is getting increasingly hard to use now. It must all be digitised, and the thought is that the experts have got 15 years to do it before some of these oldest recordings become impossible to work with.

To give you some idea of the size of the project, the library surveyed nearly 4000 collections containing 2 million items. And they come in all different forms, from material in tubs as big as cake tins to six inch long ‘concert cylinders’. They might even be made either of wax or lacquer! Some of these already need rare equipment to play them, so modernisation is essential.

So what’s going to be in this sound archive that’s so important, so desirable? Well, the answer is quite a lot: Drama and literature recordings including poetry going back to 1955, and drama to the mid sixties; oral history, which can be ordinary people telling their stories; a survey of English dialects going back to the 1950’s ( Did you know, for instance, that the Isle of Wight has its own ‘old’ language, which you and I would never fully understand?).

There are all sorts of music on record too, of course. They call this range ‘jazz to grime, music hall to metal.’. There’s classical music going back to 1937, and something the library calls ‘forced entertainment,’ which they explain is experimental drama and ‘happenings’.

It’s quite a collection and far too much for anyone to listen to it all. But at least it’s going to be there, and we will know that this really old material is going to be preserved indefinitely.

Virtually anyone who can get on to the British Library website can enjoy these sounds. Imagine studying music or drama – or just being interested in local history or early pop music – and being able to listen to original recordings. Several partner radio organizations are involved in the project, and it’s going to cost £9.5 million of Heritage Lottery funding plus contributions.

So is it worth it – saving old treasures like this that we can all enjoy? What do you think? Sounds good to me.

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My last job was as a tutor for OOL. I taught on courses providing professional training for school support staff, as well as A level English Literature and English Literature GCSE. Prior to that, I worked in schools, colleges, adult education and the Arts, including a period as a local authority inspector. I'm going to make myself busy trying to keep you up to date with different aspects of education news – and also to keep you interested.

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