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Enhancing discovery of the British Library’s audio collections

The British Library has one of world’s largest research collections of sound recordings: over five million music, spoken word, and sound effects tracks, on a wide variety of formats, dating from wax cylinders from the 1890s to this morning’s radio news broadcasts and recent digital audio publications. Although each is described in an online catalogue, finding and navigating through the recordings presents challenges for researchers using the collection. The process can be time consuming: there are many different audio formats, many are still offline on analogue carriers, browsing content even when digitized is slow, and there are varying levels of descriptive metadata. Some modern speech interviews, for example, have near full-length transcriptions, while many other recordings lack useful information and remain hidden except to the most dedicated students. Recent experiments using human and computer-driven metadata enhancements and visualization tools, to aid navigation and browsing of digital recordings, are a first step in improving access and discovery.

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