British Library’s digital archive saves Olivier’s Coriolanus

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In another example of just how diverse digitisation can be – we hear that rare theatre recordings have been saved by a new £40m British Library digital archive.

The sound recordings, which include Laurence Olivier playing Coriolanus in 1959, have been secured, thanks to a £9.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The material forms part of the British Library’s sound archives – which were at risk of being lost or damaged without digitisation.

The funding will assist the British Library on their quest to digitise and publish an impressive 500,000 unique sounds and recordings, including the first night of Olivier’s Hamlet, an oral history of British theatre design and recordings from the West End, regional theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe and various touring productions.

It is predicted that £40 million will be required overall to purchase new technologies to digitise future acquisitions and the remaining archives. The funding from HLF will enable the library to launch an outreach programme to schools and communities celebrating the UK’s sound heritage.

British Library chief executive Roly Keating said: “We are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for answering the urgent need to help to preserve these precious recordings. Our recent Living Knowledge vision [which set out a plan for the organisation’s future] is clear about the scale of the challenge ahead, but today’s news is a fantastic vote of confidence in the project.”

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