Ambient Pleasures and More: 9 Sound Libraries To Whisk You Away

If it’s just too quiet for you nowadays, libraries have your hookup. Part of the reason many remote workers used to prefer a coffeeshop—or the library!—to working from home was the right kind and amount of sound—enough to be companionable, but not distractingly too much.

Missing Sounds of NY album cover with LP halfway outIf it’s just too quiet for you nowadays, libraries have your hookup. Part of the reason many remote workers used to prefer a coffeeshop—or the library!—to working from home was the right kind and amount of sound—enough to be companionable, but not distractingly too much.

For those missing the background noise of coworking, as well as other once-common noises, during this pandemic pause, the New York Public Library today released an album of Missing Sounds of New York, in partnership with creative agency Mother New York. It includes, what else, an NYPL library. You can play the track here or listen to the whole album on the NYPL site or on Spotify.

Want a more scholarly library background sound? Oxford University offers four different sounds of its famed Bodleian libraries: Duke Humfrey’s Library, the Radcliffe Camera Upper Reading Room, Sir Charles Mackerras Reading Room in the Weston Library, and the Bodleian Old Library Upper Reading Room.

While you’re virtually across the pond, check out the British Library's Sounds archive, which features world, classical, and popular music; nature; literature and performances; and even accents and a sound map!

Citizen DJ logo in stylized head with headphonesHere at home, the Library of Congress is mixing it up—or rather, inviting you to—with its new Citizen DJ app, which will let anyone make hip-hop music by remixing its public audio collections. The project, by 2020 Innovator-in-Residence Brian Foo, makes its code publicly available on GitHub for those who want to take the remix a step further.

Think staying at home is for the birds? Cornell has your hookup with the Macaulay Library of bird sounds, among other animals.

Need more nature? The National Park Service’s Yellowstone sound library includes each individual geyser, as well as a wildfire!

For a blast from the past, U.C. Santa Barbara offers an archive of digitized cylinder recordings, from back before vinyl was cool!

Want to contribute to preserving the current moment? Whether you’re hearing sirens or simply birdsong in the suddenly quiet streets, all you need is a cell phone to add your recording to the University of Leeds’s Sounds of Pandemia COVID-19 sound archive.

Finally, while we can’t vouch for the accuracy, if you find libraries magical, check out Ambient Mixer for the supposed sounds of the Hogwarts Library, scratching quills included.

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Meredith Schwartz

mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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