Housed at the National Library of Wales, Wales Broadcast Archive is the first national broadcast archive in the UK, and one of the most usable broadcast archives in Europe, transforming public access to a century of Welsh broadcast history with film, video and audio in both Welsh and English digitised for discovery. Sarner were engaged by the National Library of Wales to redevelop their 700m2 Grade II-listed South Reading Room into a vibrant, welcoming, positive, inclusive space which uses digital technologies and interactive activities to deliver an exciting and immersive experience for the visitors to the Wales Broadcast Archive.

Aberystwyth, Wales, UK
- Concept Design & Visualisation - MEP Coordination - Masterplanning - Scheme & Detailed Design - Project Engineering & Technical Design - Interior Design, Set and Staging Design - Audio, Video, Network Design - Audiovisual & Interactive Technologies - Graphics - Show Control Specification - Show Programming - Technical Installation & Commissioning - Installation Supervision - Support & Maintenance - Training - Consultancy
AV Awards - Audio Technology of the Year (Finalist)
Interactive experience for the Wales Broadcast Archive

Client's brief

The new Wales Broadcast Archive is unique in that it brings together the archives of three major broadcasters - BBC, ITV and S4C – and contains more than half a million clips reflecting all aspects of life in both the English and Welsh languages. With the support of funding from the National Heritage Lottery Fund and the Welsh Government, for the first time, members of the public will be able to easily access historical footage of their local areas and hear voices from years gone by, gaining a unique insight into the history of the nation.

Sarner were engaged to design and deliver an interactive experience for the Wales Broadcast Archive. The goal was to create an experience which animates stories and objects in the National Broadcast Archive’s collections in a novel, informal, and emotive way and enables the visitors to understand and engage with the Library’s vital collections. Our brief was to create visual interest, a ‘wow’ factor, and inspire curiosity by telling stories in engaging ways for different audiences, with different accessibility needs and suitable for a library setting. Because the South Reading Room is not permanently staffed, all digital experiences had to be fully operational by the visitors unaided. The experience was also required to include an element of adaptability in terms of content and layout, as well as offering a flexible area for the Library’s range of engagement activities.

Interactive experience for the Wales Broadcast Archive

Our solution

On 13th February 1923 using what was then the very latest in broadcasting technology, the first live Welsh radio broadcast was made from a studio in Cardiff followed by Mostyn Thomas who sang Dafydd y Garreg Wen, the first Welsh language song broadcast on air. 100 years later we are able to replay these same recordings, once again using the very latest audiovisual technology specified and installed by Sarner to create an exciting new immersive experience showcasing the Wales Broadcast Archive’s collection.

The highlight of the new attraction is an immersive 3D audio experience. In the first permanent audio installation of its kind in the UK, the contemporary exhibition uses innovative 3D audio technology to take visitors on an immersive journey, using Nous Sonic headphones.


AV system
A large video wall welcomes visitors to the South Reading Room. The AV system was designed to enable Library staff to regularly update the content to reflect the stories they wish to display at the time and to showcase archived footage with unlimited creativity. The video wall was also designed with the functionality to act as a presentation tool for visiting lecturers or during any school group events.
3D audio experience
Photo: National Library of Wales
The permanent exhibition was designed to be visually engaging, with very little text, with the audio providing the storytelling. On entering, visitors pick up headphones and select the desired language for the audio experience. The three-dimensional, auditory experience augments the visitors’ reality through immersive sound. Using trigger points and the head tracking functionality of the audio system, the innovative, extremely precise localization technology in the headphones detects a visitor’s position to within a couple of centimetres and automatically plays content tailored to that position. The result is a highly immersive, non-linear and three-dimensional audio experience that the visitor can intuitively control through movement.
Broadcasting timeline
The exhibition shows the importance of preserving our audio-visual heritage and highlights the Wales Broadcast Archive’s important role as a chronicle of the life of the nation. A 3D broadcasting timeline introduces visitors to the history and evolution of broadcast in Wales. A patchwork of footage and items from different generations throughout the exhibition amalgamate to form a diverse depiction of Welsh culture and society, enabling people today to re-discover stories, legends, customs, dialects, and a way of life which has changed dramatically in the last 100 years.
Tunnelled graphic
Visitors' journey continues through a tunnelled graphic environment that gives a sense of Welsh protests and anger against declining Welsh language, use of Welsh land at the expense of communities etc. Use of colour helps convey the tense mood evident in the footage.
Display system
At the heart of the exhibition, the following section celebrates all aspects of Welsh life from sport, news, industry, leisure and communities. The display system is used to create an art installation of AV screens and graphic images, layered over each other, mixing movement with stills, to create a rich visual tapestry of life.
Audio-visual experience
The following zone, Entertainment, is an audio-visual experience introducing visitors to Wales’ most iconic entertainment programmes, spanning throughout the decades, and covering many genres such as soap opera, children’s entertainment, drama, and music programmes.
Low ambient light levels
Photo: Nous Sonic
The importance of news broadcasts is depicted through the history of the Aberfan disaster of 1966, the first disaster of its kind to be broadcast live into people’s homes. In an enclosed space with low ambient light levels, distinctively different from the rest of the exhibition, large emotive projections depict the Aberfan disaster and personal stories leave a lasting impression.
Internally lit cubes
Photo: National Library of Wales
In 'Inspirational Wales' zone, visitors discover an eclectic collection of footage and audio from Wales’ most prominent entertainment household names. Internally lit cubes hang from above, with famous Welsh people printed on them, who inspired and are inspiring people all over the world. This is a celebration of Welsh ‘exports’.
Adaptable Exhibition
A separate Adaptable Exhibition area uses interactive technology to showcase some of the Archive’s highlights. This includes an audio and video lounge that functions as audiovisual bookshelves for casual browsing. This area was designed with great adaptability in terms of content and layout, allowing for seamless changeover of exhibitions to complement the Library’s events programme and link to the Library’s other digitised collections.
Green Screen experience
As part of the Broadcast Archive is a large collection of scripts, Sarner re-created a television studio in a Green Screen experience, allowing visitors to take on the role of a BBC news presenter. Visitors get to recreate their own breaking news bulletins, reading some of the original scripts on the auto cue or deliver the weather forecast live on screen in front of the fully functional green screen set. Once the visitors have recorded their performance, this can be emailed to them or for large school groups enjoying the experience, played back on the large video wall.
Interactive touch table
Photo: National Library of Wales
Additional fun elements were incorporated to make the Broadcast Archive accessible to a younger audience. This included the provision of a large interactive touch table hosting a variety of games and quizzes. As with the Adaptable Exhibition and the large video wall, the content of the interactive touch table is easily updatable by the Library staff to reflect the themes and stories showcased at the time.
Spatial and interior design
Photo: National Library of Wales
Alongside designing and delivering the digital experience, Sarner provided a coordinated spatial and interior design approach for the functional areas of the South Reading Room. The key service is delivered through research terminals which enable unprecedented access for the public and academics to a vast collection of digitised material from Wales’ audiovisual heritage. A dedicated area for groups and activities run by volunteers is designed with flexibility in mind to create a multi-purpose space. Graphic styling links the functional areas with the permanent exhibition using brand colours.
Spatial and interior design
Photo: National Library of Wales
Comfortable ‘privacy pods’, a Leisure Area and a Sound Lounge provide visitors and researchers a place to relax and enjoy digital access to the Archive’s collections. Tablets housed in totems and on articulated arms next to comfortable seating allow users access to the ever-expanding collection of digitised footage.
Audiovisual heritage
Our collective audiovisual heritage provides a key to understanding ourselves as a society. It provides an additional access route into our past which complements that provided by the written record. After all, archives are witnesses to history. They allow us to see how we lived, how we dressed, how we talked, how we were entertained, and how and when we watched or listened together. They also allow us to reflect and to learn. Visiting the Wales Broadcast Archive is an experience full of wonder and surprise – an immersion into a new world.
'The [3D audio] solution works very well in the Wales Broadcast Archive permanent exhibition as it enables visitors to engage with a large amount of audiovisual content seamlessly. This is important to us as a way of representing our large wide-ranging audiovisual archive. It has clearly also been an enjoyable interactive experience for our visitors, of all ages, and the feedback we have received has been excellent.'
Einion Gruffudd National Broadcasting Archive Project Manager, The National Library of Wales
'The exhibition, the immersive and interactive experiences in the Wales Broadcast Archive Centre created in partnership with Sarner will offer tremendous new possibilities for the National Library of Wales. It will give us opportunities to engage and attract new audiences as we share the richness of a 100 years of broadcasting transforming the visitor's experience.'
Rhian Gibson Director of Communications, Engagement and Partnerships, The National Library of Wales