As part of our audio reference services, librarians here at NPR are frequently asked to find old newsreels covering a specific topic or historical sound of a specific person. We do have a small but important collection of speeches, movies and television shows for the staff to use. Often times, though, we search known websites with archival sound for that perfect clip to be used in a reporter's story.
Recently two organizations have released free archival material on their websites that could come in handy for future audio reference questions.
HBO launched an archival business back in 2002 to catalog and provide their collection to the outside world. Back in June they announced that they have posted complete episodes from the March of Time newsreel and documentary series online. According to the website, "this series contains original footage shot in the 1930s through 1960s, with historic footage dating back to 1913."
In this collection I found a clip from February 1935 documenting the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera. The clip shows the opera singers preparing their makeup backstage as well as the retiring opera director Giulio Gatti-Casazza nervously watching the performance from backstage.
Similarly the British Library just posted over 44,000 archival sound recordings of music, spoken word and human and natural environments on their website. Unfortunately, the collection is cut in half for us folks wanting to listen in the United States due to copyright permissions.
One interesting clip I found was an English Conversation lesson from 1929 on how to go to the Theatre in London. The listener is told where to find the best seats within a particular theatre as well as how to purchase tickets for a play in Covent Garden. There is even a mock dialogue of ordering tickets and arriving at the theatre for the performance.