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Music Librarianship in the United Kingdom: fifty years of the United Kingdom Branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres
Richard Turbet (editor)
Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003, xix 252pp, ISBN 07546 0572 8 £45
MusicWeb price £42.50

This festschrift to honour the fiftieth anniversary of IAML (UK) – the library world is festooned with acronyms – is well judged. Written by those well known in the profession and covering a wide subject area it underscores the diversity of music librarianship and its frequently turbulent history in Britain. The subjects covered are as diverse as the sound carriers now available to the technologically advanced student of recording – ranging from histories of service provision, through two academically bracing bibliographical essays (one on George Thompson, a long-lived music publisher who died in 1851, the other a much shorter one on Byrd’s Gradualia in York Minster Library) and then finally to more nuts and bolts areas such as inter library loans and information technology.

IAML (UK) has made great strides in broadening its remit and in trying to provide access to music – in its widest sense – through such important tools as Music Libraries Online, which facilitates the lending of a vast number of performance sets. The whole mechanics, for example, of choral singing in this country would be immeasurably the poorer – in fact almost non existent – were it not for the close so-operation and professionalism of the lending machinery in this country. How do you get your sets of Messiah or Annie Get Your Gun?

Certain features of the tangled history of music provision in public libraries – the title in fact of one essay – struck me as salutary. Issue figures preserved at Aston Free Library show that in 1886-87, its first year with scores, those 135 music scores attracted 1,486 issues. Furthermore the importance of donated collections of scores and their custodianship by the powerhouse libraries in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow cannot be over-emphasised and nor indeed can the educational potential of the provision of scores (indeed it was an explicit function of the late Victorian library committees to encourage good music). The perennial question of educative and popular exists in music librarianship parallel to that in book provision. However much they may have looked askance at the public borrowing penny dreadfuls – and not Ruskin or Gibbon – librarians could no longer insist they read improving literature than they could resist the tide of popular vocal and lighter music. Rationalising with the ingenuity of Socrates some Victorian and Edwardian librarians even believed that provision of good music scores would in itself encourage a drift away from the scorned Fiction (a term of High Table abuse for the mutton chopped librarian).

It was in 1911 that William Lace of Brighton first suggested a record library, though not a lending library as such, but recordings in situ to be listened to in a special room. It wasn’t until the 1940s though that the idea of a lending collection of discs became a reality – some years behind continental European and American practice. Walford Davies was all for it and so was Vaughan Williams and they endorsed a long established practice of the record recital by private clubs in library halls. I’d no idea that the pianist Winifred Christie, whose marriage to the inveterate inventor and composer Emanuel Moór led to her espousing his double keyboard Moor Duplex piano (and recording on it – she was a superb pianist) contributed so heavily in time and money to establish the Central Music Library in Westminster.

One theme running through some of the historical articles is the entrenched view of recorded music as lightweight, as a frivolous external triviality. Some of this is traceable to the founding of the service, to the idea that some things are extraneous to the service and are a financial drain on it. Charging for services, whether of audio-visual loans or the hiring of meeting spaces in order to play recitals of music (a frequent occurrence up until the fairly recent past) is an issue addressed in passing in the final article by Eric Cooper. There are other concerns that might also have been considered here and the pervasive issue of copyright is high amongst them. Nevertheless this is a lucid and broad survey and those stimulated by the workings of the International Association of Music Libraries et al will find much upon which to reflect.

Jonathan Woolf


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