National Objectives International Solutions: Music in National Libraries

By Ridgewell, Rupert | Fontes Artis Musicae, July-September 2011 | Go to article overview

National Objectives International Solutions: Music in National Libraries


Ridgewell, Rupert, Fontes Artis Musicae


The theme of this issue is the role played by national libraries in the preservation and description of musical sources worldwide. It is the first time that Fontes has focussed specifically on the national library sector and it follows a paper session devoted to the same subject at the IAML conference in Dublin in 2011, details of which are documented in Fontes Artis Musicae (vol. 58, no. 4, 2011). At a superficial level, the topic might not appear to be particularly fertile ground for stimulating debate. After all, one might say that the definition of a 'national library' is relatively clear-cut, arising from a general uniformity of purpose: national libraries are typically established by governments with a primary function to be the main repository of the nation's published output and to preserve unpublished sources as well. One might therefore anticipate a high degree of homogeny across the sector, but this would be to underestimate the impact of historical, political, and legal factors in different countries, as well as different ideas of what constitutes the 'national music collection'.

This diversity is amply demonstrated in this issue. In Italy, for example, a complex historical set of circumstances has created various types of library that identify themselves as 'national', including two 'national central' libraries in Florence and Rome and nine 'national' libraries in various regions of the country (plus one in the Republic of San Marino). Hence three contributions from Italy are included here. In Germany, by contrast, the concept of a national library is a fairly recent one that has evolved in response to the political upheavals of the twentieth century, finally attaining something close to integration following German unification in the 1990s. The UK presents yet another model, with national libraries serving the devolved nations of Scotland and Wales, plus the British Library in London, which has a remit covering the entire United Kingdom. And in The Netherlands, the national provision of music services has been catered for primarily by specialist libraries such as the Nederlands Muziek Instituut.

In total we have 16 articles covering national libraries in thirteen countries on three continents, albeit with the highest concentration emanating from Europe. For ease of reference, the articles are arranged alphabetically by country. While this represents only a small proportion of the total number of national libraries that hold music worldwide, we have endeavoured to cover topics that are representative of the challenges faced by the sector today. Rather than inviting contributions that only described the content of national collections, authors were instead encouraged to focus on the provision of services relating to music in their country or institution. The subject of Legal Deposit is one that several authors have chosen to discuss in some depth. Legal Deposit is traditionally the obligation to submit at least one copy of every publication created in a country (book, periodical, newspaper) to a designated library or libraries, mainly for purposes of preservation. Despite its name, Legal Deposit was not intended to support copyright or other legal aspects of intellectual material protection. It is not exclusive to national libraries, but can also involve major university and regional libraries. In France, a form of legal deposit has been in place almost continuously since 1537 and now encompasses not only printed materials, but also multimedia archives and some web pages. While deposit legislation continues to act as the primary means by which music-related material is collected in national libraries, the legislative framework varies greatly. The obligation to deposit sound recordings, for example, is subject to significant variation: they remain exempt in the UK, but are included in Denmark and France. Changes are also currently afoot in many countries to deal with new modes of delivery, such as print on demand, online distribution, and solely digital works without physical representation. …

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