Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Issues of Access: The Future of Music Audio Provision in UK Public Libraries

Academic journal article Fontes Artis Musicae

Issues of Access: The Future of Music Audio Provision in UK Public Libraries

Article excerpt


At the 2009 Music in Public Libraries seminar--an annual seminar held in the UK and hosted by the International Association of Music Libraries (UK and Ireland)--public library staff involved in working with music collections discussed the current challenges and trends in provision of audio material in public libraries. The catalyst for this discussion was the concern over the seemingly universal trend of falling issues and income for audio stock in public libraries and the impact this may have on future collection provision.

Brief overview of the past

Audio collections have formed part of the stock of public libraries since the 1960s--first with LPs, then cassettes and, since the 1980s, CDs.

Although audio collections were available in virtually every library authority their position, within the overall provision of stock, was often ambiguous. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, Section 7(2) had designated these collections as "desirable" rather than essential and therefore their status and administration varied. For some authorities they were viewed as part of the core cultural offer of the library and were made available free of charge. In other authorities they were an "add-on" to core services and a charge was made to cover costs.

First LPs, then music cassettes came and went, and then the popularity of CDs took off in public libraries--their durability and superior sound quality soon eclipsing cassettes. In the late 80s and early 90s CDs became "the goose that laid the golden egg" as income increased.

The collections then seemed to become a victim of their own success and were viewed by some as simply a lucrative source of income. A 2006 report published by the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council on Income Generation showed that on average audiovisual loans accounted for 48% of a library authority's income--and in some cases as much as 61% of total income. (2)

Now, however, this major source of income is in decline, issues are falling, "everyone downloads" we hear--and questions are being asked about the value of audio collections in libraries.

Current position in libraries

As preparation for the Music in Public Libraries seminar a questionnaire was circulated to the 30 authorities attending--17 authorities responded providing a small but nevertheless useful "snapshot" of the current position and perception of audio provision in public libraries.

All 17 authorities--a mix of large county and metropolitan authorities and smaller unitary councils--continued to provide CD collections. Four authorities provided these in all their libraries with another six authorities providing collections in over half their libraries. (A very small number of authorities--not represented at the Seminar--have taken the

drastic step of cutting their CD collections totally or no longer buy for them so that the collections will come to an end naturally).

All responding authorities still added to their collections with most adding significant numbers of new stock each year. Typically acquisition used a combination of standing orders for chart material and staff selection--one responding authority acquired their stock entirely through supplier selection having set up of a series of stock profiles. At the other end of the spectrum one authority still selected all stock themselves.

Respondents were then asked to indicate what the issue trends were in their authority. 14 of the 17 authorities responding indicated that issues of CDs were declining. However the percentage rate decline in issues varied greatly between authorities--one London Borough reported a drop in issues of 50% between 2007/08 and 2008/09 while one county reported a drop of only 1%. Typically the decline in issues was between 10%-20%.

The degree of variation between authorities would seem to indicate that local factors might be affecting issues rather than simply a general sea-change in the way that all customers access audio. …

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