In December 2011, the Spanish National Library, Madrid (BNE), will mount a commemorative exhibition to celebrate its first three hundred years of existence. One of the world's oldest national libraries, it has served as a research centre in all fields of knowledge--particulary Spanish and European culture, arts, and humanities--for three centuries. The Music and Audiovisual Department preserves unique archives used by researches, teachers and university students, and to a lesser extent conservatory musicians and teachers. Every day the Library receives hundreds of user queries (either in person or via the Internet) about its collections, which are rich in historic sources and modern documents.
However, despite the size and the historical and artistic importance of the collections, the profile of the BNE is still associated in the collective subconscious primarily with great works of literature, not with music. Some musicians and Spanish musicologists are not aware of our collections and worse still, they ignore its existence. In part, this regrettable state of affairs can be explained by the peculiarities of the country's musical life and educational deficiencies associated with music as a subject, but it is also true that the music department's collections do not have an adequate social projection and usage. We are working hard to address this issue by taking the opportunity of the anniversary of the institution to raise awareness. The National Library has an enormous responsibility as the custodian of a substantial part of Spanish musical heritage and has to face a series of major challenges associated with collection development, cataloguing, preservation, and digitisation.
The institution was created for public use as the Real Biblioteca through the initiative of Padre Robinet, Philippe Vs confessor, and opened its doors in March 1712 in a passage that connected the Madrid Alcazar with the Convento de la Encarnacion (Convent of the Incarnation). In accordance with royal decrees of 1712 and 1716, publishers and printers were obliged to deposit copies of their products in the Library. This precedent of Legal Deposit was not the first in our country, since in the sixteenth century a similar initiative was proposed, with the creation of the Monastery Library of El Escorial. This legislative method to acquire archives assured the regular deposit of musical works, especially since the nineteenth century with the promulgation of the first Spanish laws of intellectual property (1847 and 1879), but technical difficulties and a general lack of control made it less than fully effective. With the most recent Legal Deposit law (20 January 1958), the Library could finally claim the totality of Spanish book production. In March 2011, after years of study, the Cabinet approved a new bill of Legal Deposit, which has begun its progress through the House of Commons. It will try to adapt Spanish legislation to the latest technological advances and new distribution systems, as well as the communication culture that has resulted in the transformation of our profession and the social function of libraries. One of the most important aspects that will be corrected in the new law is the obligation not only for printers and publishers to deposit their works but also editors and distributors. In recent years, corporate delocalization has resulted in many publications promoted by Spanish firms being printed abroad and therefore not deposited at the Library, resulting in a distortion in the national bibliography.
Early in the eighteenth century, the first musical archives acquired by the Biblioteca Real included a collection of printed music and manuscripts donated by the crown, originally from the Torre Alta del Alcazar collection, which belonged to the ancient Spanish royal household. To that archive were added new collections from Italy and France acquired by Philippe V (1683-1746), the first member of the House of Bourbon to rule as king of Spain, who started a new dynasty in Spain after the War of Spanish Secession (1701-14). …