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National objectives international solutions: music in national libraries.

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by governments with a primary function to be the main repository of the nation's published output and to preserve unpublished sources as well.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. The rapid transformation in the publishing industry seen over the last ten years encompasses not only new modes of dissemination but also new production and distribution models that stretch the concept of a 'national bibliography'. In Spain, for example, newly formulated legislation will place the onus for deposit not only on publishers but also on distributors and editors, in an attempt to capture the totality of Spanish output, including publications printed abroad for the Spanish market.

These developments are allied to a change in emphasis in the strategic aims of many national libraries in recent years, with a definite shift from being principally custodians of the printed record towards an aspiration to become repositories of information more generally. It is no overstatement to say that, because of their unique collections and privileged role, national libraries are reinventing themselves to become key players in the developing knowledge economy. From their original concept of being "library of last resort", i.e., a reference collection forming the backbone of the library resource of the country but to which access is limited, they are increasingly seeking to become 'everyman's library', reflecting the general imperative to bring about a democratisation of knowledge, or at least democratic access to information resources. Nowhere is this challenge more apparent than in the aspiration of several institutions to archive the entire web domain of their countries in perpetuity. The Royal Library, Denmark, for example, is among the first to harvest digital sheet music as part of its programme to archive the .dk domain.

The obligation to do more with little or no increase in core subsidy, a financial situation exacerbated by recessions in many Western countries in recent years, is implicit in several contributions to this issue. While digital technology has introduced efficiencies in the way that many national libraries operate internally, it also brings with it the opportunity to demonstrate value for government investment by operating over a broader canvass than ever before. The imperative for many national libraries is to improve access via mass digitization projects and the development of online portals to deliver subject-specific content alongside traditional catalogue data. Whereas library catalogues were traditionally divided by format, the Internet facilitates greater integration and more effective linking of related data by subject. This is a particularly acute issue in the musical sphere, with its uniquely diverse range of formats embracing sheet music, books, serials, manuscripts, letters, ephemera, sound, and film. The concept of the 'national music collection' in relation to the changing landscape of publishing and information provision is therefore a particularly fruitful area for discussion at this time. Institutions such as the National Library of Norway and the British Library have accordingly reviewed their internal structures in recent years to bring about a closer integration between music materials in different media. The National Library of New Zealand has also, amidst a series of internal reviews in recent years, grappled with the issue of what should constitute the national collection of music. The Library's position as a national lending library for music materials has been a strong influence on its need to create a collection of international music, rather than simply a collection of music by New Zealand composers. Similar issues of collection development are being addressed by other national libraries, especially as budgets are coming increasingly under scrutiny.

As suppliers of catalogue data and guarantors of cataloguing standards, national libraries are also in the vanguard of developing new descriptive codes, such as RDA, that promise the means by which greater integration of library resources can be achieved. Perhaps because of problems of scale, the seamless delivery of information has rarely been achieved thus far, with the risk that national libraries will struggle to fulfil user expectations. Meanwhile they continue to acquire collections of manuscripts and archives of musicians and music-related bodies in the traditional manner.

Many also hold important collections that are either completely uncharted (such as the stage-music holdings of the National Szechenyi Library), or imperfectly catalogued. The upgrading of legacy records to modern standards must also remain an aspiration without significant injections of resources and cataloguing manpower, to a level which is way beyond the reach of most institutions. The volume of material in all formats being acquired and deposited on a daily basis, coupled with the extent to which the antiquarian market still provides welcome opportunities to fill gaps in existing collections, often provides a considerable challenge in its own right. The timing of significant acquisitions is usually difficult to predict, so that even the best laid plans to keep on top of the processing backlog can prove impossible to fulfil. Incremental progress can be made, however, with external funding and appropriate collaboration: the Early Music Online project at the British Library, for example, has produced detailed descriptions of 300 printed Renaissance part books in that institution's collections, in partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London.

The online environment also encourages greater connectedness between national libraries and other repositories of physical collections and information providers, nationally and internationally, thereby offering greater potential for cross-sectoral collaboration. Thus Library and Archives Canada is seeking to promote and develop a model of shared responsibility for preserving Canada's heritage. A notable example of an initiative that underpins such activity is Music Australia, an online portal developed by the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive, which provides integrated access to musical content derived from libraries, archives, museums, the academic sector and other music services. Likewise in Ireland, the foundation is being laid for an online National Archive of Irish Composers. Digitization as a tool not only to promote access but also to preserve the national musical heritage underpins many of these projects, perhaps especially with sound recordings, where digitization effectively rescues the musical content from obsolete and fragile formats. The storage and preservation of digital content itself, however, is an area in which technical development and financial models collide: there are currently no easy answers to the question of how the exponential expansion of digital content will be managed to ensure preservation in perpetuity.

This issue and many others addressed in these pages are not, of course, exclusive to national libraries, but are shared by libraries everywhere. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that many national libraries collaborate extensively with libraries in different sectors, seek partnerships with universities, and play a leading role in national and international bibliographical projects. There is, however, little sign so far that national libraries have found ways to collaborate extensively with each other, at least not in the musical field, even if professional contacts between staff in different institutions are routine and often productive. Perhaps this, in part, reflects the special position that national libraries have traditionally held within the cultural life of different nations: at a socio-political level they may be thought to embody a sense of national identity, the notion that a country's heritage and intellectual achievement is preserved behind the walls of the library. In other words, the primary focus is traditionally connected with concepts of nationhood rather than international engagement, although once again more recent developments have seen national libraries entering into the arena of cultural diplomacy. The British Library, for example, has entered into relationships with the national libraries of Iraq and China in recent years. Music can be a powerful ingredient here, in the sense that national music collections are typically international in scope, reflecting the potential of music to cross boundaries and to touch people regardless of language and national identity. The prospects for collaboration between music departments in national libraries are therefore good and IAML already acts as a channel through which common issues can be explored. In exploring some of the challenges facing national libraries today, this issue of Fontes Artis Musicae provides many examples of activities and projects that would benefit from closer coordination and further development. The challenge for these institutions now is to build on the best of these initiatives and to take the lead in realizing the potential for international solutions to universal problems associated with access to music materials and their documentation and preservation in the digital era.

Rupert Ridgewell (1)

(1.) Rupert Ridgewell is Curator (Printed Music) at the British Library.
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Author:Ridgewell, Rupert
Publication:Fontes Artis Musicae
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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