As an area of research and study, music has special requirements. Musical terminology and language are an obvious example of this special nature but there are intrinsic differences as well. For instance, the need to share information that is frequently ‘auditory’ rather than visual has its own problems and requires a ‘shared experience’ on the part of the requestor and the librarian (for instance, ‘do you know this piece of music’ can only be answered by someone who shares the ‘experience’ of hearing and recognising the music being hummed, whistled or played).

Librarians (including music librarians) aim to provide a quality service for their clients. This means providing a service that is efficient (providing materials in a timely manner) and effective (providing the right materials to meet the needs of the client). Such a service is cost-effective in that it provides the material that is wanted without either waste or delay. Without shared knowledge and experience, however, the generalist librarian will be at a disadvantage because the terminology is unfamiliar and difficult to ‘pick up’ quickly. With some subjects it is possible for a librarian to pick up a reference book and relatively quickly get a basic understanding of what the enquirer is after. This is less easily achieved in the area of music

Music libraries exist to provide client access to music and music related resources in all their varied formats. Music librarians are able to deliver this quality service because they have the requisite education, knowledge, and experience.


Music plays an important part in the lives of people of all ages. It can have symbolic significance for nation-states and regions, can be a source of deep emotional experience for the individual, or can be an expression of life-style, image and social belonging.1

It can seem that the role of music, as expressed above, is not always valued when it comes to decisions about music libraries for the following reasons:

  1. Music librarians have the expertise to deliver the best quality music library services to clients. The trend towards replacing specialist music libraries within generalist collections in universities and other research organisations, and in public and state libraries, usually means the “generalization” of the music specialist librarians, who are required to abandon their music focus and work with all subject areas equally. This compromises the quality of service provided to music specialist clients.
  2. Music librarians can promote use of collections that is both strategic and focused to their specialist clients. However, when music is part of a larger library, all marketing and promotion is undertaken, usually along strict guidelines of uniformity, by large departments responsible for marketing the whole library.
  3. Training and professional development for music librarians is currently not available in any systematic or recognised way. IAML Australia a professional association for music librarians does provide an introductory workshop at its annual conference called “Getting to know the score”.
  4. Funding tends to be only adequate for staffing and collection maintenance/replacement. There is very limited growth in music libraries – which are often, in fact, declining.
  5. Technological developments have seen a rapid rise in the number of formats and file types for musical resources which can be expensive to keep up with. While the Internet provides a great deal of material of great interest, there are research tools and reference materials that are not available online and music research in some areas can rely heavily on unique or rare materials. Where materials are available electronically, issues of ongoing ownership are of concern in music – as they are in all reference collections.
  6. Libraries are redefining themselves and their spaces, to continue to be relevant and attract new clients. As a result of this Libraries are moving towards a digitally preferred resourcing strategy for collections to improve access for clients and return on investment for funders. However music publishers have been slow to embrace digital technologies to deliver content resulting in a widening gap between the needs of modern libraries and tech savvy musicians.
  7. Music copyright issues continue to be a concern especially in the digital environment. Staying up to date with copyright requires ongoing training and development for staff involved to know how to appropriately respond to requests from clients who are seeking to use music in ever more diverse ways.



  1. Music is a ‘special’ subject.
  2. Music has cultural, aesthetic or therapeutic roles in many disciplines (including dance, film etc)
  3. Music information has ‘special’ characteristics.
  4. Music librarians understand the terminology and organization of music and music resources.
  5. Music librarians are ‘involved’ in their subject.
  6. Music librarians frequently have musical networks as performing musicians themselves.
  7. Music librarians are expert knowledge workers.
  8. Music librarians have extensive knowledge of specialised bibliographic, electronic, and audio-visual resources.
  9. Music librarians have access to professional networks, such as IAML Australia and IAML (International)
  10. Music libraries use emerging technologies to develop and foster cooperation.
  11. Music library clients value their librarians and clients appreciate the fact that they share experience and values with their librarians.


  1. Music librarians (and libraries) are distant from one another in Australia reducing the opportunity for cooperation and sharing of resources.
  2. Music librarians and technicians have few training opportunities. There is no specific training for music librarians and technicians in universities and TAFE colleges, and minimal opportunity for in-service training.
  3. Lack of general public access to music libraries limits appreciation of their value.
  4. Copyright issues (often multiple) are problematic, often discouraging music library use: There needs to be stronger copyright education for the public in and outside libraries by government agencies.
  5. Library funding across Australia is limited and they are always being asked to do more with less. Music Libraries are not immune from these economic pressures.
  6. Libraries are moving to a digitally preferred resource strategy and for music libraries this has consequences as music publishers have been slow to embrace digital technologies and therefore do not offer flexible delivery or use of content; instead they continue to rely on selling of print scores.
  7. Modern composers who cannot gain publishing contracts instead now by-pass traditional publishers and sell scores directly to the consumer via electronic download. Though this can be a benefit for Libraries, typically it is a problem area as ill-defined or non-existent licensing terms and conditions prevent Libraries from purchase, storing, reusing and sharing this content.


  1. Digitization offers opportunities for improved access to rare and fragile collections important to Australia.
  2. Use of social media channels offer improved opportunities for promotion of music libraries and their events
  3. Music librarians by being actively involved in professional associations such as IAML Australia can develop networks and relationships to create opportunities for themselves and their libraries for sharing metadata and resources.
  4. Music librarians can increase and promote their services and the special collections that they oversee to promote opportunities for academic research.
  5. Music librarians through professional associations like IAML Australia can raise the awareness and importance of music libraries at the institutional, national and international levels.
  6. ISMN (International Standard Music Number) Agency (located in the National Library’s Music Acquisitions & Cataloguing Unit) is a way of engaging with music publishers (usually self-publishing composers) and encouraging them to deposit their works. The ISMN enables users easily to find the particular piece of music they want.
  7. Extension of the Copyright Act (1968) to cover the legal deposit of born digital resources has meant an increase in new composers depositing their works through the NLA e-deposit portal. This will be extended to the other NSLA libraries via the NDDN (National Digital Deposit Network) which is being developed at the moment. Digital objects coming in this way have a checksum run at point of ingestion and it is regularly checked for corruption. The depositor assigns access levels (open, open after an embargo or restricted under terms of the copyright act).


  1. Centralization of library services such as acquisitions and cataloguing as a cost saving measure is resulting in a reduction in music specialists who previously directly supported the development and maintenance of music collections.
  2. Generalist lower tiered library staff providing reference services in a triage model to clients is now an industry norm. As a result it lowers the ownership, opportunities and skills of the reference staff, reduces access to music information specialists and puts further barriers in front of clients wanting to access library services.
  3. There is a perceived lack of relevance and priority by institutional management and government for the development and maintenance of libraries (especially music libraries) as centres of excellence. Funding for Libraries continues to be a major industry issue, always being asked to do more with less and restructures frequent.
  4. Music department shutdowns and mergers continue and can signal to powerbrokers that music education is not worth supporting.
  5. The Internet is often touted as a replacement for libraries but it cannot and does not provide the efficiency to support scholarship.
  6. Digitization projects are creating expectations that cannot be met, and are reinforcing views that hard-copy and redundant formats need not be kept.
  7. Preservation and access into the future of digital scores and other materials other than those coming in via the NDDN.
  8. Tendency of composers of film music, hip-hop and similar and Indigenous composers not to write down their works affects what is available for libraries to collect in the future. [Results of surveys carried out by NLA into these areas]


International Association of Music Libraries (Australia) Executive and Members – Submitted October 31, 2017


  1. Stalhammar, B. (2004). Music–their lives: The experience of music and view of music of a number of Swedish and English young people. Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education. 3(2), 31. Retrieved from↩︎

IAML Australia is the national branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Document Centres.

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