I grew up in the seaside resort town of Bournemouth. In general, I
didn’t use the local library service nearly enough; I was fortunate to
have access to lots of books at home and in well-stocked school
libraries. But there was one resource for which the public library was
Bournemouth Library has a wonderful music collection, of which audio
and video recordings are only one part. Its collection of scores and
miniature scores is remarkably comprehensive; I never came away without
the symphony or concerto or opera I wanted; there are shelves upon
shelves of books of popular songs and a full index to their contents at
the level of individual songs; there is sheet music for any and every
type of ensemble; and my A-level dissertation on Chopin was researched
entirely from its books about the history and theory of music.
Wandering around that library I felt that anything was possible, and
even allowing for nostalgia and youthful idealism, I wasn’t wrong.
There are specialist resources that people just can’t afford to buy
every time they need them: a music student can want more scores in a
week than you could possibly believe. The music library was, and I hope
still is, a thriving, living collection managed by experienced and
knowledgeable music librarians. Some might say that classical music (the
concern of much, though not nearly all of the music library’s stock) is
an elitist pursuit, and this prevailing attitude makes me fear for the
future of specialist music collections in libraries facing tough times.
If such specialist resources are lost, music really will become an
elitist pursuit: only the elite will be able to afford the resources.