Ghosts of Borrowers Past: Music from Stationers Hall

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In the early days of copyright, Stationers' Hall in London listed copyright books and music, and legal deposit copies were sent initially to nine and later eleven libraries. The Scottish libraries got less, because they had more of a struggle getting it sent to them. However, the University of St Andrews decided to request as much legal deposit material as possible, so that they could select from it once it reached the library. Moreover, sheet music music was comparatively cheap and plentiful, compared to the valuable and serious tomes that the libraries most coveted and the publishers most resented handing over. St Andrews received quite a lot of sheet music, and bound it in over 400 big volumes. I’ve been looking at the historic copyright music at St Andrews University Library Special Collections: most of the material dates from the 1780s (when case-law established that music deserved copyright protection) to 1836, when legal deposit arrangements changed. Less than two-thirds of it has been catalogued online.
Talk given at Collections within the Collection: Book History Research Network study day, 10th June 2016
The collection was described in an article predating the era of grant-funded retrospective online cataloguing, but it deserved a closer look. I’ve been examining archival and digital resources to discover what the University really thought of their music collection, and who used it. Although the evidence initially seems scanty, a surprising amount can be learned about the use of this very niche collection, what the professors borrowed (and for whom), and their efforts to organise it. However, the more we learn about this material, the more we are led to ask bigger questions: taken as a whole, what really happened to the Stationers’ Hall legal deposit music? Different libraries took differing views. This isn’t their story, but it may be the introductory chapter, and maybe a combination of networking and big data might be the answer.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 10 Jun 2016
EventCollections within the Collection: Book History Research Network Workshop - University College London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Jun 201610 Jul 2016


ConferenceCollections within the Collection
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom