The Cinderella of Stationers’ Hall: music (and metadata) in Georgian legal deposit libraries

Research output: Contributions to books, editions, reports or conference proceedingsConference contributionpeer-review



A visit to see the University of St Andrews’ Copyright Music collection led to Karen McAulay undertaking research into the history and contents of several hundred bound volumes of music. They’re intriguingly supported by contemporary Georgian and Victorian borrowing records, allowing us to see exactly who borrowed what, and when. We can piece together some details about how exactly the materials were borrowed, and the archives even hold a handwritten catalogue dating from 1826, which would have shown borrowers what was bound into the individual volumes.
However, since St Andrews was only one of a number of legal deposit libraries in this era, this raised the question as to what the others did with the music they were entitled to. An AHRC grant enabled Karen to pursue this further by founding the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network.
Modern catalogues became a prime research tool, enabling the network to explore what survives to the present day. However, it soon became apparent that not all libraries retained – or even claimed – music that was registered at Stationers’ Hall. Moreover, it has recently come to light that when music was added to stock, or when cataloguing took place, some interesting decisions were made by our Georgian and Victorian predecessors. Furthermore, early 21st century funding for retrospective online cataloguing failed to cover all the surviving music.
Inspired by a British Library big data project looking at British music published over the centuries, Karen had aspirations for a big data analysis of surviving legal deposit music, but the incomplete availability of automated catalogue records means that this ambition is currently not feasible, although cataloguing is still being updated, and the time may come when such a project can be revisited.
In the meantime, Karen’s research demonstrates the value of library cataloguing metadata not only in enabling readers to trace particular publications, but also for exploring a large corpus of music that was originally accepted by libraries almost as a by-product, of considerably less importance than the learned tomes which the universities were keen to claim for their students and professors’ use. You could say that Cinderella has at last made it to the ball!


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCatalogue and Index
PublisherChartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Metadata and Discovery Group
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 20 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameCatalogue and Index
ISSN (Electronic)0008-7629