Public Libraries Discussion Session on Digital Provision


Earlier in the year IAML (UK & Irl) hosted a discussion session on music-related digital provision in public libraries. We were delighted to welcome twenty-one attendees from a variety of sectors, including representation from eight public libraries. Running the session on Zoom was also a great opportunity to receive input from a number of our retired colleagues who brought useful insights on the changing state of play over several decades. 


Prior to the session, some information was gathered from participants to help shape the context. It became apparent that where responsibility lay for purchasing decisions in the field of music e-resources varied internally: ranging from subject specialists, general stock managers, enquiries departments and digital managers all the way up to senior/strategic managers.  

Out of a small sample size of ten public libraries, eight subscribed to the Naxos Music Library, four to Oxford Music Online, two to Proquest Music Periodicals Database and one each to the Naxos Video Library and Medici TV. Additionally, music-related content was included within wider-ranging packages that libraries subscribed to such as e-magazines in RBdigital or PressReader, e-books in various e-book packages, e-scores within cloudLibrary and music reference content in Credo Reference.

A number of participants said they had limited awareness of what music related digital resources were available for public libraries to subscribe to, and cited this as one of their primary drivers for attending the session. Others already had a clear wishlist, but various barriers (often cost) precluded subscription. It was particularly noted that the number of libraries subscribing to Grove Online has reduced over time. This was mainly owing to budget cuts resulting in lesser-used resources being axed.

It was quite surprising to hear that on the whole it was felt that the pandemic hadn’t resulted in an increased demand for digital scores. Participants reported that during the first lockdown, when libraries were entirely closed, groups were cancelling their performances and generally not rehearsing. In subsequent lockdowns libraries were able to offer a click and collect service, or operate via mail order, which meant they were still able to get scores to customers. None of the participants reported that customers had requested scores in digital format when they had no access to physical copies.

Participants weren’t aware of which body was responsible for negotiating centralized deals on behalf of public libraries, but passed some potential contacts within Libraries Connected (the body formerly known as the Society of Chief Librarians).

The IAML (UK & Irl) Trade & Copyright Committee subsequently followed up the Libraries Connected suggestions and also established contact with the other agencies representing public libraries in the UK and Ireland. It was ascertaining that there is currently no centrally negotiated or offered e-resource provision for public libraries in the UK. A small number of resources are offered centrally in Ireland, but none of these are music-related.

Next steps

The Trade & Copyright Committee is currently compiling a document listing which music-related digital resources are currently available for public libraries to subscribe to and providing basic information on scope and subscription models. This will be shared with the music library community and views sought on a) whether there are any resources that are only currently available to academic libraries which there is an appetite for in public libraries; and b) which providers it would be useful to enter into dialogue with in the hope of being able to investigate the potential for reducing subscription costs and/or providing more flexible subscription models in order that more public libraries can benefit from access.

Claire Kidwell
Chair, IAML (UK & Irl) Trade and Copyright Committee