Music Libraries | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music Libraries

IntroductionMusic libraries are organized collections of scores, recordings, and literature about music and such materials as clippings, concert programs, posters, or films. Many also own archival materials (see Archives).

Music Libraries

Music libraries are organized collections of scores, recordings, and literature about music and such materials as clippings, concert programs, posters, or films. Many also own archival materials (see Archives). Music libraries serve such different patrons as performers, scholars, students, broadcast organizers, and the music-loving public at large. Corresponding to the special needs of each group, choral, orchestral, academic, broadcasting, public, and other libraries have assumed specific, though often overlapping, functions.

Surveys conducted by the Canadian Library Assn's Music Libraries Committee in 1956, by the CMLA in 1965, and by the National Library of Canada 1978-9 show that resources increased considerably during the 1960s and 1970s but that distribution across Canada is uneven, corresponding in general to the wealth of each province. Toronto has the largest public and university library music collections; but the city's concentration of resources in five major collections (at the Metropolitan Toronto Library, the University of Toronto, the CBC, the Canadian Music Centre, and York University) stands in marked contrast to the multiplicity of collections in Montreal (at the BN du Q, CAMMAC, the CBC, the CMCentre, the CMM, the École Vincent-d'Indy, McGill University, the Montreal City Library, the University of Montreal, and others). Quebec City has the oldest collections. The combination of public, college, and university resources (all three usually accessible to the general public) provides good services in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Victoria.

Historical Notes

A detailed history of music libraries in Canada had not been written by 1990. Such a history would confirm, no doubt, that the first music volumes were part of the collections of religious orders and churches of New France. At Laval University, imported early-18th-century publications of motets and cantatas by Nicholas Bernier, André Campra, Jean-Baptiste Morin, and their contemporaries have survived. The Monastère des Ursulines, the Monastère des Augustines de l'Hôpital Général, and the Hôtel-Dieu, all in Quebec City, have preserved printed or manuscript church music used by the clergy of New France.

There is some evidence as well of privately owned music volumes in the earliest period of colonization. Jean Nicollet (ca 1598-1642), an explorer, administrator, and interpreter who settled in Trois-Rivières in 1637, is known to have had two music books in his library of 30 volumes. The intendant Claude-Thomas Dupuy, in Canada 1726-8, had a library of some 50 music volumes, including many Lully operas, but that collection returned to France with its owner.

Late-18th-century newspapers occasionally advertised imported sheet music. This trade - from England and the USA - helped music lovers and musicians to build collections, supplemented by their own manuscript books. Throughout the 19th century private music libraries and the collections of choral and instrumental parts of the many church choirs, bands, and philharmonic societies remained the main repositories of printed music and literature about music. Undoubtedly university and public libraries had some music, but only rarely was it collected systematically. The subscription list to the complete Bach edition (Breitkopf & Härtel 1851-99) has only one Canadian name, Samuel Prowse Warren, a concert organist who found fame after settling in the USA.

The main 18th- and 19th-century collection to have survived is the body of orchestral and chamber music parts and other sheet music successively added to by Frederic and Édouard Glackemeyer, Jonathan Sewell, the Quebec Harmonic Society of the 1820s, the Desbaratsand Sheppard families, the Septett Club, the Septuor Haydn, and others and preserved at Laval University and the Séminaire de Québec. The earliest volumes prove through written indications that Mozart quintets and Haydn quartets were performed in Canada in the 1790s.

Alfred Paré, violinist and a president of the Septuor Haydn, is the first Canadian known to have been a part-time music librarian. The group's minute book reveals in its 11 May 1874 entry that Paré had compiled a catalogue of the library and that it was ready to be printed. As the septuor's librarian, Paré made a public appeal in 1878 for donations for a 'Bibliothèque nationale de musique du Canada,' to add to the $2000-worth of music housed at Laval University.

It is reasonable to assume that other societies had valuable collections; and indeed fragmentary collections, eg, that of the Ottawa Amateur Orchestral Society later deposited at the NL of C, have come to light. But most of the old collections may be assumed to have been scattered or destroyed.

Some of the conservatories that sprang up in the 1880s and 1890s had small libraries to encourage students and staff to explore musical literature and to broaden their sight-reading skills, but more often than not such collections consisted of a bookcase in the director's office, not of an organized unit.

About the turn of the century public libraries began to take music seriously, and those in Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa, among others, soon had respectable collections to serve the layman. University collections remained small since courses concentrating on theory rather than musicology required little in the way of library materials and most professors were performers rather than research scholars.

As late as 1956, when the first survey of music libraries was undertaken, holdings of more than 5000 items (combining the figures for scores, books, and recordings) were reported only by the public libraries in Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto (more than twice as large as any of the others), Windsor, and Winnipeg. (Vancouver, had it reported, probably would have been included.) The largest educational institution with a collection of more than 5000 items, the RCMT, had only about one-third as many items as the Toronto Public Library; the other academic institutions with more than 5000 items were Laval University, McGill University, Mount Allison University, and Regina College. There were two libraries, however, that surpassed the Toronto Public Library in numbers of scores and recordings, although they had few books and periodicals: the CBC music and record libraries in Montreal and Toronto.

Shortly after the survey was made, music libraries entered a period of dramatic growth, owing mainly to the 'LP explosion' and the vast expansion of academic music programs. By 1979 some 75 music libraries in Canada had holdings of more than 5000 items, and of these some 30 held more than 20,000 items.

Public Libraries

Canadian public libraries generally are well-equipped, provide efficient service, and offer generous loan policies (including interlibrary loan). Free service dates back to the Ontario Free Libraries Act of 1882. Among the earliest music collections was that of the Toronto Public Library (now in the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library). In 1915 it issued a list of 828 circulating 'books of music and relating to music,' and until the mid-1950s it remained the largest music library in Canada, to be surpassed eventually by the CBC libraries and by the University of Toronto and several other university libraries.

In the 1980s many libraries, including some that had not previously collected sound recordings, were attracted by the durability of the cassette and the compact disc and began to replace their vinyl collections with these new formats. Several libraries that replied to the survey indicated their intention to begin, or to considerably expand, their collection of CDs beginning in 1991. With the commercial availability of music videos many libraries began to add them to their collections. In 1988-9 recordings made up an average of 3 per cent of the collection of public libraries - a growth of 1 per cent over 1987-8 (Thomas Fitzpatrick, 'The book is still king,' Focus on Culture, vol 2, no. 4). While records can be appreciated by a far larger number of people, neglect of building scores collections on the part of so many libraries is a hindrance to active music-making and the survival of musical literacy. In 1990 only eleven libraries reported having collections of 500 scores or more. In some communities, however, the public can make use of local university and college collections. The interlibrary loan system also gives the public access to printed materials from across the country. Many public libraries collect concert programs, vertical file material, and other documentation of local musical life.

University Libraries

Until the 1950s university collections of music were negligible in size and importance, although they held more sets of collected editions and books in foreign languages than did the public libraries. In the 1960s, with the introduction of music history and literature as major subjects of study, with the engagement of musicologists as professors, and with the increasing availability of a vast literature on recordings, in new critical editions or in reprints, music libraries entered a period of spectacular expansion. Once inadequate and neglected, in a few years they became the nerve centres of academic music departments.

In all the collections the main ingredients are the basic literature of music and those more specialized publications that were available during the years of intensive collection-building. Most libraries have acquired some material on the second-hand market or through bequests from retired staff members or deceased musicians (see section 87).

Special holdings at each university are mentioned in the notes and archival collections are further described in the entry on Archives. One might note the almost complete representation of collected editions and monuments, and a fine collection of Brahms first editions, at the University of British Columbia; Wagneriana and books about music in Vienna at the University of Calgary; and significant collections of 18th-century opera at the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto. The last-named is rich in many other areas. It has, for instance, a large collection of 78s and a wealth of flute music. Laval University has notable collections of Catholic church music, of original editions of late-18th- and early-19th-century chamber music and orchestral parts, and of 18th- and 19th-century French music.

College And Conservatory Libraries

With the growth in the 1980's of community colleges in English Canada - particularly in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta - these institutions began to develop libraries relating to their music specialties (see also Community Colleges). Conservatory libraries, especially in Quebec, also contain valuable holdings particularly of performance material (see also Conservatoire de musique du Québec; see Nicole Boisclair, 'Les centres de documentation des conservatoires de musique au Québec,' Fontes Artis Musicae, vol 34, Oct-Dec 1987).

Performance Libraries

No point is served by providing tabulations of the holdings of libraries that have musical performance as their main purpose, so varied are the methods of classifying, filing, and counting.

Without doubt the broadcast libraries have the largest collections of scores and recordings, although they have few books. In 1987 the CBC Toronto library had over 25,000 sets, score and performing parts, of classical compositions and over 35,000 song sheets, albums, and dance band orchestrations. In 1987 the CBC Toronto Record Library had over 200,000 LPs with substantial numbers of 45s and a growing collection of CDs. The collection also includes arrangements of songs and light classics for broadcast use and over 500 concert works commissioned by the CBC. The CBC's Montreal library in 1991 had more than 375,000 recordings (including 60,000 78s and 42,000 CDs) and 77,694 sheet music titles (including 500 conductor's score titles, 2,238 miniature score titles, and 19,412 orchestral score titles). Regional collections, particularly of recorded sound, are maintained in Halifax, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Regina. Other stations have less substantial collections. The CBC libraries are essentially closed to the public except for legitimate research purposes, subject to local approval. Material from CBC library collections has been deposited at the NL of C and the program archives at the NA of C. (See Gordon Richardson, 'The music and record libraries of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,' Fontes Artis Musicae, vol 34, Oct-Dec 1987.)

The MuchMusic Library in Toronto has a collection of over 12,000 song videos as well as video tapes of concerts and interviews and vertical file material on Canadian and other musicians. This collection is for in-house use only and is not open to the public.

The CNIB library in Toronto has a collection of over 400 books (289 in braille, 91 talking books) and over 18,000 scores (in braille). They have published catalogues of their collection. (See 'Music library has noteworthy braille,' Feliciter, vol 32, Feb 1986.)

The most common type of music library, without doubt, is the choral library. There must be more than a thousand in Canada, in schools, churches, and the premises of choral societies. Band and orchestra libraries are next in number. Most of these collections, of course, serve only one ensemble, and the borrowing of rarely used or unique materials is made difficult by the lack of widely distributed catalogues.

Some Canadian orchestras also maintain collections of performance materials (see Pat Wardrop, 'If this is a library, where are the books?' Toronto Symphony, vol 38, Jan-Feb 1983). Most of these collections are not open to the public. The ACO/OFSO Resource Library in Toronto maintains a collection, in French and English, of books, information files, periodicals, videos, and other materials relating to all facets of the operation of an orchestra. Their Education Resource Centre has material on programming, education, and videos. The COC's Margo Sander Music Library collects books, scores, recordings, information files, and concert programs (see Christopher Morris, 'Behind the scenes: the COC's music library and archive,' COC Magazine, 20 Jun 1990). It is open to the public.

The CAMMAC library, established in 1959, made available to CAMMAC members a large selection of choral music, chamber music, and songs and a smaller one of orchestral music.

The CMCentre Library has a collection of over 10,000 scores by Canadian composers available for study and performance purposes at CMCentre offices across the country. They also collect material relating to Canadian composition and have performance cassettes available for listening. The Imperial Oil McPeek Pops Library makes available arrangements of popular music.

Recreational, ethnic, and amateur musicians' organizations and some music federations have maintained music libraries accessible to their members. Examples are the libraries of the Alliance chorale canadienne and the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre of Winnipeg, The St Vladimir Institute (Toronto), St Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Cultural Centre (Calgary), and the Vancouver Cello Club.


The largest holdings of musical Canadiana, folk music excepted, are those of the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, the Canadian Music Centres in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, and the CBC. In the 1980s the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec in Montreal was building a comprehensive collection of Laurentiana. The music division of the NL of C (with its large printed collection of non-Canadian publications intended mainly as a back-up resource for other libraries) has been developed in such a way that it complements, rather than duplicates, the function of the CMCentre. The CMCentre specializes in contemporary concert music, most of which is unpublished, while the NL of C specializes in contemporary published material and in retrospective material of all types and in all genres of music, as does the BN du Q in its more limited area.

Current Canadiana are acquired by many university and public libraries, but usually according to the same principles of selection applied to the music of other countries. Some libraries pay special attention to the published or recorded music of local area musicians.

Strange though it may seem, comprehensive collections of historical (ie, pre-1950) Canadiana generally are more recent in growth than those of current Canadiana. This is because librarians had little incentive to collect retrospectively as long as universities, private teachers, individual performers, and broadcasters showed little interest in Canada's musical past. Besides, much of the Canadian output of former times was trivial or ephemeral in nature, and contemporary librarians did not fathom the importance such materials might hold for future historians.

It is inexcusable, however, that no Canadian library acquired the scores of Lavallée, Forsyth, Harriss, or Lucas or the recordings of Albani, Donalda, Parlow, or the Hart House String Quartet at the time they were issued; that many music journals have been allowed to disappear save for odd copies or volumes; and that no complete run of Musical Canada, Le Passe-Temps, or the Canadian Music Trades Journal has been preserved in any library.

When interest in collecting historical Canadiana began after 1950, libraries had to acquire such material item by item from second-hand dealers, rummage sales, and private donors. The following list includes some of the more significant collections of historical and contemporary Canadiana (for manuscripts see Archives), with an indication of main specializations. The list is arranged by province from west to east, and alphabetically by city, within each province. Libraries outside of Canada which hold Canadiana materials are given at the end of the list.

Private Resources

No survey of private music collections has been conducted, but it may be said that the larger or more valuable collections are those of practising musicians rather than of bibliophiles.

Many private collections have been absorbed, after their owners' retirement or death, by public and university libraries. They include those of Claude Champagne (ANQ, Montréal), Lionel Daunais, Marthe Lapointe, and José Delaquerrière (BN du Q), Emil Cooper, Jean Deslauriers, Arthur Garami (CMM), Marguerite Pâquet (CMQ), Max Bohrer (Fraser-Hickson Institute, Montreal), Kenneth Sakos and Carlo Boehmer (Kitchener Public Library), J.J. Goulet and Irene Pavloska (McGill University), C.A.E. Harriss (McGill University and Ottawa Public Library), Lorne H. Russworm (Memorial U), H.A. Fricker and F.H. Torrington (Metro Toronto Music Library), Albert Duquesne (Montreal City Library), Mary Mellish Archibald (Mount Allison University), Glenn Gould, Quentin Maclean, Sir Ernest MacMillan and Heinz Unger (NL of C), Claude Champagne (University of Montreal), Arnold Walter, Herman Geiger-Torel, Mateusz Glinski, and Reginald H. Barrow (University of Toronto), Jean Chatillon (UQTR), and George B. Sippi (University of Western Ontario).

Collections of bibliophiles transferred to public institutions include those of R.S. Williams (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto), Walter Kunstler (McGill University, Montreal), and Philéas Gagnon - musical Canadiana a small but significant component (Montreal City Library).

Private collections accessible to the public include the William Vineer library of literature about organs, in Ottawa, and the Ralph Gustafson Piano Library of historical piano recordings, tapes of which are available from Bishop's University, Lennoxville, Que.

Historical sound-recording collections, such as Gustafson's, constitute probably the most significant type of private resource, since very few public institutions have preserved collections of 78-rpm discs and wax cylinders and few collect them retrospectively. The Sunwapata Collection at Grant MacEwan Community College contains some 15,000 78s. The Brock University Popular Music Archive and the Trent Institute for Studies in Popular Culture began collections of historical recordings in the 1980s. The major CBC libraries are private, as is MuchMusic's video collection, the University of Toronto and NL of C public collections.

Private individual collectors have been particularly active in such genres as jazz and pop music. Contact with collectors may be gained through several record collector clubs and through perusal of A Preliminary Directory of Sound Recording Collections in the U.S. and Canada. The 1989 ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) membership directory listed 38 individuals and institutions as Canadian members. It also indicated their specialty areas.

Training, Organizations, Projects

Until the early 1950s most music librarians were orchestra musicians who had 'drifted' into their jobs (eg, the CBC librarians and those of many orchestras) or general librarians with an interest in music. At that time several library schools began to provide lectures or courses on special libraries in which problems of music collections might be touched upon and musical topics might be assigned for student exercises. No special courses for music librarianship had been established by 199080, though occasional courses had been given at intervals and some were available on (sufficient) demand.

The first Canadian to hold degrees in both music (1952) and library science (1953) was Ogreta McNeill, then the head of the music collection of the Toronto Public Library and first president (1956-7) of CMLA.

CMLA, a section of the Canadian Library Association, was replaced in 1971 by CAML, a national branch of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. Many Canadians also have belonged to, and participated in the work of, the (US) Music Library Association.

Canadian librarians have taken part in projects sponsored or co-sponsored by the international association, including RIdIM (Répertoire International d'Iconographie Musicale; see Iconography), RILM (Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale; see Bibliography), and RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales; Canadian headquarters at the NL of C).

In 1952 RISM initiated a concerted attempt to locate and list each pre-1800 specimen of printed or handwritten music or musical literature held in a library or collection. Considering the lack of a Canadian tradition, it is not surprising that only some 2800 items had been located in Canada by 1987 - many of them mid-20th-century acquisitions - compared to tens of thousands in many European countries and the USA.

Among the earliest publications found in Canada were Johann Pfeyl's Missale Bambergense, 1499 (University of Toronto); Pontificale (Giunta), Venice 1520 (NL of C); Pontificale secundum rituum, 1542 (Laval University); and Zarlino's Istitutioni harmoniche, 1562 (Metro Toronto).

British Columbia

New Westminster
New Westminster Public Library. Documentation on local musical life

Vancouver Public Library. Sheet music, program files, picture files, information files, indexes

BC Archives and Records Services. Published music by British Columbia composers, programs, information files on musicians, musical societies, etc


Glenbow-Alberta Institute. Sheet music, programs, scrapbooks, primarily of western Canadian origin

Edmonton Public Library. Information files, documentation on local musical life


Regina Public Library. Sheet music, program files, information files

Saskatchewan Provincial Library. Books, scores, materials relating to Saskatchewan

Saskatoon Public Library. Sheet music, program files, information files


Manitoba Legislature Library. Legal deposit materials for Manitoba, information files relating to Manitoba


Guelph Public Library. Information files, documentation of local musical life

Hamilton Public Library. Volumes of music, sheet music, documentation of local musical life

Queen's University. Douglas Library, special collections. Sheet music, program files

Kingston Public Library. Documentation of local musical life

London Public Library. Sheet music, information files

National Library of Canada. Books, periodicals, printed scores, Canadiana and other sheet music, audio and video recordings, concert programs, photo and iconographic collections, information files, indexes (See also National Library of Canada and Archives.

Centre de la recherche en civilisation canadienne-française de l'Université d'Ottawa. Books, scores, periodicals, recordings

Peterborough Public Library. Information files, documentation on local musical life

Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society. Sheet music

Massey College, University of Toronto. Volumes of music, sheet music

Metropolitan Toronto Library. Periodicals, volumes of music, sheet music, program files, picture files, information files, documents of local musical life

Windsor Public Library. Sheet music, information files, documentation on local musical life, French language materials


Bibliothèque nationale du Québec. Books, scores, recordings (including 10,000 78s), sheet music, information files, concert programs, documentation of Quebec musical life, 5000 'dossiers de presse' on musical life 1940-80, 700 French operas and operettas

McGill University. Lande Collection and Music Library. Hymn and instruction books, sheet music

Montreal City Library. Books, periodicals, volumes of music, sheet music

University of Montreal. Periodicals, volumes of music, sheet music, program files, information files

UQAM. Books, scores, recordings, information files, documentation of local musical life

Quebec City
Laval University. Books, periodicals, volumes of music, sheet music, program files

Legislative Library. Periodicals, volumes of music

Sherbrooke Public Library. Documentation on local musical life

New Brunswick

Mount Allison University. Songbooks, volumes of music, sheet music, program files

Prince Edward Island

University of Prince Edward Island. Materials relating to Prince Edward Island

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Public Archives. Books, scores, special collection of music text books used in Nova Scotia, broadcast recordings, information files on Nova Scotian musicians


St John's
Provincial Reference Library. Information files, documentation on local musical life

Memorial U Library. Books, scores, recordings, information files, folklore, documentation on local musical life

Great Britain

British Library/National Sound Archive. Early copyright deposits, books, sheet music, scores, recordings

BBC Gramophone Library Recordings


Nashville, Tenn
Country Music Foundation Library and Media Centre. Sheet music, instruments, recordings, periodicals, information files

Providence, RI
Brown U. Sheet music of art songs

Washington, DC
Library of Congress. Periodicals, volumes of music, sheet music

Significant collections in private hands include those of Edward B. Moogk, London, Ont, of recordings (bequeathed to the NL of C in 1980), Alan Suddon, Toronto, and Dorothy H. Farquharson, Waterdown, Ont of sheet music.

Further Reading