Criteria for Selection and classification in the BBC Gramophone Library (Derek Lewis)

The BBC Gramophone Library concerns itself with the entire output of the commercial record industry - we exist to serve the needs of all BBC production departments wherever they may be situated, and so it inevitably follows that our holdings must span the entire range of material produced. As a matter of interest it is estimated that some 4,000 records per week are loaned from the central record library and at any given moment we expect to have 16,000 records out on loan (give or take a hundred or two!). This inevitably causes considerable problems with stock control, and although computerisation is imminent, for the present we continue with our manual system. However, this is not intended as a piece about the overall working methods, more specifically how the BBC Gramophone Library deals with the vast morass of material broadly classified as “popular” or, as Leslie Wilson may prefer to call it, “light” music.

In this category we acquire each month approximately 250 “singles”. This is not the entire output of the British record industry by any means considering the amount of material being issued; especially by the small independent companies, and in taking this limited number we are exercising a natural selection policy. Part of the problem arises from finding out just what the smaller companies are releasing. We ensure that we always have the current Top 70 and by using staff “know how” hope to acquire the best of the up and coming groups or soloists as well. A close eye is also kept on what is actually broadcast - for many of the programmes on the BBC “popular” channel, Radio 1, use demonstration or promotion copies - and the library endeavours to see that if such a record is played copies are also acquired for library stock.

Of course this system is not infallible. A future generation of producers may well criticise us for not having spotted a particular record, recognised its merits and got it for the library. But it must be admitted that the present rather haphazard way in which records are marketed, sometimes only available for a few weeks in a small number of copies goes counter to the requirements of the well-run library.

However, with “singles” the library prefers to have examples of current pop trends in Europe, as the Industry still maintains a somewhat insular attitude, and very few non-British language records ever seem to circulate widely in the UK. An obvious example here would be the entrants for the annual Eurovision Song Contest, and every so often the library stocks up on the number one product. Many of these recordings are reflected in a BBC programme presented in conjunction with other European countries called “Pop over Europe”.

The same goes for LPs: in the “popular” category, the total acquired per month - and this covers the single title, not extra stock - is around 450 per month. Many of these are imported albums, either direct from the country of origin or through one of the many import outlets in London, and they will account for the major input of jazz and country and western from the USA as well as a bit of “new wave” groups from Europe.