Current Stock of BBC Popular Music Library

The BBC Popular Music Library is one of the largest of its kind in the world and has a system just like the one described. The library has well over a quarter of a million pieces of sheet music in a collection which has been built up since before the 2nd World War. The stock held by the library covers many forms: arrangements and orchestrations (there is a distinct difference) and which can be found in manuscript and printed form; song copies, vocal scores of musicals, operettas, and musical films; song albums featuring the collections of popular singers; bands, musical styles, or musical periods; instrumental pieces existing as solos or collections and a small collection of reference books. As you can see the cataloguing possibilities are almost endless and will present a myriad of problems. Arrangements and orchestrations alone arrive in many forms dependent on the size and style of band and orchestra. The BBC Popular Music Library systems are in fact tailor made, do not correspond with formal library cataloguing schemes and have in the past caused deep shock to visiting library students who have come to inspect us as part of their studies.

In addition to the previously mentioned stock, there is an extensive file collection which again has been tailor made over the years, catalogued in its own way and covering many aspects of the popular music field in an analytical way. Some examples of the subjects found in this collection and the ways in which they are put to use in programme making may clarify the points at issue. The file collection, incidentally, has been built almost entirely from newspaper and magazine cuttings taken from the fifteen or more periodicals received by the Popular Music Library each week over a period many years.

a) Biographies
There is an extensive biographic collection covering many personalities in the popular music field, ranging from musical actors to conductors, from singers to jazz musicians. These collections cover every kind of personality to be found in this sphere of musical activity.

b) Obituaries
The obituaries cover the same area as that of the biographies and are invaluable for determining the age of personalities when creating a programme about them. One is often asked how the radio networks manage to broadcast a complete programme on somebody immediately after they have died, having very little time to prepare it. The answer is that the basis of the programme was prepared before they died. There is a researcher employed in preparing programmes on eminent people who are approaching old age and these programmes are filed waiting for the inevitable to happen. Naturally the people in question are not told about this!

c) Musical and film reviews
These are culled from the various periodicals, which are taken by the library; however it is quite difficult to get satisfactory reviews of shows. Many of these are written in a flippant, uninformative manner even in the most serious of papers and contain little or no information on the item in question. Probably the best publication of all is the American trade paper “Variety”. Unfortunately, it does not cover the shows in Great Britain and Europe to any great extent; and London does appear to be one of the two great centres of theatrical activity, the other being New York. These files are subdivided to cover American and British productions and can also be found by year of premiere.

d) Analytical
This file collection divides songs by their subject matter. For example songs will be listed covering drinking or eating, songs about World War I or II, songs about horses or other animals, songs about London, about New York etc., songs about girls’ or boys’ names, songs about motoring or sailing; the list is endless. These files are invaluable when a producer wishes to build a programme with a specialist subject as its theme. Educational broadcasting is a good customer when it comes to this type of subject matter.

e) Song Histories
In certain circumstances the histories of the better-known standard songs are kept on file. Details list by whom they were written and when, what they were written for, perhaps a film theme or radio show, who sang them and so on. This kind of information is used for notes for a presenter to have something to say about the items in a specific programme.

There are other more obscure files in addition to those mentioned but this is a sample of the most widely used files.