“Wave Goodbye” – Conservatoire Library Stories Part 4

The Birmingham Conservatoire Library closes its doors for the last time on Friday 9th June 2017.

Today we continue with the history of the library.

1950s onwards

The library continued to grow, with plenty of donations and purchases over the years, as well as some disputes over the ownership of various valuable works discovered in the basement!

In 1955, the Committee was asked for advice on the running of the gramophone section of the Library at Margaret Street, particularly recommendations for purchasing new records. After investigation it was found that the Margaret Street librarian was doing a very efficient job already, and the library was already moving to purchase better-quality LP records. It was considered whether the gramophone library should merge with the music library, but for practical reasons this idea was postponed. In 1957, this decision was questioned by the new Principal, who thought the library at Margaret Street would benefit music students. As well as recommending that music students be able to use Margaret Street library, which they would later be allowed to do, he also wanted to transfer some of the stock to the music library and enlarge the space to accommodate both this and a new reading room. Books that were transferred between the two buildings were labelled as such and interfiled. In 1958 four very rare orchestral works were discovered at Margaret Street, bound into one volume and miscatalogued. They were separated and sold on, after the Birmingham Public Library scanned them and retained the negatives for their collection.

In 1956, it was reported that many of the orchestral works, now dating back to the 1920s, were beginning to disintegrate. A method of heatsealing the works was investigated, but a final decision was made to purchase plastic folders instead. Also agreed for purchase that year was a specialist gramophone record player, which was to be installed by a technical expert at a cost of £100!

The 1960s began with a change to the Margaret Street arrangements. Rather than individual students paying £1/year to use the library, the Birmingham School of Music (BSM) payed an annual subscription of 10 guineas. The Principal, Gordon Clinton, also wrote a paper on the future of the relationship between the BSM and the Birmingham Midland Institute (BMI) where it was housed asserting that the music library should merge with the BMI library, as long as the School Librarian remain in control of the music.

Big changes happened in the early 1960s, with the BSM gaining independence from the BMI in 1963. It was housed in temporary premises from 1965, however the offer made from the LEA for the library was not considered adequate. Instead, the BMI loaned textbooks and orchestral items to the BSM, pending a revised offer. The situation was poor for music students, who were unable to borrow from the BMI library, and therefore struggled to access the parts they required. Negotiations continued, and concerns were raised that whilst certain items were in storage, they were beginning to deteriorate. A few years after the split, the BSM purchased the library, minus some of the valuable works, for £2500 and this was moved to Dale End in 1966.

In 1970, the BSM became part of Birmingham Polytechnic, although it retained its Conservatoire status.

Our history of the Conservatoire Library continues in two weeks.

Our thanks to John Smith who provided the above information via extracts from the School of Music Committee notes and Fanfare Magazine.

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