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Treasures of the Musical World

Oberlin's collection of recordings and scores includes Stravinsky's manuscript of Threni (bottom right), a page from a medieval antiphonal (bottom), and sheet music from Tin Pan Alley (left).

The Conservatory Library was established in 1865—nearly a century before its move to the Conservatory’s current facility. It has since undergone two transformations: a new wing in 1998 and an expansion/renovation in 2000. With its collection of 63,000 sound recordings, 104,000 musical scores, 53,000 books, and 210 periodical titles—the library is among the largest academic music libraries in the United States.

Music library … the name itself suggests an oxy-moron. Libraries are traditionally considered temples of silence, so it seems they would not celebrate sound. Yet sound, or more specifically, music, is the focus of the Conservatory Library, and it is found here in all shapes and substance.

The library’s collection includes a substantial foundation of Western art music from all historical periods, complete editions of the works of major composers, and an ever-increasing number of volumes about women musicians and American, ethnic, contemporary, jazz, folk, and popular music. Ultimately, the Conservatory Library’s collection is assembled to support the curricula of the Conservatory, as well as the performing and research needs of faculty members and students.

The study of music requires the exploration of multiple media, and the Conservatory Library supports this endeavor. Performing musicians, for example, listen to multiple renderings of a work before formulating their own interpretations. Conductors observe various performances of a work but continue to study scores to gain a personal understanding of orchestration, melodic design, rhythmic patterns, and phrasing.

Music educators must keep abreast of trends in schools and colleges, and thus depend on journals and magazines. Music historians do not rely on a single manifestation of the printed score for their study, but require multiple editions of a work—performing editions, scholarly editions, or facsimiles—to compare publication patterns or varying approaches to a work.

To sustain these needs, the Conservatory Library collects books, musical scores, and journals and periodicals, yet also another format unique to the library system: sound recordings. Although we still maintain collections of albums and videotapes, CDs and DVDs are the preferred formats today. Turntables and tape recorders are available in the library alongside CD and DVD players.

More recent additions to our audio landscape have developed in the digital world; students can use electronic reserve (ERes) for their required listening assignments, and we now subscribe to a digital sound streaming service, the Naxos Music Library, which enables the whole college community to listen to music delivered via the campus network.

Important Conservatory Library materials also reside in the Department of Special Collections. In addition to the Violin Society of America/H.K. Goodkind Collection mentioned earlier, notable holdings include a holograph score of Igor Stravinsky’s Threni (Lamentations of Jeremiah), given by the composer in 1964 during an Oberlin residency, and the C.W. Best Collection of Autographs, donated by an 1890 alumnus of the Conservatory, which contains letters and photographs of composers such as Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, and Hector Berlioz.