Columbia University Libraries supports research and teaching related to the academic study and composition of music. The collecting of music materials began with the acquisition of books about music which were shelved with the main collections in South Hall (renamed Butler Library) in the 1930s. Two decades later, a separate Music Library was established adjacent to the Department of Music, and the collecting of scores began. Up until the early 1980s, the Libraries purchased only printed books and scores; sound recordings were provided by the Department of Music.  

Because of the importance of music in the Core Curriculum, which is “the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their choice in major,” as well as the presence of important  scholars and composers on the faculty, special collections with both printed and archival materials were also acquired. When the Music Library outgrew its space in the early 1950s, archival and the rarest materials were transferred to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and is known there as the music deposit collection. Several hundred early printed books and scores (cased collection) remain shelved in closed stacks in the Music & Arts Library. Relevant materials on music and religion are also located at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary; works related to art history and music can be found at Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; music in humanities and global studies literature can be found in Butler Library.

Acquisitions remain strong, with a comprehensive collection of literature about music as it is found throughout the world, music in score notation, music content in audio and video media, as well as a variety of digital databases, covering text, audio, and video content.

This document outlines the Libraries’ general policy on collections for music, but it is not intended to be a rigid set of rules; collection suggestions from students and faculty are welcome.

Degrees and courses in music are offered primarily through the Department of Music, which provides the library’s primary user group. The objective of the collection is to support research and teaching related to these courses offered by the department, as well as to support  courses with a music component in other departments. For example, the Center for Ethnicity & Race offers a course on Latin music and identity, while the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies offers a course on contemporary culture in the Arab world, with a music component. The Department of English and Comparative Literature offers a course on jazz and American culture, the Department of Philosophy offers philosophy of music, and the Department of Art History and Archaeology offers dance and the early modern artist.

Sound studies, a growing area of research in the music department, as well as the study of sound art--now an MFA degree offered through the School of the Arts--are both supported by the library.

The Libraries does not actively acquire performance materials used by students in the Music Performance Program, a division in the Department of Music.

a. Undergraduate    

Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree, as a major, minor, or concentration in the academic study of music from Columbia College (CC), the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), Barnard College (BC), and General Studies (GS). Also supported are students in the many Masterpieces in Western Music (Music Humanities) sections of the Department of Music with reserves, supplemental listening, and reference information for concert reports. It also supports the growing number of courses in the global core, such as Listening in Cross-Cultural Perspectives as well as Salsa, Soca, Reggae. Students from the Columbia-Barnard-Juilliard Joint Program, which offers the opportunity to earn a BA from Columbia or Barnard and an MM from Juilliard in five years, are also served by the Music & Arts Library.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools         

Programs leading to the degrees of PhD in Musicology (with a specialization in ethnomusicology, historical musicology, or music theory) or the DMA in Composition.  Selection requires a robust budget which supports the acquisition of major reference works, a strong print collection (the monograph serves as the major vehicle for disseminating ideas and activating scholarly communication and information exchange in this field), serial literature which best covers the intersections between music and social sciences, as well as the scientific aspects of music and mathematics and technology.  Also, music scores form an important part of the collections for graduate studies. Students in the professional schools show up from time to time for reference and literature consultations, or to borrow music; for example, Columbia Law School offers a course on law and the music industry and Columbia medical students launched a Music at Bedside Program in 2017.

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.     

The Centers for Ethnomusicology, Jazz Studies, and the Computer Music Center, formerly known as the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, are important users of the library’s collections. Other centers with relevant course offerings include the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Other arts and sciences departments with music intersections include English and comparative literature, art and archaeology, philosophy, Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies, and African American and African diaspora studies Department (formerly IRAAS). Institutes, including Medieval Japanese Studies and African Studies, offer music-related courses.

d. Course Reserves

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials, in all formats, absent from the collection.

a. Print    

Print collections continue to be a primary format for the study of music. These include textual literature on music, as well as music in score notation. For the literature and study of music, monographs and serials covering Western fine art music, as well as music in world cultures, the theory and philosophy of music, music in the social sciences, in performance, and the fine arts form are collected. Publications on non-Western music are equally represented. Because of the broad nature of the field, works in many Western and non-Western languages are collected. The importance of selectors from Global Studies in securing music materials (mostly on approval) from throughout the world cannot be overstated. Music-related materials in Western languages are acquired and housed with the Music & Arts Library collections while C.V. Starr East Asian Library acquires and processes vernacular materials.

Scores written in symbolic notation, printed in codex format, are essentially images similar to pages of mathematics or other images. They form a primary component of the printed collection. Published scores from Columbia composers, from the undergraduate level through the DMA program, are heavily collected. Generally, the library purchases scores for study purposes and they are acquired in a variety of formats, from oversize to small-format study scores. Individual instrumental parts for performance are acquired when necessary to purchase the score.

b. Digital Collections

The Music & Arts Library acquires published digital collections for textual, score, audio, and video materials. For texts, reference works in digital formats are in high demand by scholars and students at all levels, particularly Grove Music Online, Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG), and two databases published by RILM: Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale--one for full text and abstracts of music literature and a second for a collection of music encyclopedias. For digital book packages, the Cambridge Companions and Oxford Bibliographies are acquired. Music e-books in other humanities disciplines are also found in general packages, such as ACLS Humanities e-book and Ebsco e-book collections, while the very costly science e-book titles are picked up in the science packages, particularly for Springer and Elsevier titles.

Subscriptions to published databases with digital scores are very much in demand. Instrumental performers on all levels who have had to use print scores from a separate collection maintained by the music department through the Music Performance Program lobbied heavily for the Music & Arts Library to acquire IMSLP--Petrucci Music Library database for out-of-copyright scores and parts. All users--faculty, students, and researchers--requested the major database with a selection of in-copyright materials, Classical Scores Library. The Music & Arts Library has also provided a trial for nkoda, a digital database of scores from major publishers (their first), which promises to deliver scores and parts directly to iPads and other devices.

The Music & Arts Library subscribes to a number of published digital audio and video collections. Some examples include Naxos Music Library and MET Opera on Demand for Western classical music and, for musics of the world, Contemporary World Music, Smithsonian Global Sound, Ethnographic Video Online, and Medici-TV. 

c. Media

For published digital, audio, and video materials in a wide variety of formats, both on-site and in the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP). The Music & Arts Library purchases CDs and DVDs, although on a more limited basis as digital delivery becomes more prevalent. It must be noted that the Libraries have large legacy collections of media in ReCAP.  Unfortunately, there are no digital delivery options for these recordings and user requests are filled by delivery of the items, for which LPs, for example, require special handling. Playback machines for CDs, DATs, DVDs, laser discs, and VCRs are available in the Music & Arts Library.  

For recordings, the chief focus is Western classical music, jazz, and musics of other cultures as relevant to students taking courses in ethnomusicology. For classical music, selection is based chiefly on repertory for jazz on performers and, for music of other cultures, on what can be acquired from other countries. For example, through the Middle East & Islamic Studies Librarian, we were recently able to acquire 263 CDs of Persian classical music and seventy CDs of regional/folk music from Iran published by the Mahur Center in Tehran and are now the only library in the country that possesses both sets. Some popular music collections are purchased, generally by faculty request.  

d. Languages Collected     

English- and Western European-language materials are collected extensively (namely German, French, Italian, Spanish). Materials in non-Roman alphabets related to music in various cultural contexts are acquired, but generally shelved in ReCAP.

e. Chronological Focus    

There is no chronological focus as the field covers the entire history of mankind’s music-making.      

f. Geographical Focus  

Music in all geographical areas of the world, covered primarily in literature and recordings, but with some score collections are acquired when relevant.

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- three years) imprints. When a research or dissertation project requires the purchase of specialized materials--for example, 18th-century German music theory periodicals--the Music & Arts Library will endeavor to fill the researchers’ needs.  

The Music & Arts Library maintains several hundred early published books and scores (from the 1500s to the 1800s) in closed shelving for reference and instructional purposes. Specialties include music theoretical treatises and early opera scores. Early published rare books and scores as well as music autograph materials from the Music & Arts Library are held on deposit in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML).

RBML also holds the papers of distinguished Columbia music faculty, including those of Douglas Moore, Jack Beeson, and the recently-acquired papers of Ilhan Mimaroglu, an electronic music composer and record producer. As New York is one of the country’s major performing arts centers, RBML focuses strongly on New York, as evidenced in the papers of H. Lawrence Freeman, who founded the African American Grand Opera and Music School in Harlem, and the archive of dancer Arthur Mitchell, among others. New York-based musicians whose collections are here include Broadway and Hollywood composer, conductor, and arranger Sid Ramin as well as conductor, educator, and author Maurice Peress. Broadening out to New York State, the collections of the Creative Music Studio (CMS), which was founded for the creation, teaching, and performance of improvised music and active in Woodstock and New York City from 1974 to 1981, were acquired as was the Juma Sultan archive, which is the largest-known collection of performances from the loft era in New York City, a significant but under-documented period of jazz history. Recently, the collection of Marilyn Crispell, an important jazz pianist and composer who also participated in CMS concerts and workshops, was acquired.

Score collections include the Hunt-Berol Sheet Music Collection, with some 25,000 items from the 18th to the 20th centuries, and the Zarzuela Collection from the University’s Casa Hispanica, which is the largest-known collection of zarzuelas in the United States. Also notable is the Russian and Early Soviet Sheet Music Collection, one of the single largest collections of Russian sheet music in North America, particularly for the period ca. 1924 to 1929, which forms a complement to both the Serge Prokofiev Archive and to many aspects of the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture.

Recent acquisitions include audio collections, primarily on open-reel tape, related to Columbia, including the Composer Forum Concerts Collection, the Alice M. Ditson Fund Records, and the collections of the former Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, now the Department of Music’s Computer Music Center. For each of these collections, the Music & Arts Library, partnering with the Libraries’ Preservation & Digital Conversion Division (PDCD), was awarded grant funding to reformat the tapes for preservation and access. Access copies are available through the Music & Arts Library and, in some instances, also through RBML.

Visual collections include the Joseph Urban Papers, with significant materials relating to opera and musical theater productions in Europe and the United States, and the Eddie Locke Photographs of Jazz Musicians, which contains over three hundred photographs of jazz musicians and performances between the 1950s and 1970s.

The oral history collections include interviews with major figures such as   Benny Goodman, Morton Gould, Quincy Jones, Dionne Warwick, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Dorothy Maynor.

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions  

Music score works by over 2,000 20th- and 21st-century composers are the collecting focus of Borrow Direct’s cooperative collection development program for music libraries. Under the program, a member library agrees to purchase works by a particular composer, freeing other partners from purchasing the same materials. The scores are then available for borrowing by users of all Borrow Direct member libraries through the Borrow Direct catalog. The program was also expanded into a web archiving program, the Columbia Composers Web Archiving Project (, which captures and archives web pages from select composers.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

The Music & Arts Library, which houses music materials, is shelved at full capacity and follows a “one-in, one-out” procedure. Every summer, approximately 5,000 print and media materials are moved to ReCAP. Selection of titles is based on usage data.

Duplication of titles is generally avoided. If a faculty member requires a duplicate copy for a specific course, it will be purchased and placed on reserve. In cases where a musicmtitle is located at Union Theological Seminary or Barnard College, Columbia users are expected to obtain that copy.  

Deduplication takes place only when a title has been identified for relocation to ReCAP and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility. Even in this instance, the Librarian will inspect the copy that could potentially be withdrawn for any unique features or unusual provenance before assenting to deduplication.

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print format. In these instances, a preservation photocopy is made, a digital surrogate is created or obtained, and the title is withdrawn.

d. Digitization and Preservation

Several preservation grants have been received. For scores, reformatting preservation projects a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts funded the creation of preservation photocopies (in lieu of the standard microfilm format, which is not easily suited for performers). 

For special audio archives, reformatting projects (e.g. from tape to digital) involve the creation of three digital versions: broadcast wave files, CD quality files, and  MP3 files. Currently, funding from the Grammy Foundation is being used to digitize several hundred audio tapes from the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, now the Department of Music’s Computer Music Center.  These digitized files are stored in the Music & Arts Library with access through CLIO, the Libraries’ online catalog, or finding aids.

Jennifer B. Lee

Jennifer B. Lee

Curator for Performing Arts

  • Rare Book & Manuscript Library

(212) 854-4048
Butler Library - 6th Floor East Butler Library

Last updated: December 2018