WHY DOES THE PUBLIC LIBRARY NEED A MUSIC DEPARTMENT,
and why should it continue to be federally funded?
bibliotek - the Oslo Public Library - is the country's largest public library,
and its music department is the largest in the context of the nation's public libraries. Our
collection includes everything from academic literature to instructional videos, and our
patrons include many different groups, which are examined below.
The "Man in the Street"
The "man in the street" is our most important patron. The average Norwegian relates tomusic
in some form in his or her life, be it classical, ethnic, techno or any other number of genres.
Our mission in relation to the general music-loving population is to make available
recordings, books, sheet music, video/dDVD and information relevant to the genres these
patrons wish to explore and enjoy. We consider public access to this material to be equally as
important as public access to literature.
Our department's material is available because the library has personnel qualified to choose,
purchase and organize it. Simply providing material for circulation is not, however, enough;
qualified reference personnel must be available to present, explain and recommend. This
service includes answering patrons' questions and presenting material that widens their
musical/cultural horizons. Good presentation can create interest in the culture of other ethnic
groups, which in turn is a valuable contribution to integration and tolerance. Through the
librarian-patron interaction, patrons can also find that "high-brow" culture is more accessible
than they might have thought, and that popular culture is not only for the young. Surprisingly
little knowledge is required for a musical experience to be meaningful, but that knowledge
must be appropriate: a qualified music librarian is equipped to determine what each patron
needs to know before s/he goes to a concert, a jazz club or to the opera. The "man in the
street" who comes into the music department of his local public library with a desire to learn
about a "new" musical genre has a right to qualified help. This help is not available in the
local music store, where sales are the goal.
The "man in the street" also wants to make music at home and with friends. Many
Norwegians have played in bands or sung in choirs as children, while others have taken piano
lessons or played in a string orchestra. These experiences can develop into meaningful adult
pastimes in an age where stress-related illnesses are becoming more and more common.
Others may never have played an instrument but find that they want something creative to fill
their free time. Our instructional videos/DVDs and sheet music are chosen to give everyone
an opportunity to explore music making. The library circulates language courses, so why not
instructional materials in music?
We must not forget that among our "man in the street" patrons are quite a few with a sizeable
knowledge of music. This group expects its local music library to be acquainted with various
recordings, editions and technical literature, as well as to be able to provide information at an
appropriate level. Our librarians are qualified to meet these patrons' demands.
Typical questions from the man in the street include:
was that song I knew as a child, do you have the music, text and
possibly a recording of it? It would mean so much to me to be able
to hear it again…"
"Can you recommend sheet music and a video that can help me get started playing the
"Can you help me find information on the symphony I heard on the radio yesterday?
What about the composer, do you have anything on him, or recordings of his other
works? What about other composers who wrote the same sort of music?"
like to start listening to classical music, but have no idea where
"Our local choir is giving a concert, can you help me find information for program
"Do you have the latest recording of X, and how does it compare to other recordings
of the same work?"
"Can you help me find articles on electroacoustic music of the 1960s?"
information that the man in the street finds in the music library
prepares him to actively use and enjoy our city's professional musical
life. The patron who wants to go to the opera can come to us to read
about the plot, borrow a recording to familiarize him/herself with the
music, attend a lecture on the composer—in effect, can be prepared,
which guarantees a richer musical experience. Those who already have a
background in music use us as a reference point to expand their
Music Students and Professional Musicians
Both students and professionals have repertoire that changes constantly. These patrons use
our collections to borrow material that they need for only a short time, and pose some of the
most demanding reference questions. Our librarians speak their technical language, and are
qualified to understand their needs.
Teachers and Children in the Public School System
Music teachers and other teachers who need or want to include music in their teaching often
contact us for help in putting together appropriate material. Music librarians are required to be
acquainted with the national pedagogical plan (Reform 97) as well as to keep abreast of
available teaching materials. The fact that very little appropriate material is available in
Norwegian gives music librarians the additional task of evaluating material in English, Danish
and Swedish. Reform 97 sets somewhat unrealistic demands for music
pedagogy, taking into account school budgets, and the local music library is an invaluable aid. We have developed
special programs and materials for this group.
The Oslo Public Library participates in the national inter-library loan system. As the nation's
largest public library music department, our collections and our expertise are often consulted
by libraries from all over the country. We are, in this respect, a national resource. The
personnel in our department are strong, active participants in the national music library
milieu, and in this way contribute to promoting music at a national level. This, in turn,
ensures the continuing expansion of our own knowledge.
Studies show that a high percentage of immigrants are active users of their local public
library. Integration into Norwegian society is a well-established political goal. Our collection
includes a large number of recordings of ethnic music from around the globe, and is very
popular with the general population as well as with immigrants and asylum seekers. This
collection serves to increase interest in and understanding of other cultures. It helps
Norwegians to learn about the culture of their new fellow citizens, and helps immigrants to
hear sounds from home as they adjust to their new lives in exile. In addition, immigrants can
familiarize themselves with the folk music of their new home. This collection would not exist
without the expertise to be found in the music department. A thorough knowledge of the
music and artists of other nations is necessary to build, catalogue, maintain and present such a
patrons include local funeral homes, various government offices,
churches, the royal court…anyone and everyone in need of expertise in
the vast field of music. We aid these patrons in finding recorded and
printed music and supporting material for specific occasions. Music is
often used as the formal framework of ceremonies and official occasions,
and appropriate expertise is required to put together a professional
package and to give the formal framework of the musical aspect of such
Our Role in Preserving and Promoting Norwegian Music
a small country with only 4.5 million inhabitants, a surprising amount
of Norwegian music is produced annually. Much of this music has attained
international acclaim and recognition, but paradoxically is not
necessarily well known here at home. The music department of the capital
city's public library has a responsibility to make this material
available to the general population and to promote it actively. Cultural
awareness in the population must be grounded in a knowledge and
understanding of its own cultural identity.
Food for Thought
Some of the content of our collections can be purchased in mainstream bookstores, in record
shops and music stores - by those who can afford it. Some of the employees in the these
businesses are capable of giving a certain amount of help and information to customers,
depending on their own interest in and knowledge of music. It is, however, a fact that not
every man and woman behind a cash register has a solid knowledge of the wares on offer. It
is a fact of life that suggestions given to a customer in this setting are bound to be based to a
certain extent on the sales goals of the store in question. Some of the collection in the public
library is of material that is difficult to get hold of or designed for a limited group, and is
therefore not likely to be found on the shelves of one's local store. Without a thorough
knowledge of the various distributors and sources available, the customer is not able to aquire
this material for him/herself, even when cost is not an issue. Music librarians are not only
able to seek out and provide this material, but are able to give patrons a general survey and
help them choose the material most relevant to their needs.
Access to a professional presentation of music is and must remain a common good, equal in
importance to the presentation of literature. Studies show that musical experiences give
human beings the strength to persevere in difficult times, and increase health and mental well-being. It is only in the music department of the public library that everyone is met on his or
her level, from the academic to the man who - quite literally - lives on the streets. Within our
walls one can find the middle-class citizen who wants to learn more about the opera s/he is
going to see, the middle-school student writing a paper on Madonna, and the homeless man
who confides that listening to country/western music in our department got him through the
last few difficult months. All these patrons must be assured that their needs and interests will
continue to be met at the same level as today, and the public library's music department is the
place best equipped to do so.
In Norway, the welfare vs outsourcing debate is a central issue in government spending and
prioritizing. In Oslo, all county services – the public library included – are being required to
analyze themselves and suggest any elements that lend themselves to outsourcing. As the
Head of the library's Music Department, I was asked to evaluate the services we provide with
this in mind. The following is the document I submitted.
has a Bachelor of Music-Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Masters in Chamber Music from the Norwegian State Academy of Music. She
was co-principal horn in the Norwegian Radio Orchestra for six years and has worked with
the Oslo Philharmonic, the Norwegian Opera and Oslo Sinfonietta. She has been head of the
Music Department of the Oslo Public Library since 1999.