Archives Month: The Music Library

It’s National Archives Month! But you knew that, right? Chicago Collections and the Chicago Area Archivists have adopted the theme of “Hidden Stories” for Archives Month 2017, so we thought it would be appropriate to publish a series of blog entries highlighting Northwestern University Libraries’ very own array of Distinctive Collections units. For those who have never had a chance to tour or collaborate with these units, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at each of the mysterious entities whose treasures are hidden in plain sight.


Like many of the research collections in the Northwestern University Libraries, the Music Library collection is large. In fact, it’s one of the largest music libraries in the United States. We serve the needs of our campus community quite proudly. But, we have a not-so-secret mission. Since about 1970, the Music Library has been one the few places around the world to concentrate in a big way on newly composed music. By big, I mean really big. We try to buy as comprehensively as possible scores of all “classical” music written since 1945.  Where many other libraries have only a few representative scores by living composers, we’ll have all of them. This mission not only fits well with the Bienen School of Music’s Institute for New Music, but the individual interests and careers of many students and faculty. This is not a “special collection”. Yes, it’s special, but it sits on the stacks shelving in Deering, open for anyone to browse, and yes – it can all be checked out.As we continue on with this mission, it’s getting more difficult to obtain scores of newly composed works.

Many composers eschew traditional publishing routes, and prefer to self-publish. In some instances, the only score available is in the form of a PDF and must be obtained by calling the composer directly. Some composers are surprised and flattered that the Northwestern University Music Library has come calling for their works. Others find it difficult to produce versions of their works that are suitable for existence in a library.

Over the decades we’ve been holding to this mission, we’ve created a resource for new music that is known and respected world-wide. As a resource for performance, teaching and research it is one of the things that makes us truly distinctive.