Maximizing Limited Space for Music Scores

Callie Holmes and Matthew Vest, University of California, Los Angeles, Herb Alpert School of Music

The UCLA Music Library is a branch library within the UCLA Library system. Our music library is one of the largest academic music collections in North America, with over 400,000 physical items: including approximately 80,000 books, 120,000 scores, and almost 200,000 sound recordings. We are located in the Schoenberg Music Building which houses the Herb Alpert School of Music, the only music school in the UC system. HASoM, as it is called, is comprised of 3 departments - Music, Musicology, and Ethnomusicology, programs in Music Industry and Global Jazz Studies, 15 degree programs in all, 135 Full Time Equivalent faculty, and approximately 500 students. A little over half the students are in the Music department, and about a quarter each are in Musicology and Ethnomusicology.

The library has been in its present location since 1956 and originally housed 36,000 items. Designed by Welton Becket Architects, the new building was the first modern structure at UCLA and a striking departure from the previous historic-inspired designs for campus. The modern architecture was quite notable at the time, as evidenced by this description of the reading room published in a campus publication, quote, “Great floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side provide an abundance of natural light during the day, making the Library one of the easiest [spaces] on the eyes on the campus" end quote. 

The new Library included two floors of shelves, a reading room, a seminar room and 10 listening rooms for groups and individuals. The collections and services were already remarkable: In 1956, the UCLA Librarian wrote, quote "It is noted as one of the finest in the West for orchestral, vocal, and instrumental scores, with an active program of service to community groups" end quote. By 1957, there were over 70,000 visitors a year.

The Music Library is now one of the most used UCLA Library spaces and collections, with over 100,000 visitors and over 35,000 items checked out each year. We are always trying to balance collections and user spaces. Since 1956, the collection has grown from 36,000 to over 400,000 items, the number of music students, professors and researchers have also significantly expanded, and the space needs and modes of study have shifted significantly. We have undertaken through the years multiple renovations and space reimaginings as listening and creative modes have changed. 

For many years the major approach taken to collection management was to shoehorn as many items into the space as possible. This picture from the mid-1980s shows periodical shelving being added to the reading room, directly in front of the windows.

By the late 1990s, shelves had been added to the mezzanine, the Cage had been removed to expand shelving downstairs, and the reference collection in the reading room had expanded to cover 3 sides, including the beautiful windows. Shelf capacity was at 100%, probably over.

In the 2000s, former music librarian David Gilbert started putting real effort into cleaning up the collection and space, He reduced the reference collection to a fraction of its former size, and the current periodicals were cleaned up and consolidated so they could be shelved along with the smaller reference collection on only one wall. 

Once again the reading room was an inviting space for study. He also spent considerable time weeding older and damaged scores from the collection, and sent older monuments and collected works to offsite storage, regaining some breathing room for the collection. However, given the fixed space and the fact that we are a research institution constantly needing to bring in new resources, maintaining the collection is a constant struggle. 

As a research institution, we need to hold on to as many materials as we can, for long-term preservation and potential future scholarship needs. Therefore we tend to choose off-site storage over withdrawal whenever we can. The University of California system has two off-storage sites shared by all the campuses within the system - one in northern California, the Northern Regional Library Facility (NRLF), and one in southern California (SRLF). These facilities accept deposits from all 10 campuses, and items can be paged by any campus with a 1 day turn-around time. The SRLF is located on the UCLA campus, so it is particularly easy to page items for us. Both RLF’s have a non-duplication policy, so if a particular title has already been deposited by another campus, a second copy cannot be deposited but must be withdrawn. Consequently, weeding for us is a two-step process - commonly, if we want to pull something from our on-site collection we will first consider sending it to SRLF. We generally only withdraw an item if it is in particularly bad physical condition, or if there is already a copy in one of the RLFs. 

Historically, assessment was usually done by the librarians physically working through the stacks. Back when date slips were still used, usage could be assessed by consulting these, although for thorough analysis every item had to be pulled from the shelf to check, which was not always done.

At some point in the early 2000s, date slips were no longer used so this metric disappeared. The ILS we have had for the last 17 years does not have the best reporting functions, so essentially quantitative assessment was abandoned. Additionally, we have never had good browsing use stats for the collection.

Consequently, most assessment was qualitative, or basically what the librarian’s knowledge and instinct told them, based on criteria such as awareness of current programs and faculty/graduate interests, and concepts of “canon” worthiness.

Another approach used was that books and bound journals tended to be assessed and selected far more frequently than scores, as more “bang for the buck” in shelf space would be gained. Unfortunately, this meant that scores spent decades at a time not being “weeded”, resulting in a very overcrowded and outdated score collection. Selection was also lopsided because crowded areas of the stacks were targeting more frequently. Like with the scores, this left some areas ignored for long periods of time.

Our current processes are built largely upon the CREW method as revised by Jeanette Larson in 2012. CREW is an acronym for Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding. While developed and presented for public libraries, the theories and practices outlined are applicable to most library scenarios.  We’d like to highlight a few things from this method today, but encourage everyone to take a deeper dive and learn more from the full text. It outlines the major benefits of weeding including: saving space, appeal of the collection, and continuous evaluation of the collection’s strengths and weaknesses.  

The general guidelines are also very helpful and include assessing quality of the content - including relevance and obsolescence, the physical appearance, and historic and recent use. Most important, it provides an outline of the weeding process in discrete  steps, including: Make weeding a part of policy, Gather usage statistics of your library's collection, Build weeding into the year's work calendar, Study the area you will be weeding as a whole, Replacement checking and ordering, and Set up displays for low circulating, high quality books that would benefit from exposure. Specific recommendations for material types and topics are offered as well, but those may be more useful in a public library setting. 

Our approaches have been informed by our previous positions. I’ve mostly worked in public services in music libraries, including circulation. I know that clean and not-cramped stacks improve user’s abilities to find the items they need and that shifting and stacks maintenance lead to better user experiences and greater use of collections. At the University of Virginia, Winston Barham and I undertook a major

(and necessary) reduction and shift of the collection, which led to higher use when the stacks reopened. 

For much of my career in the UCLA Music Library, I was the Head of Technical Services, so I was in charge of (and actually did) much of the actual processing and prepping of materials for deposit in the SRLF. This gave me not only detailed knowledge of the process for deposit and withdrawal, but I had years of witnessing the selection process of the librarians. This helped to give me a better understanding of what they were selecting. I also witnessed the improvements to the collection and space when attention was placed more on reducing and then maintaining the size of the collection, rather than just squeezing in as much as possible.

To keep our decisions consistent, we make sure our assessment is first and foremost rooted in our collection development policy. We are particularly focused on finding ways in which equity, diversity and inclusion intersect with collection management, as well as how we can take an anti-racist approach to this work. Our current approach allows us to address these concerns, and focus on increasing the proportion of works by currently underrepresented composers, scholars, and areas of scholarship within the on-site collection.

Furthermore, we try to stay mindful that we are the curators of the collection, and are the ones responsible for creating the collection. While we certainly recognize the needs and desires of our patrons, we know that it is important as librarians to take a longer view than just the immediate needs and desires of a few patrons, and that we need to be proactive to keep the collection balanced, useful and equitable.

That said, we are also assessing how our collection intersects with current scholarship, and we remain mindful of the research needs of the current faculty and graduate students, as well as trends within the fields.

Our process is informed by statistical data and by qualitative information about user needs and collection curation. We start with use data. For instance, within a call number range that we are targeting, we might consider items published 10 years ago or longer that have received 0 to 3 uses in the last 15 years. We typically adjust the parameters slightly as needed to help us meet the targeted number of items we would like to consider. 

We will then pull and review the items together - considering them one at a time. This allows us to select items to stay on the shelf. We may choose to keep something on the shelf because we know that it aligns with newer faculty or student interests. It may not have received use before, but we think it may receive use in the future 

We will also keep things that align with newer collecting areas or areas that we want to focus on for collecting. For example, works by and about underrepresented composers and musicians. In this case, retroactive collecting projects may mean that an item with an older publishing date is relatively new to the library, and that is why it has received no or little use. For instance, Callie undertook a major project to purchase contemporary scores by women composers, going back at least a decade. These often land on the list, but because we review them title by title, we are able to catch them and put them back on the shelf. 

This process sounds incredibly labor-intensive. But because we do it together, we can typically go through several hundred scores in an hour. Because we send up to 3,000 items a year to offsite storage, the whole process only takes us at most 10 hours a year to complete. The collaborative process helps us make decisions faster - and helps us feel confident about decisions that one of us isn’t quite sure about at first. 

We also find materials that may need special preservation treatment or special considerations during this process. For instance, we have found items with overtly racist imagery. If we weren’t considering the items title by title and in person, we wouldn’t catch things like that. 

We also do a collaborative review of new acquisitions as they come in. This process allows us to select items for the new item shelf, to take note of emerging trends for music scholarship and publishing, and to start to have a “big picture” view of the collection we are building. 

During this process, we will select the items to send off site as new items. Because of space constraints, we may select items that are less likely to need to be found by browsing the shelf - or items in languages that we know receive significantly less use at UCLA. 

We will have conversations during this process about music scholarship and publishing, especially when we see a book, chapter or score by a UCLA faculty member or alumni. These conversations often spark ideas for a new collecting focus or even general conversations about space and collection management. 

Again, we feel this time is well spent. We typically spend just one or two hours a month on this, but the outcomes save us time as we shape the collection and work with researchers and performers using the collection.  

As we conclude, we’d like to share a few other directions we’ve taken to help balance our collections spaces.  We’ve been working to add our most used sound recordings to Avalon, a secure streaming server. This allows us to provide online access to the recordings that our users need and use the most, but it also will allow us to consider moving more of our physical recording collections offsite in the longterm. 

We also have experimented with open-access publishing for music scores. A project in collaboration with LA-Based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra in 2020 resulted in 5,500 contemporary music scores published open access. This project wouldn’t have been feasible if it was physical scores in our library. Not only do these scores receive more use than they would if they were limited to physical scores at

UCLA - they have received over 46,000 uses by April 2021 - the resulting Contemporary Music Score Collection provides proof that we can shift towards digital scores over time without sacrificing usability for our patrons. 

We hope that you have found something that we have shared today valuable and look forward to further conversation.