We are all very much aware that the library and information world is changing rapidly and that library use and expectations need to be evaluated constantly. Over the summer we traditionally look at statistics which help us a little to keep an eye on trends and developments. What jumped out this year is that the gradual drop in borrowing figures is continuing. This is no surprise since actual physical items are nowadays only a very small part of what the library is offering to its users. There is a vast amount of material and content available on remote access, both as free and as subscription resources. However, there is more; such as the constant change and evolution in the actual teaching programme and therefore also changing expectations, targets and approaches. So I thought it might be interesting to have a little look at how our users made use of the Pendlebury Library collections in the past.
Our earliest borrowing records date back to 1882 and actually pre-date the Pendlebury Library as the Music Faculty Library. In 1880 Richard Pendlebury generously donated a large collection of music and printed books of music to the University. This was initially housed at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
In November 1882 the collection became borrowable and came with its very own Regulations. Borrowing was for graduate members of the University only, the total number of items borrowable was three and the borrowing period one calendar month at a time. Exceptions were being made for undergraduates and “other persons”. Problems such as lost items were the remit of the Vice-Chancellor. Isn’t that a rather scary thought?
Going through the Register of Books borrowed we see that Richard Pendlebury was one of the more frequent early users of the collection. He was in the good company of composers C.V. Stanford, F. O Carr and the mathematician J. H. Pilkington, to name just a few. Frequent is of course a relative term. In 1883 32 items were borrowed and promptly there is a little problem with a user not quite following the rules recorded in the register: “wrote to Mr. X calling his attention to rule 3” (i.e. signing out the book by writing down all details requested). It was possible to renew and reserve items.
Fast forward to 1937. By this time the Pendlebury Library had become part of the Music Faculty/University Music School, with the Professor of Music as Librarian. The basic rules remain surprisingly unchanged, although problem-solving and granting of exceptions is now the responsibility of Faculty Board and library fines have been introduced. Moreover “no one shall be allowed to use the Library who owes any fine”. 712 items were borrowed and returned. “Star” library users include Charles Cudworth, Boris Ord and Mary Berry.
The Music Tripos however were established in 1947 and seem to have made a significant impact on library use. Charles Cudworth had by now been appointed as librarian and in October 1948 alone more than 300 items were borrowed – about three times as much as in October 1937. It is really fascinating to see all the names of our library users and to be able to trace what was most used over time. However, bear with me while I do some more number crunching and make another 50 odd year jump in time, looking at 1988-1989.
Items were by now borrowed using signing out slips which have not been kept. We do have the “returns books” which in an ideal world would contain pretty much the same names and titles. Every return was recorded and signed by the reader. Our set of return books is by no means complete. Nevertheless, it reflects a good part of the Pendlebury’s history. In October alone more than 500 items were being returned (although admittedly some appear to have been signed back in without actually being returned…). Over the whole year we are looking at a figure or around 6685. Add another 15 years and we arrive in 2004 when we introduced automated issuing. By now the figures have shot up to more than double that amount, only to start dropping again 10 years later but even then still remaining well above the level of the 1980s.
So what can we learn from this? Absolute numbers alone, especially when compiled in different ways, don’t teach us that much and we need a lot of context to interpret them properly. From looking more closely at what has been borrowed as well as at how much it becomes very clear that the Pendlebury Collections have always played a key role in Cambridge music and music making. With the opening up of borrowing to all current students and staff, the library and its collections have become an essential part of the University and of how the Music Faculty works. Long may it continue.