Polmic - FB


Dear Colleagues,

Can the history of the Polish Composers’ Union Library prove to be an interesting subject for such a distinguished assembly of seasoned librarians? At first sight, our collection is but a humble approximation of a fully-fledged library. Still, the history of its transformations and the tasks it has performed seem to have been unusual and untypical enough to justify a more detailed presentation. They have also been symptomatic of this kind of undertaking. For these reasons, I would like to attract your attention as eminent specialists to some aspects of our Library’s history.

It all began, quite naturally, with shelves, or rather – with one simple bookcase. The Polish Composers’ Union resumed its activity in the late August and early September of 1945, continuing the traditions of the pre-war Polish Composers’ Association (founded in 1925). All the documentation of this pre-war Association was lost, probably perished during the war, so that now we have no way of telling if the Association held a library of any sort. After the war, the Polish Composers’ Union just moved its temporary headquarters from one place to another in the completely ruined capital city of Warsaw, and it was in one of those places that this seminal bookshelf appeared in 1950. It was stocked with quite a large number of scores and books that on various occasions had been brought to the Union’s seat by composers or some other guests. This rather random “collection” was not just stored in a bookcase. The Union’s greatest minds came up with a list of regulations and aims for a new library which was to fulfil the role of the Polish Composers’ Union’s “Section of Music Documentation” or “Section for the Documentation of Composers’ Works”. Its Founding Fathers were Witold Lutosławski, Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Rudziński. The aims set for the PCU Library by this first document have remained valid to our day, but it took a long time to transform those theoretical ideas into the reality of a functioning institution.

In 1954, the Union moved its headquarters, including the Library (whose size at that time can only be conjectured), to its present premises in the picturesque Old Town Square. In the breakthrough year of 1956, fundamental changes in the sphere of politics sparked a major revival in culture, which also involves an opening to the West – unfortunately rather short-lived – as well as to the East. The Polish Composers’ Union signed an agreement concerning co-operation with unions of composers abroad, another - with PWM Polish Music Edition, which at that time was a monopolist in the domestic market for scores and music books, and with Polskie Nagrania – the only Polish record company. These agreements resulted in an influx to our Library of scores and books from foreign exchange, as well as PWM scores and Polskie Nagrania records, which were obliged to provide the Library with copies. A gift which excited great interest was the monumental French record series “Antologie Sonore”, which attracted many fond listeners to the Union’s Library.

In September 1956, the Union organised the first “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music, and from that time onwards composers and artists from all over the world flocked to Warsaw. The Festival enriched the Library with scores of works performed at the Festival, as well as gifts from the Festival guests, including some publishers. Among the most significant contributors was Czesław Halski, the émigré musicologist and music critic, who sent us from London many precious items otherwise unavailable in our country.

The musicologist Kazimierz Nowacki, the true father of the PCU Library, was its director from 1959 until his retirement in 1990. Mr Nowacki’s Library attracted users not only with its greatly enriched stocks, but also, perhaps even predominantly, by its atmosphere. Kazimierz Nowacki, familiarly known as “Kubuś”, created in the Fukier House in Warsaw’s Old Town Square a kind of social club where one could read a book or listen to recordings, but also have a chat, drink coffee or tea – something rather unthinkable in a typical professional library. At the beginning of this period, PCU did not have professional catalogues, and the order in the rooms and on the shelves left much to be desired. And yet Kazimierz Nowacki must get the credit for many ventures important for the Library, the Union, the composers and Polish culture itself. It was during his work in the Library that the Card Catalogue of Works by Contemporary Polish Composers was created – an invaluable source of information about Polish contemporary music. Data about scores by Polish composers written after World War II were stored on large cardboard cards, including the precise date of composition, scoring, circumstances of the first performance and the most significant later performances. The Card Catalogue also contained information about unpublished and never performed works. Originally most data came from the composers themselves, but later they were more and more regularly complemented with information from professional publications, articles in music periodicals and on record covers. The information from the Card Catalogue was published by the fortnightly “Ruch Muzyczny” in the regular columns on New Works by Polish Composers and First Performances of Works by Polish Composers. Kazimierz Nowacki together with Alina Baird, office manager in the Polish Composers’ Union, also contributed to the English and German quarterly “Polish Music – Polnische Musik”, published by the Polish Composers’ Union, for which they wrote the columns entitled New Polish Compositions and Music Chronicle, the latter informing about music life in Poland, with the following acknowledgement: “on the basis of materials collected in the Department of Documents of the Polish Composers’ Union Library”.

The Card Catalogue of Works by Contemporary Polish Composers was systematically developed and updated with new works, until in the year 2000 its 5900 cards became the basic source material for a computer information system on Polish contemporary music, which at present consists of databases and a website. Simultaneously with the Card Catalogue, the PCU Library built up its traditional library structures with new additions and stock catalogues. The Union recognised the need to make the Library more professional and set quality standards for its day-to-day activity. In 1982, the Union’s managing board addressed Kornel Michałowski, the greatest authority on music libraries in Poland, with a request to examine the Library’s collections of books and recordings, its organisation and activities, and to re-define the Library’s key tasks. Kornel Michałowski presented the PCU Library as a means for the fulfilment of its statutory aims by the Union, including – first and foremost – supporting and promoting Polish musical and musicological works. (…) Conscious and rational selection and documentation of library resources and information presenting Polish contemporary music (both composers’ works and scientific activity), and – to a lesser extent – contemporary music from other countries, ought to be seen as the primary aims of the PCU Library.

These aims have been pursued by the Polish Composers’ Union’s Library and Music Recording Collection until the present, though the methods are changing. The bookshelves are still there – more of them have been put up recently. In 1990, the Library obtained a new room; new bookcases have been installed to hold the growing collections; a major survey of all the stocks has been carried out, and a separate reference library – formed. The scope of the new additions has definitively been limited to contemporary Polish music, supplemented by basic musical and extra-musical reference materials. Since 1990, the Library, which had previously served only PCU members, has been accessible to anyone interested in the field. It has also become more professional. The year 1995 saw two events which determined the directions of the Library’s development for the years to come: new computer terminals were installed, and in the same year the Library made contact with the International Association of Music Information Centres. The contact with IAMIC was made possible by the British Section of IAML which, under the auspices of The British Council, invited our representative to its conference. This was part of a project “bridging the gap” between East and West. At the conference, we were introduced to Eve O’Kelly, who at that time acted as General Secretary of IAMIC. In 1998, the Polish Composers’ Union Library and Music Recording Collection became a member of the International Association of Music Information Centres as Poland’s exclusive active member. Our Library’s accession to IAMIC has been a powerful incentive to the development of our information services.

In the Library itself, the work on an integral information system for Polish contemporary music had already been quite advanced by that time. Its point of departure was the Card Catalogue of Works by Contemporary Polish Composers, whose basic data was entered into the computer by means of the simplest word processing programme - Microsoft Word. This data was later to be transferred to a database, while for the time being it facilitated the use of the Card Catalogue by means of a computer. For the database, the Library purchased ARKA, a program written in Poland, similar in some features to INNOPAC and VTLS, but simpler in structure. ARKA is an improved version of the MAK software developed in Poland’s National Library. ARKA works in the LINUX system, while the information for the database is stored in a format based on MARC, but adapted to the specific character of the data collected in our institution. The databases became fully operational in 1997, when the data copied from the Card Catalogue of Works by Contemporary Polish Composers into Word was transferred to the database and the process of preparing full records began as the information from the Card Catalogue was supplemented with more and more material from other sources. Simultaneously, in order to bring the database up to date as quickly as possible, the Library staff also entered “brief” records with basic information about new works, collected for the most part directly from composers. In 2000, a simplified version of the database compatible with Microsoft Windows was produced on CD-ROM in order to make the database available to a wider audience worldwide. These CDs have been presented to selected music libraries.

This was how the “digital output” mentioned in the title of this paper first made its appearance in the activity of Polish Composers’ Union Library and Music Recording Collection. Shelves have obviously not disappeared, but the collections of books, periodicals, scores and recordings on these shelves have become an “analogue” source of information which, like the analogue sound, is being transformed. As the digital signal is a kind of “extract” from the information contained in the analogue signal from the source, so also our database contains a digital “extract” from the information stored in our “analogue” collections. A skilful “conversion” of “analogue” data into “digital” information presents itself as the central task facing our institution in the present period. In 2002, the former Polish Composers’ Union Library and Music Recording Collection – Polish Contemporary Music Documentation Centre was renamed, and became the Polish Music Information Centre. This change of name reflects the changed priorities. The basic function of a traditional library – collecting books, scores, recordings and making them available to our visitors – has been superseded by collecting and sharing information. Obviously, what is meant at this point is the use of new digital technologies, as collecting and sharing information by traditional means, as I have already said, has virtually always remained one of the Library’s aims.

The digital „output” from our stocks is stored at present in what has grown to be Poland’s largest computer database of Polish contemporary composers and their works, comprising basic information on 642 Polish composers living after World War II, as well as 28464 records about their compositions. The database is equipped with an advanced search engine. It may be accessed at the Library under the guidance of staff members, or, in a somewhat reduced version, but supplemented with composer biographies and notes on selected works – from the Polish Music Information Centre website: www.polmic.pl. This internet site, launched in 2003, contains, apart from detailed information about composers, also individual entries about Polish musicologists, musicians – performers, institutions, news concerning music life in Poland, brief reviews of the Library’s new acquisitions (books, scores and CDs) as well as selected items from the existing stocks. The website is updated daily and its structure – constantly modernised. Recently some data from our website have become accessible via the specialised internet music browser – Music Navigator, launched and administered by the International Association of Music Information Centres – www.musicnavigator.org.
Since 2004, we have been producing a computer catalogue of our Library’s book collection, while at the same time still continuing the card catalogue. The new catalogue aims to provide more than just a direction to the relevant books on the shelf. It contains notes about books and has been equipped with several indices. Author biographies are stored to form the database of Polish musicologists. We are preparing to launch a similar catalogue / database of scores and music records.

We want to keep pace with modern developments. We are planning to digitalise the stocks, but for us this work still lies in the future. For now, we use the new technologies to other ends. We still retain, however, a sentiment for books and library shelves. We invite you to our Internet site, but also cherish our library filled with books and periodicals, scores and recordings. Let me finish with some statistics concerning the Polish Music Information Centre shelves stocks:

  • 6600 books on the shelves
  • periodicals – 235 titles in 2818 volumes
  • 22500 music scores
  • 5000 magnetic studio tapes on spools
  • 920 compact cassettes
  • 600 DAT tapes
  • 230 video cassettes
  • 4500 long-playing records
  • 1350 compact discs.
Among the compact discs, there are also our own releases produced in cooperation with a professional CD manufacture, comprising performances from the “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music. The Sound Chronicle of the “Warsaw Autumn” has been released on CD since 1999. It consists of six to eight compact discs with recordings of all the Polish compositions from the Festival programme supplemented by selected works by foreign composers. Previously, the Chronicle had appeared on long-playing discs and compact cassettes, and these older recordings are listed in the catalogue of Sound Chronicles till 1998, published by the Library. These recordings form an unprecedented collection of Polish contemporary music. Our Library stores full unpublished recordings of complete “Warsaw Autumn” concerts from many years. Considering the worldwide reputation of this festival and its history, these sound archives of the Polish Music Information Centre may be considered as a genuine treasure. They are still waiting for their rediscovery, and – most likely – for a brilliant digital future. But this is already a topic for a completely different paper.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Translated by Tomasz Zymer

This text was presented at the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML) on 14th July 2005 in the National Library in Warsaw