Can you still borrow classical records from a public library?

Can you still borrow classical records from a public library?


norman lebrecht

March 29, 2016

The BBC has published an important report this morning, showing that 343 public libraries have closed in the past six years, three times higher than Government estimates. Another 111 will close this year.

Many of those that remain are staffed by volunteers.

A Government minister, Ed Vaizey, has tweeted in response: ‘Pleased that over 99% of public libraries in England will have free wifi following £2.7m of DCM investment.’

Which is neither here nor there.

Many of us derived our basic literary knowledge by borrowing books from public libraries and our musical appreciation by borrowing classical records and scores.

Simon Rattle has spoken often about the importance of public libraries to his personal development.

So: Do UK libraries still curate and loan out classical recordings?

record collection



  • V.Lind says:


  • SoSueMe says:

    At the Central Public Library in Seattle, WA you can reserve practice rooms at no cost, some of which include pianos.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      wow! beat that, any other library?

      • Christopher Culver says:

        In Helsinki’s main square, there is a branch of the public library dedicated solely to music (the only holdings are CDs, DVDs and books about music) and it also has practice rooms. Not sure there’s a piano, though.

      • L Nash says:

        well, no pianos but the New York City library system has thousands of classical CD’s and DVD’s all accessible to anyone in the city with a library card. One can order them on the internet so they are sent to a local library for pickup. There is also a large collection that one cannot borrow but can listen to at the library. These are at Lincoln Center. These items are older and can be quite rare and wonderful. These are at the Lincoln Center.Most CD’s and DVD’s at Lincoln Center can be borrowed however.


      • Cyril Blair says:

        The main downtown branch of the Chicago Public Library has six practice rooms, each with piano. They also have a chamber rehearsal room. You can borrow sheet music, records, and CDs.

        Also, oddly enough, at some of the branch libraries you can borrow fishing poles.

  • 邓守仁 says:

    Yes. I can.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Well, my local library had a small but comprehensive cd collection that covered pop, rock, world and classical music. The classical section comprised of about 100 discs and carried some esoteric music as well as the usual Pavarotti and Cecilia Bartoli compilations. The branch could order in any requests that were available from other libraries by using the Internet facility.

    However, about a month ago, I discovered the cd section was no longer in its usual place and had a stand of comic books in its place! Thinking it had been moved, it went looking for it. Having failed to find it, I asked a member of staff who told me that, regrettably, there was no call for CDs these days and very few people borrowed them anymore. The chap, I should add, was very helpful but told me that music was so easily available online that the demand for CDs was negligible. Of course, there was a big stock at the city’s central library and they would get whatever was in the catalogue but browsing was no longer possible.

    I’m really quite sad about this since I enjoyed borrowing stuff I wouldn’t usually listen to as well as classical discs I was keen to hear but didn’t want to buy. I suppose it’s ‘progress’ and I should celebrate that music IS so easily available but it also seems that the serendipitous nature of listening has been lost. I remember borrowing a Cecilia Bartoli compilation cd and being blown away by it!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    There is an upside to libraries closing or deleting items such as cds: they sell them very, very cheaply. My local library went through their own purge six years ago and sold off cds for 25 cents each. I bought quite a few, most seemingly unplayed. I got a wonderful set of Wagner operas on Philips for $4. And then came the scores. A new set of the Beethoven symphonies in the Barenreiter edition for $5. Mahler 7 full size score for $3. An unused Rite of Spring for $2. What a bargain! Sad, though, for the young generation who will never know how wonderful browsing in a library can be. Of course, they’ll never know what spending hours in a Tower Records or HMV is like, either.

    • Brian B says:

      So true. I once picked up a nearly complete run of Louisville Orchestra lp sets, which included much mid-20th century Louisville-commissioned music that is still not available on CD or the web, at a Seattle Public Library sale. Also a number of vocal scores for a pittance including Wozzeck, Tote Stadt and Gioielli della Madonna.
      The local branch library here in Tucson has some CDs mostly not classical. The best ones I donated.

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    It’s seem to me that due this global digital village all public libraries in short will be named museums of arts and knoweledge. You can bet

  • Bennie says:

    Some public libraries in New Jersey area have digital content borrowing. One may borrow the tracks of many music CDs (including wide selection of classical music) digitally using a special application, then listen to them on their mobile devices. The tracks would expire after two weeks unless renewed, much like borrowing a physical CD/book

  • Bruce says:

    The library system where I live (Spokane, WA) has a smallish-but-respectable collection of classical CDs. They still had vinyl when I moved here in 1990, but they’ve phased that out.

    Occasionally they hold a sale of old materials — got the classic (IMHO) “Boheme” recording with Freni/Pavarotti/Karajan and Tebaldi’s “Butterfly” for $2 each, for example — but new recordings take their place, so it’s clear they are not liquidating their collection… so far.

  • Keane Southard says:

    For my summer job during college I worked at a local music shop cleaning rental string instruments that they’d rent out to area school-children. It was boring work (and I’ve vowed to never work another 9 to 5 job again after that, and I’m still going strong!) but the good part was I was allowed to bring my portable CD player and listen to music while I worked. During those 3 summers, I went through the entire classical CD collection at my local public library and listened at least once to every single thing they had, which really gave me a solid background on the standard repertoire as well as plenty of lesser-known and contemporary works that they happened to have. Very valuable, thanks to the library.

  • Peggy Walt says:

    My public library definitely has CDs it loans out, and in fact just purchased a CD of the choir I work for (Halifax Camerata Singers). One CD for all the branches is not that much, but at least it’s at the main Halifax branch.

    Peggy Walt

  • CDH says:

    Every city in Canada that I have visited has substantial collections of CDs, and although I have frequent occasion to see if they have something not in my collection. They usually do.

    At my own branch, opera and the classical repertoire are very thoroughly represented — the only thing I have not found that I was looking for was Katya Kabanova, though on past performance if I asked them to get it, they probably would. They also have lots of popular material, from jazz to shows and film soundtracks to world music to some of the top pop and rock (and probably hip-hop) artists.

    And when I check the section of the catalogue listing New Arrivals,” there are often tons of music listings. As with DVDs, lots of the music selections are now available only for streaming, but there is still a great browsable section in the library itself.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    RR, you didn’t say which country and city.

  • Stephen says:

    Very few posts concerning UK libraries. Last time I was over there I noticed a decline in the number of books as well as classical CDs in stock in both Orpington and Bromley libraries, which used to be so good. Most space was given over to DVDs.