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Radio Station’s Music Collection Brings Big Challenges to U. of Texas at Austin

The Fine Arts Library struggles to process the 60,000 unorganized CDs that will be available to the public. (Photo courtesy of U. of Texas Libraries)

The U. of Texas at Austin’s Fine Arts Library has 60,000 CDs to process and store before they can be made available to the public. (U. of Texas Libraries photo)

Some of us remember the days when CD organizers were a thing. Whether you had CD towers in your living room or binders with plastic sleeves for the discs, it always seemed as if there never was enough space.

For most of us, those days are history—albums nowadays are easily stored in our computers, phones, or tablets. But the University of Texas at Austin is facing a CD-storage dilemma as big as the Texas prairie.

Thanks to its purchase of the entire physical library of the university’s public-radio station, KUT, the university’s Fine Arts Library has 60,000 CDs and 4,000 LPs to process and store—400 boxes’ worth. The archive comprises music of all genres, including albums by little-known bands that were at one time or another part of Austin’s long-thriving music scene.

“The biggest challenge is the huge number of CDs. We got about 50,000 CDs already, but we’ve collected those over the last 30 years,” says David C. Hunter, music librarian and curator at the University of Texas Libraries. Until December, when the library bought the KUT material, the library’s music collection had 200,000 items of all formats. Some of those items had been donated and others purchased by the library, but all were acquired to preserve the materials for public use. The KUT purchase increased the size of the collection by nearly a third.

A collection of Lou Reed's records including Berlin (1973), Sally Can't Dance (1974), and Coney Island Baby (1975), among others. (Photo courtesy of U. of Texas Libraries).

Lou Reed albums in the collection include Berlin (1973), Sally Can’t Dance (1974), and Coney Island Baby (1975), among others. (U. of Texas Libraries photo)

Typically the university acquires about 800 CDs and 4,000 LPs a year—the largest donation that Mr. Hunter recalls included about 6,000 CDs—and the staff processes the acquisitions in the course of the year. But the KUT material is on an altogether different scale.

“I never imagined we would get anything like this,” Mr. Hunter says. He had dreamed about acquiring such a large collection, he says, but figured that the cost of buying and processing it would make it impossible. Acquiring the KUT library cost only $3,000, but processing and storing it will cost far more.

The library will need money to hire additional professional catalogers and student assistants, for starters. On top of that, Mr. Hunter says, each CD cabinet costs about $800 and has room for about 1,080 CDs. The library will need 56 cabinets, costing about $44,800.

“One of our goals is to create a collection that has unique materials, but also to make those materials available to people,” Mr. Hunter says. “There’s no point in having 60,000 CDs stuck in a basement.”

Out of the 250,000 items checked out of the Fine Arts Library during the 2012-13 academic year, 55,000 were CDs. Mr. Hunter says the library’s users have an insatiable demand for all types of music. The KUT acquisition not only will allow the public to have access to the materials, but also will provide a bibliographical record of the types of music played on KUT over the past 50 years, as well as of the musicians who performed it.

Mr. Hunter hopes the university can find the money to process the collection soon. He plans to apply for a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The grant program is specifically designed for collections that are ready for cataloging and shelving, and Mr. Hunter is sure the the CD collection fits the criteria.

Mark Davidson, a graduate assistant at the Fine Arts Library, says it makes sense for the university to have a wide-ranging music collection, given the city’s music history. He says although there is a wide variety of digital music available to the public, it’s important to preserve physical materials too.

“Being able to hold the record cover and read the liner notes—it’s a way to engage with the music that I think is very personal,” Mr. Davidson says. ”That’s an experience you just can’t get from just streaming something online.”

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