In my doctoral research, I encountered a few instances where learned individuals acted as informal gatekeepers, or intermediaries, between Scottish song (and custom) devotees on the one hand, and new knowledge on the other – I could name people such as George Paton or John Ramsay of Ochtertyre in the late 18th century, or John MacGregor Murray in the Georgian and Regency era, and of course David Laing, who became librarian to the Society of Writers to H. M. Signet in the 19th century. These unofficial gatekeepers were seen as sources of information, and were often surprisingly generous in the sharing of it.
Today, in the latest University of St Andrews’ Special Collections blog, Echoes from the Vault, I was reminded of these luminaries. The latest blogpost, ‘Banned Books at the University of St Andrews‘, shares early 19th century Senate discussions as to which books should remain banned to Divinity students; it also describes the Senate’s efforts to regulate public access to their library books.*
Banned books – be they novels or otherwise – are outwith the scope of the Claimed from Stationers’ Hall music research network, but public access is another matter entirely!
The loan records, you will recall, faithfully record every single loan of the copyright music volumes to anyone, professors or students, or the professors’ friends. Between 1836-1839, Dr Gillespie even borrowed the music catalogue itself on several occasions!
Bearing that in mind, the Senate’s deliberations between 1820-21 to restrict the public’s direct access to library books are actually quite significant. We learn that in 1820, the Senate decided,
to consider of the Propriety of restricting the Public at large in the use of books which they are at present allowed to have out on Professors’ pages (Minutes of Senatus, 14 December 1820. UYUY452/13, p. 110)
The subsequent decision was clear: the public were neither to borrow directly, nor to send their servants to do so on their behalf:-
The committee farther recommend that all persons not members of the University whom the Professors may be desirous of accommodating with the use of Books should henceforth receive such books through the Professors themselves & not by going directly to the Library or sending their Servants to it for the purpose of taking out Books in the Professors’ names. (Minutes of Senatus, 13 January 1821. UYUY452/13, pp. 114-116.)
So what we actually have here, is the professors acting as intermediaries, or gatekeepers, to the collection. Considering the materials were valuable, and many of them had been deposited under copyright legislation, this is quite understandable.
What it means, in terms of the music collection, however, is that if we are reading this correctly, and if the rules were subsequently interpreted strictly, then all the friends’ music loans after 1820 were actually made by the professors and not selected by individual townspeople standing at the shelves on their own account. So, who chose the music? We’ll never know. We cannot tell how strictly the rules were enforced, nor for how long, and we certainly cannot guess how often Miss X asked for a particular kind of music, or a particular piece. Unless they knew what was in individual volumes, it is quite probable that their professorial friends were asked to, ‘just find me some piano music’, or perhaps on occasions to ‘bring back something new’. Who knows?
Does this drive a coach and horses through my analysis of who borrowed what, and when? I don’t think it does. We really don’t know the precise circumstances of all those hundreds and thousands of music loans. Even if the professors were more involved in selecting music than we might have imagined, the statistics we’re left with give us a picture of what kinds of music different borrower types were exposed to. Maybe the professors made assumptions about what their friends might enjoy singing or playing. But they must have got something right, or the music wouldn’t have continued to fly off the shelves! Moreover, a strict rule in 1821 wasn’t necessarily strictly enforced even a few years later.
The Senate’s restrictions do, however, serve to remind us that we need to keep an open mind about many aspects of the library’s lending patterns. It does no harm to be reminded!
*Echoes from the Vault post, 29.09.2017, celebrating Banned Books Week