The Record Library
During the booming Australian post-war economy, many households aspired to own a record player and a record collection to reflect their family's musical tastes. Records became treasured possessions and record playing became an enjoyable family interlude. Until record making became an industry in Australia, all records were imported; fine music and classical works were particularly expensive as most were imported from Europe. Music lovers wanting to listen to classical music could rarely hope to own a set of Wagner's operas, for example, as each work required multiple discs and imports were limited.
Musical shows were also popular pastimes in Melbourne, however live theatre productions were not something the average family could regularly afford to enjoy. Classical recitals and operas were rare and accessible to even fewer of the populace. Following an overseas trend, recorded music societies and music libraries started to emerge throughout Australia. They became popular and developed in the same way as subscription book libraries, thus enabling them to lodge bulk orders for classical works. Recitals of works from their collections were regularly held for members. In some cases, their lending collections included sheet music.
In late 1958, to accede to numerous members' requests, the Athenaeum Management Committee agreed to consider the establishment of a music LP (Long Play) Record Library. The matter was deferred until the next year to enable the incoming Management Committee to assess the matter in full. Accordingly, in January 1959, after the Finance Committee advised that funds were available for a start-up allowance of 250 pounds, the Management Committee resolved to approve a record library "strictly as an experiment to be reviewed in 12 months". Two months later, a further 50 pounds was allocated and almost every month thereafter, similar sums were allocated. By June 1959, there were 140 members of the Record Library. Many of these were new members for the Athenaeum as the Committee had agreed to LP Library memberships being a separate subscription facility; existing library members, however, could expand their membership to include a special low priced LP component. Lunchtime recitals of items from the collection were regularly held in the art gallery space above the library; whilst intended mainly for members, these events were also advertised in the press for promotional purposes.
Purchased for $1 in a second-hand shop 30 years ago, this is the sole
reminder of the record library held in the Melbourne Athenaeum archives
In 1969, the committee started a suggestion book for members. This was to provide members with an avenue to make requests for books and records and to make general comments and complaints. Each month, this book was perused by the committee and their decisions or comments were recorded beside each member's suggestion. Today, this book is an interesting insight into what was being read at the time and what music was popular. In the 1960s, the music requests ranged from Wagner's operas to modern orchestral pieces by exponents such as Herb Alpert & His Tijuana Brass. In the 1970s, members were requesting operatic albums by Dietrich Fischer-Diskau and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, the soundtrack of "A Clockwork Orange" and Mahler's symphonies. In the 1980s, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and Liszt's "Rhapsody No. 5" were requested as well as "The Moods of Ginger Mick" by C.J. Dennis.
By 1969, memberships at the Athenaeum were declining as free municipal libraries were in full swing and quickly becoming popular community resource centres. In 1971, in an effort to raise membership numbers, the Athenaeum opened a branch library at Forest Hill Shopping Centre. The LP collection in the city Athenaeum was overhauled and a selection of records was transferred to the new branch, supplemented by brand new records including popular music albums. The branch LP library got off to a good start and after one month of operation, it had gained 70 members, probably because of the low $1 joining fee. Despite initial hopes, by the end of 1977, the branch's income was not covering expenses, so when the shop's lease expired at the end of 1977, it was not renewed. The stock and fittings were subsequently sold or redeployed to the city Athenaeum.
The LP library continued to operate in the city. Members' requests had been received for music cassettes and in 1978 selected purchases were made, however spoken word cassettes and videos were not considered feasible. By October 1987, despite these improvements, the recorded music section had outlived its usefulness. The Board ruled that the music section was to be discontinued, the stock sold and the space reallocated to library storage. Three main factors contributed to its demise, (a) the time spent by staff in maintaining and managing the collection, (b) the space the stock and its display occupied in the library and (c) the level of policing required in checking returned LPs for scratches, often resulting in altercations with members to extract replacement costs for damaged items.