THE AIM OF THE NEW MUSIC Libraries Online Project is to link the OPACs of all nine UK music conservatoire libraries using Z39.50 to form a virtual union catalogue for music materials of all kinds. Music Libraries Online is the only subject-based project to be funded under Phase 3 of eLib and, under the leadership of Project Director Kate Sloss aided by an already very active Steering Group, the project has made an excellent start.
Together, the nine conservatoire libraries hold an incomparable set of scholarly resources for musicians. With access to each others' holdings through a virtual clump, they will be able to provide facilities on a scale which they are unable to support solely from their own resources.
The project will be staffed by one full-time Co-ordinator, based at the University of Central England, a technical consultant and a music libraries consultant. The Steering Group will play a very active role. This group mostly comprises senior librarians from the nine institutions, but with representation from the Performing Arts Data Service, Project Earl, independent consultants and Fretwell Downing, which is contracted to carry out the technical implementation. One of the project's early priorities is to agree a common standard among the nine libraries for bibliographic description. Music libraries are out of necessity not noted for faithful and devoted adherence to standard cataloguing systems. The bibliographic standards group will be tussling with issues that make the finer points of Z39.50 look like childs' play.
The considerable diversity among the current library systems provides scope for testing the compatibility of new-generation Z39.50 compliant systems such as Unicorn with much larger systems based on older software and holding shared catalogue data. Work will start with the five libraries which currently have Z39.50-compliant catalogues. These are: Birmingham Conservatoire at the University of Central England, The Royal Academy of Music, The Royal Northern College of Music, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and Trinity College of Music.
A further 4 libraries will join in the second stage of the implementation, in 1999. These are City of Leeds College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal College of Music and the Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Music Libraries Online plans to investigate options for including in the consortium music libraries from other sectors and also composer archives. In addition to the availability of the library catalogues, the project hopes to facilitate a highly efficient interlending system and co-ordination of acquisitions policies. Several of the participating libraries have also been cataloguing special collections materials under the HEFCE Non- Formula Funding initiative and enhanced access to these records will be of interest not only to scholars in the UK but worldwide.