There has been an amazing new collection that has received a steady stream of attention here in the SLV Arts Collection, and it’s more obscure than you might immediately guess:

Popular music.

Doesn’t really sound very obscure, does it?

Back in 2014 we acquired the seven inch vinyl singles component of the ABC Popular Music Sound Library, roughly the same time that the last of the cataloguing of the LP component was winding up. There were just over 7000 LPs, but just shy of a whopping 30,000 singles. The collection of singles covers the golden era of the form, from the 1950s to the 1980s, when it was the primary commodity in the popular music arena. Nearly 15% of the singles have already been catalogued, and most of that chunk are already available to be requested be eager audiophiles visiting the Library.

Still doesn’t sound terribly obscure, right? Although vinyl records probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of libraries like ours, they wouldn’t be the last thing you’d think of either. A lot of time, thought, and resources have been put into making our vast collection of recorded music accessible in as prompt a manner as possible.

The obscurity comes from the fact that most public libraries that have large collections of music tend not to collect singles. When doing checks in sites full of shared collection item listings of libraries around the world, very few of the singles in this set turned up. And I’m not talking about peculiar examples like the self-released EP by Glen Ferrie.

I’m talking about All out of love by Air Supply, Gold by Spandau Ballet, and You shook me all night long by AC/DC. All of these are found within compilations and full length albums that are more well represented in libraries around the world, but the seven inch physical markers of mainstream popularity are incredibly scarce in public collections. Of the three songs above, I found one similar copy each of two of them on the other side of the world. It is worth noting that the National Film and Sound Archive is a big fan of this form, and holds a lot of these titles too, though the processes around gaining access to collection items is more involved than ours, due largely to the vastly different type of institution they are.

You could argue for some time about the relative importance of these objects, given that, granted, a lot of the music can be found elsewhere (including the b-sides, more and more these days). These are, after all, more or less the vestiges of mainstream success in the music industry in Australia. This analysis makes the aforementioned obscurity seem more fair. But maybe you could make up your own mind by accessing some yourselves? The links above could be a great place to start, or you could just browse the full set of what is currently on the catalogue. As the singles are all kept in our offsite store at Ballarat, you will need to speak to a reference staff member either in person or via the phone to place a request.

Another point of note for those of a more serendipitous persuasion is that each record is kept within a box that holds roughly seventy records all up, and the whole box comes to the Library when one of the records within is requested. So, even if you were just after the Joe Dolce penned song that was performed by visual artist Lin Van Hek and featured in the first Terminator film, you’ll also get to flip through another sixty nine gems that may or may not have been lost to the sands of time.

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