Racks of CD's in the Montreal French language Radio-Canada network headquarters in Montreal, soon to close. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

Public broadcaster music library closing, CDs to be digitised, destroyed


Canada’s public broadcaster CBC (English) and Radio-Canada (French) is going through massive changes.

The sprawling headquarters of the Radio-Canada network in Montreal have been sold, and the organisation will move to new and much smaller rented quarters being built on one of the former parking lots. PHOTO- google street


As mentioned in its news release of December 12, 2017, Radio-Canada is taking the necessary steps to ensure the long-term preservation of its collections of vinyl records  and music scores.

Fully digitizing the 151,000 unique commercial CDs (music content, disc covers and liner notes) will protect them from wear and tear over time, thus keeping them available to production teams.

As for the vinyl LPs and 56,000 duplicate CDs, Radio-Canada has clearly stated that its goal is for the items to be given a useful second life in another context, while remaining available to meet occasional production requirements. That’s the thrust of the initiative referred to in the article.

A call for interest for the commercial music scores is currently underway and others will be issued for the vinyl LPs and duplicate CDs. Discussions are also in progress with Library and Archives Canada for the musical manuscripts.

Marc Pichette
Premier directeur
Relations publiques et Promotion
Direction générale, Communications, Marketing et Marque

With huge funding cuts from the government and increasing costs, this has meant equally massive staff and production cuts. Rapidly developing technological developments are also driving the changes. The broadcaster with its stations across the country has, over the decades, amassed a vast collection of recorded music and other artefacts at each of its locations but most especially in the two main headquarters of Toronto and Montreal.

Shortly after his death in 1997, the collection of legendary CBC broadcaster Clyde Gilmour was donated to the CBC in Toronto . It consisted of more than 10,000 long-play records, 4,000 CDs, programme scripts, notes, correspondence, files, tapes and reference materials. This was added to the already extensive and often historic collections at the public broadcaster. In 2012, CBC transferred the Gilmour collection to the Toronto Public Library system. PHOTO-CBC

In 2012, and subsequent to a massive budget cut, the CBC began a policy of digitizing its collection to save space and storage costs, even as a move began to sell off its buildings and move into smaller quarters.

Digitized and destroyed

The main French-language production centre of Radio-Canada in Montreal has also been digitising its collection. However, recently it was revealed that most of the collection of over 200,000 CDs will be destroyed when the process is completed in 2019 and prior to the move to new quarters in 2020. The destroyed materials will be recycled.

Radio-Canada will keep the recordings that it produced. PHOTO- Pascale Fontaine

The collection consists of some 151,000 CDs, and 56,000 “doubles”. The huge headquarters building of the French broadcasting network has been sold and the remaining entity is to be moved to a new smaller rented building being built on the property on one of the former parking lots.

The Montreal headquarters has a vast collection of music books and scores, some very old, and many very rare. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

An executive with the project said, there will be no room in the new building for storage of the library.

In addition to the almost 200,000 CDs, the library houses thousands of LP’s, some now relatively rare. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

She added the doubles will  first be open to offers from cultural or educational organisations. Certain special compilations however will be preserved as will some of CBC/Radio-Canada’s self-produced recordings.

The executive also noted in a Radio-Canada story that they can’t give away the rest of the discs without first verifying the copyright situation, adding that doing that for the whole collection would be a far too expensive and time-consuming task. Another option of putting the collection in storage would also be too expensive.

In addition to the racks of LPs, the library also holds thousands of old and rare 78s. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

The solution apparently is to destroy the CDs, along with the disc covers and liner notes. Producers have said that liner notes can provide useful information for programmers and hosts, and that much of that would be lost without the hard copies, although the liner notes are also being copied.*
Some people aware of the situation have said that as the broadcaster eliminates its “hard copy” libraries, many rare items are likely to be lost forever.

The Montreal library also houses about 200,000 vinyl LP records. Many of these are now quite rare. Even more rare are the approximately 70,000 old 78rpm discs. Few of these were ever re-recorded on LP, and almost none of these exist on CD.

While very few of the 78’s would ever have been transferred to LP, let alone CD, many of these old 78’s are in French, making them even rarer. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

In addition the library houses a multitude of rare, and extremely rare, musical scores and books
It is not known at the point of this writing what will happen to the vinyl LPs the 78s, or the vast collection of music books and scores, but it was revealed that there is pressure to move quickly on the closure of the physical library and collection. Staff said they themselves did not know what would happen to these items, although it is possible they may end up in some cultural museum or educational institution context. In a memo dated December 12, 2017, Radio-Canada said it was consulting with Library and Archives Canada about the thousands of manuscripts and books.

Other artefacts include music scores, again some dating back decades, and which could be considered heritage and historical items. Photo: Marie-Claude Simard/RCI

Artists in Quebec are saying the news of the digitisation and eventual destruction of the CD collection is sad. One of Quebec’s iconic and much loved music stars, Michel Rivard is quoted in the Radio-Canada article saying, “it’s very bad news”.

additional information-sources

(**NOTE: an earlier version of the story seemed to indicate the liner notes would not be copied. They are in fact being digitised as well. Also an added note to clarify the Gilmour Collection in Toronto was transferred to the Toronto Library System)

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133 comments on “Public broadcaster music library closing, CDs to be digitised, destroyed
  1. These archives are a public asset and should be treated as a public asset. When we destroy them, we destroy something purchased with OUR tax dollars. This decision does not belong to the CBC, it belongs to all of us as taxpayers.

  2. Sue McCarthy says:

    Please consider giving the contents of your music library to community or university radio stations

  3. JGibson says:

    Why in the name of goodness would you not allow the public to acquire the material instead of destroying it? Auction it off and put the money back into the collection! There is no foresight in this decision.

  4. Kirtu Riba says:

    Killing the Radio in the name of modernization is very unfortunate.

  5. Daniel Dunivant says:

    Canada is getting to be as stupid as the USA.

  6. Willow Arune says:


  7. Idiots…send it all to the archives of Canada.

  8. Rebecca I says:

    I am not certain why work to prepare for this hasn’t been done. Also, couldn’t selling CDs, etc be an option?

  9. Claudio Pereira says:

    I thought idiot ideas were a exclusivity of under-developed coutries, like my country, Brazil. But readig these new, that Canada, a country that I always tought to be compromised with the best in culture (Norman McLaren, my prefered animator, had all his masterpieces patronized by the canadian National Film Board), is gooing to destroy rarities, the original recordings in shellac, vynil, CD, makes me wonder that bureaucratic idiots are evenly distributed in the world and that they are winning the war against culture by a far pace. CBC should destroy itself and let the recordings free to the people that still care for a legacy to the future.

  10. Jim Vickers thevicksyahoo.ca says:

    Not just sad, but a criminal destruction of public property.

  11. Bill Poser says:

    If copyright is an issue, the government could simply legislate a one-time exception for this collection. Copyright is something created by legislation, not some sort of inherent right, and the government can perfectly well modify it.

    • Robert Bernstein says:

      Sadly, that is not correct. Copyright exists as a legal concept drawn from common law, and while specific provisions exist via legislated statutes, the basic rights of creators to their creative works cannot simply be legislated away. Even with the best of intentions and in the interests of historical preservation.

  12. Kelly says:

    This is the saddest thing I’ve heard in a lomg time. All of that beautiful music gone?!?? I offer to come pick up any and all that will be destroyed. Damn the man, save the empire!!

  13. I wonder if anyone has really budgeted out the cost of digitization. It is not only the first digitization, but the cost of maintaining the hard drives, backup hard drives and the cost of re-digitizing every few years before the hard drives fail. Maintenance and organization of digital files is very expensive and labour intensive. Maintenance of vinyl or CD is putting it on a shelf and maintaining a reasonable temperature. Many motion pictures are being archived on film, because of the huge cost of maintaining digital files. Warehouse space is cheap, especially if the collections was moved out of a downtown locale to a smaller community. I really wonder if any alternatives have been explored.

    • Emily says:

      Destroying any of these items is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Find an alternative to destruction. Auction them off to collectors or anyone, and use the money to replace some of those finding cuts, if nothing else. Think people, think.

  14. I urge anyone interested in this story to read
    Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper
    from 2002.
    Here’s the synopsis.

    “The ostensible purpose of a library is to preserve the printed word. But for fifty years our country’s libraries–including the Library of Congress–have been doing just the opposite, destroying hundreds of thousands of historic newspapers and replacing them with microfilm copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age.

    With meticulous detective work and Baker’s well-known explanatory power, Double Fold reveals a secret history of microfilm lobbyists, former CIA agents, and warehouses where priceless archives are destroyed with a machine called a guillotine. Baker argues passionately for preservation, even cashing in his own retirement account to save one important archive–all twenty tons of it. Written the brilliant narrative style that Nicholson Baker fans have come to expect, Double Fold is a persuasive and often devastating book that may turn out to be The Jungle of the American library system.”

  15. Jay Kaufman says:

    This is government bureaucracy gone too far. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation went through a similar thing and they auctioned off their vinyl collection and someone bought it. He in turn, was able to preserve it and house it accordingly instead of destroying decades of rare pieces.


    At the very least this should be moved to a public museum.

  16. Shane Fage says:

    That looks like a copy of Harry Somers’ opera, Louis Riel.

    I hope they have a real plan for all of those scores. That’s too much to loose.

  17. Mahesh Jain says:

    why don’t you give it to some collector or museum …
    let the next generations know the legacy…

    destroying is the foolish idea

  18. Robert says:

    I think I need to stop listening to CBC Radio and get my music elsewhere.

  19. David says:

    Donate unique items to music libraries or conservetoires?

    Sell accessible items at clearance?

  20. Beverley Fenton says:

    Please don’t destroy the collection!

  21. Robin Hoode says:

    More proof of the decline of the human species.This makes me sick.

  22. Chris McConnell says:

    Am I missing something here? There’s a lot of indignation about the loss of such a great treasure, but they’re keeping all the music, and hopefully they’ll still be playing it. They’re just getting rid of the physical discs. What’s the big deal?

    • Would you say the same thing if the national gallery was to digitize the work of the group of seven and then destroy the originals? Certainly, a lot of the CD’s in this collection are multiple copies of a master, but I’ll bet that a lot of the vinyl is the only version around, and the manuscripts are irreplaceable. Digitization also degrades/alters the original sound, especially if it is coming from vinyl.

      • Jeremy Lansman says:

        CDs are already digital. Lossless compression such as FLAC makes ecact copies of the music in the files found on the CD. The work of encoding copy printed on the information insert will take much more time. I suggest you ask for volunteers.

      • Chris McConnell says:

        The article doesn’t say they’re destroying the vinyl or the manuscripts (which would be a shame). It only says they’re destroying the CDs, along with their covers and liner notes.

  23. Anton van Walraven says:

    I had at one point make a decision about what to do with boxes and boxes full of video footage taped onto VHS that was collected by an organization over the years. Due to space constrains of the space we were leasing we had to clear things out. The technology wasn’t there at the time to transfer the videos easily and cheaply. We decided to destroy, I am still sorry that we did.

    This collection should go into the national archives.

  24. Jeff says:

    And what happens when the hard drive or server they’re stored on crashes, and the data is lost or corrupted.
    Also once it’s destroyed there’s no possibility to go back to the original Master when better technology is found to restore and preserve the sound quality. Not to mention the extremely rare and valuable vinyl that I’m surely will get destroyed because some clerk doing the work has absolutely no idea what it is or its actual value.

  25. John Graham says:

    Material like this should never ever be destroyed…whoever came up with this idea should be thrown in jail. Far too much info will be lost forever. Funding should never ever be cut to CBC…they are the only broadcasting stations these days to actually talking to the people….the others are only good for two things…..nothing and no good.

  26. Allan says:

    This was a very interesting article.
    I hope that whatever is decided to be done,
    with these musical archives, hopefully can be preserved
    for future generations.
    It would be really great, if any of these items, can be donated to
    places such as public libraries, and educational institutions.
    Thank you in advance, for your time and consideration in
    reading my comments.

  27. gra gor says:

    What they have in the can is worth more than what they produce now.

  28. ROB COWAN says:

    This is unbelievable to me. Are they insane? This isn’t sad. It’s criminal. This should not be a CBC issue. It’s an issue of National importance and should be dealt with by the government itself. Considering the hundreds of millions they waste EVERY year, it would be a pittance to deal with the maintenance and storage of this priceless material. ESPECIALLY the jackets, covers and notes contained in these hundreds of thousands of items. This is a sick joke. It’s bad enough how the government has slashed the ability of the CBC to fulfill its mandate but they should be held to account for this travesty. The CBC would be more than happy to administer this but it’s up to the government to fund it. There is nothing remotely too expensive about this because the material is priceless. Not valueless as the government seems to think.

  29. Steve Jones says:

    Instead of destroying these items, why don’t you just give them away?


  30. Rick Slobodian says:

    why don’t you give them away to the people of Canada since the citizens of Canada bough them for you with our tax money

    • Keith Perron says:

      The collection can not be donated or sold. There are many copyright issues, which would take many man hour and would cost more than storing them. Giving them away, but the CBC holds the copyright on them. It should be noted that the CBC did not pay for these recordings. The last majority are promo copies provided by the label. When Thames, Granada, LWT, and other ITV networks were dissolved each of the libraries also had to be destroyed. As no one came forward offering to take over the copyrights. There are so many legal issues involved the cost would be astronomical.

  31. Bruce Dunn says:

    When will public officials learn that keeping art safe from destruction is one of the most valuable actions in the history of humanity. If that which has been achieved is lost then we have no idea where we came from nor what had been accomplished by our forefathers. The evolution of Canada is reflected in the contents of CBC libraries and there is no excuse to put downsizing as a valid reason for destroying our heritage. Find a space; find the money for heaven’s sake!

    • Kevin Ball says:

      There are many good comments, but yours is the most pertinent. This collection is history. It needsto be preserved whole. Copies always lose information which my be significant.I have a thousand LPs. They take up about 14 feet of shelf. So 200,000 wouldrequire 2800 feet of shelving. Stacked floor to 8 foot ceiling, 7levels would reduce this number to 400 feet of wall space. This would fit easily into my modest home. Surely the government can find the funds to preserve this unique collection.

    • Jeremy Lansman says:

      Proper digitization uning open source lossless software to encode the audio (known as a codec) will better preserve the content. CD plastic may not last forever. For example, may delaminate. Multiple copies of the data on drives at more than one location would be a better preservation strategy.

  32. Gwen says:

    What about assembling some volunteers or crowdsourcing for funding for an alternative. Maybe people would like to volunteer to figure out copyright on many of the important treasures?

  33. Quintin Zachary Hewlett says:

    sell them on ebay if they will not find a home with a school or library. DO NOT simply destroy them

  34. Ryn says:

    At least keep the liner notes if you must destroy something this precious! All in the name of “progress” – I am not that keen on supporting you after this. I’m so tired of seeing this happen over and over again.

  35. Lorne Hammond says:

    If they permanently backup CDs they own they would have copyright. If they sold it to you they would lose the legal right to keep the digital copy. They would thin have to destroy the digital copy. I think that’s what’s going on.

    I do think the material should go into permanent cold storage. Ie a mine.

    • Brett Saylor says:

      If that’s the case, if they destroy the, they will not have them, either – wouldn’t they still lose the right to keep the recordings?

      • Chris McConnell says:

        If they keep a digital copy, but destroy the physical copy, then they still only have one copy, which is what they paid for. Copyright doesn’t become an issue. That’s why giving them away after digitizing them isn’t really an option; if they do that, then there are two copies out there, and only one had been paid for. That would be a huge problem.

        Not arguing, but really wondering: if they digitize all the audio anyway, is the loss of covers and liner notes really that big a deal? Is there really that much information on them that cannot be found otherwise?

      • Jack Judge says:

        @Brett when you “buy” a CD or LP you’re only buying a license to use *a* copy of that material. If backup your CDs and then sell the original discs there are now two copies of the material in circulation and only one has been paid for.

        Having said all that…I’m fairly sure that the copyright will have expired on a lot of the older material in their archive.
        The problem now is the sheer volume of material that’d have to be checked, they don’t have the staff to do it in the time available. So rather than leave themselves open to future lawsuits if some copyrighted material slips thru, better to destroy it all. They say.

        This is institutionalised incompetence on CBCs part though. These collections should’ve been curated and catalogued properly over the decades. At the very least there has to be asset management, when you’re spending the publics money you’re legally obliged to account for how you spend it.

  36. Lucy Pavez says:

    Why not have a sale? Many many people would live to own some of the Viña or even cd’s or just as a keep sake. There is no need to destroy them. How about give the $$ to charities or the items so that charities can raise funds.

    • Greg says:

      They didn’t get extensively into copyright law here – but did explain it somewhat well – they can keep one digital copy for broadcast / archival – but either have to keep the original or destroy it.

      Even GIVING AWAY the originals could run afoul of copyright provisions. And they probably don’t have the funds to retain the original material in an archive. It does cost money, and consumes extensive office space to retain it that way. Digital copies cost almost nothing to produce and keep.

      • You are wrong there, the cost of maintaining the hard drives, back up drives and the re-digitiation of material every few years before hard drives failure is actually expensive and labour intensive work. It is a fallacy that digital archiving is cheap. Hollywood has chosen to archive on film for this very reason, even many digitally shot films are copied to film for long term archive.

        • Jeremy Lansman says:

          I have an extensive music collection on hard drive as a result of maintaining a music broadcast service for some years. My months worth of music takes hours to back up to a new hard drive. But that can happen overnight while I sleep. The metadata I entered was extensive. Fortunately there is a good open standard allowing liner notes and even images to be embedded in the audio files. Thee enceded music takes almost no space and can fit on to my laptop. No physical library could travel so well.

  37. John Ferguson says:

    Has CBC totally lost it’s mind? The taxpayers paid for all of this music we own CBC, not a few executives. Please explain this copyright issue to us. You are just so wrong. Heads will roll over this one. Grow a brain CBC!

  38. BA Fenerty says:

    Jerome Summers says he is “saddened that these important recordings are either being defaced or destroyed in order to remake the broadcaster into yet another commercial source of pop entertainment.”

    Ah but fear not, Jerome and otbers, the wittily paced pop entertainment inanities of AIH’s self-named Jeff Froglegs may well be preserved for centuries so future historians may insightfilly reflect thru his tax-funded wiley worded witticisns upon the serious situations humanity was facing in the long gone years of who has the bigger nuckear button, refugee crises and provinces whining over wine. BTW the frivolous-froglegs-factor is even sneaking into the news shows so future historians must not be dangerously digitally deprived of that pop culture news aspect either. Long live AIHJF!

  39. Greg Hendrickson says:

    Destruction of these materials is absurd. There has to be a better solution!

  40. Steve Lichti says:

    Unbelievable… and so irresponsible. You should allow the public to take them for free. Then you wouldn’t have to pay to have them destroyed. Shame on you!

  41. Raj Doobay says:

    These should be placed in the National Archives as part of our cultural history.

  42. Dave Watson says:

    THIS IS WRONG. PLAIN AND SIMPLE. Don’t give up. Keep looking for alternatives.

  43. Chris Hlady says:

    It’s like burning the Library at Alexandria: Culture Crime.

  44. James Clark says:

    I am sickened at the thought of losing these treasures of culture. Blame the Federal Government for the funding cuts, but blame CBC for not reacting sooner and finding an alternative to the destruction of art. Maybe someone like the National Music Centre in Calgary. And please explain the “copyright” issues regarding recorded music that has already been purchased.

  45. Fabio Tagetti says:

    I still have some RCI cds from the 1990s, and tape recordings from broadcasts too… now this move is appalling!
    I cannot believe there no place for all the recordings, here in Italy the state-run RAI has the second largest collection in the world….Canada is so much larger than Italy I understand…
    Fabio Tagetti – Italy

    • Ryn says:

      It’s laziness. It’s likely “too difficult” which means nobody will try. I’m livid. These are cultural treasures – music is part of our heritage! Shame on CBC.

  46. Archives like this are a national treasure to anyone with any sense of culture and history. Clyde Gilmour’s collection alone is a treasure. Has everybody in Parliament (not to mention the CBC executive) gone completely nuts?

  47. Christine Chevalier says:

    These precious artifacts should not be destroyed! At the very least, they should be offered up for auction. This is absolutely criminal…

  48. Jerome Summers says:

    This move contributes to the current ‘dumbing down’ of our national broadcaster. I am saddened that these important recordings are either being defaced or destroyed in order to remake the broadcaster into yet another commercial source of pop entertainment.
    The apparent need to digitalize and stream our Cultural treasures is, at best, a reflection of the shallow perception of art that many in government (or even the broader consumerist population) holds.
    Pop consumerism is infecting every facet of our society….our cultural ministry should be ashamed of this move in that direction!

    • So true! Why not Universities and/or the Canadian Music Centre?

    • Jim Vickers thevicksyahoo.ca says:

      They’re dumbing the CBC down and reducing its assets so that it can be closed down. The Conservatives on the board have this on their agenda, I’m sure. TheTrudeau Liberals seem to be co-operating as well. This needs to be stopped and the CBC should be given back its many public functions which are invaluable for preserving our national culture and identity.

  49. Dennis Crossfield says:

    Totally totally wrong and this will come back to bite us. All the wasted dollars on crap and you throw away a legacy.

    • JP Vanden Heuvel says:

      A poignant observation. Well said. I would go further and state, cultural preservation is not desirable to the barbarians in power, rather, it stands in the way of their objectives.

  50. Alyssa Bruijns, MLIS says:

    While I understand that budget constraints and moving buildings can be hard, destruction of this massive CD collection is not an acceptable answer for an institution meant to be serving Canadians. We don’t digitize rare or uniquely-Canadian limited issue books just to destroy their originals. Digitization is to be used as a way to offer further ACCESS to the public, not as an excuse to destroy artefacts! And yes, CDs are artefacts – people don’t realize how quickly a fading technology can become rare. The designs, accompanying booklets, paper vs. jewel cases are all creations of an artist, just as the music on the CD is and they all inform each other to form a specific experience for the intended listener. This is a travesty, and as an archivist I am appalled that CBC would not entertain other options simply due to ‘high cost’. If you ask Canadians, they will help – but you did not give us a say.