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.

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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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135 comments on “Public broadcaster music library closing, CDs to be digitised, destroyed
  1. Avatar Ede Wolk says:

    As mentioned in the article there are many ‘rarities’ to be found among the collection of vinyl and 78 rpm discs. I worked at MRC between 1980-1990….and spent many hours browsing through the stacks of discs in the basement of the record library…often spending my lunch hour auditioning records in one of the listening rooms. Sadly, the CBC is another federally funded institution that has little regard for its heritage and archival holdings…Montreal is just the latest CBC facility to do away with the record library and it’s contents. What will be left is memories not only of records, cds, sheet music…but also the employees who cataloged, maintained and shared my passion for recorded music.