When a college takes the music library of a college radio station.

Music Library. by Pitseleh Pitseleh
Music Library., a photo by Pitseleh Pitseleh on Flickr.

Earlier this week @LibrarySherpa sent me this article about UT Austin accepting and processing the KUT music library.

Thanks to its purchase of the entire physical library of the university’s public-radio station, KUT, the university’s Fine Arts Library has 60,000 CDs and 4,000 LPs to process and store—400 boxes’ worth. The archive comprises music of all genres, including albums by little-known bands that were at one time or another part of Austin’s long-thriving music scene.

My initial thoughts were:
1 – That’s a small collection.
2 – How will the DJs use it if it’s circulating with the whole campus?

Then I finished reading the whole article. KUT is now a news and talk station, so the collection is fairly useless to them. As for the logistics, in a normal year the UT library processes donations of 800 CDs and 4,000 LPs. This makes the KUT collection a bit of a stretch. Will be interesting to see how it pans out despite my concerns about the future of college radio.

This isn’t the first time something like this happened in Texas. In 2010 Rice University sold the license for KTRU to University of Houston, which turned it into a classical radio station, effectively killing KTRU. Thankfully (?) their music library is now part of the Rice archives.

Closer to home, the University of San Francisco sold its FCC license for KUSF to USC so that now in the Bay Area 90.3 FM is also a classical music station. KUSF lives on via online streaming and the library is intact.

This all interests and concerns me as I’m co-director of the KALX music library. We have a collection of about 100,000 pieces of music — 45% LPs, 45% CDs, 10% 7″s. We’ve been collecting records since we started in 1962 and throw nothing out. If a KALX DJ says we should keep it, we do. The value of the collection is not only the size and the breadth, but also the reviews and comments scrawled on almost every record and CD. This is the history of KALX. Our copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind has a dialog about “selling out”, the grunge explosion, and the role of college radio. For some reason the original Star Wars soundtrack was also contentious. While it would be interesting to open this up to the public, it’s a working collection for the DJs, and the primary value is it being at the DJs’ ready at all times. KALX has a culture that really appreciates this, almost revering the library as a sacred collection, which is why theft is so low. KALX is an atypical college radio station in many respects, but the library is one of the better ones. If by a cruel twist of fate we become a classical station, I would hope the main library would take the collection, but I really hope that day never comes.

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