The National Library of Finland’s sheet music collection seeks a way to get online

The older part of the National Library’s sheet music collection includes approximately 30,000 sheet music publications from between 1801 and 1976. Most of the material is in good condition and the collection holds national significance. Published sheet music is relevant for the history of music, literature, art, theatre and the publishing industry.

In 2018, the National Library launched a development project to investigate how the description of the sheet music collection should continue, how it should be digitised, how it could be made available for online use and how copyright issues could be managed. The key goal of this project is to increase awareness of the sheet music collection among potential user groups (researchers, musicians, music teachers and enthusiasts). Reference information on only 32% of the sheet music in the collection has been entered into Viola, the Finnish National Discography.

Sheet music from composer Fredrik Pacius was selected for a pilot project to test the process. The sample of roughly 1,000 pages featured sheet music publications from different points in history, from the first edition of the Finnish national anthem Maamme to the opera Kaarle-kuninkaan metsästys (King Charles’ Hunt).

The recently completed pilot project revealed some problems in the process, but offered no solutions. There are several points requiring further work, and a broader discussion is needed to properly prioritise them. Sheet music is typically a creation of several people (composer, arranger, lyricist, translator, illustrator) and consequently poses a challenge in terms of copyright. Meanwhile, machine recognition of written music requires further development in the field of OMR (optical music recognition). While OCR, or optical character recognition, can be used to recognise lines of text, OMR recognises both sequences such as melodies and parallel elements (e.g., harmonies) as well as directions regarding the interpretation of specific passages. Developing OMR is one of the most interesting opportunities in the future of the project, as machine-based recognition provides customers with the possibility of carrying out multifaceted text and music searches.

The Aue Foundation supported the pilot project by donating additional funding to the National Library Cultural Heritage Fund.

The final report of the pilot project can be found (in Finnish) from the Doria service, http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN: 978-951-51-5089-9

Sheet music digitised in the pilot project is available through the National Library’s Digital Collections: The earliest Finnish sheet music

Further information:

Head of Collections Tarja Lehtinen, tarja.lehtinen@helsinki.fi, +358 2941 22727