Friday, January 28, 2011

The Music Librarian – SABC Media Libraries

This is the third post of a series of posts of interviews with personnel in the SABC Media Libraries. I will be posing the same six questions to all of us.

We have five departments which fall under the SABC Media Libraries here at the South African Broadcasting Corporation. It is the SABC Music Library, the SABC Record Library, the SABC Information Library, the SABC Radio Archives and SABC Audio Restoration.

We work with different types of collections and different formats, and we are not always aware of what our colleagues are doing on a daily basis. This is a way of getting to know each other a little bit better with regards the work we do, and the importance of our collections in the broadcasting sector.
This interview is with Suzette Lombard, the Principal Music Librarian at the Music Library. The SABC Music Library has musical instruments of the highest quality, as well as printed music scores which they rent out to professional orchestras or music organizations on a daily basis.

  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (Where you grew up, where and what you studied and your work experience before you joined the SABC Music Library)
I grew up in Pretoria. My grandmother was a music teacher and my mother sang part-time for PACT opera, so I was always surrounded by music. I started taking piano lessons when I was 7, and completed a BMus (Performing Arts) and Diploma in Individual Tuition at the University of Pretoria. I taught music in Pretoria and Port Shepstone for several years. Piano and flute were my instruments at university, but during those years there were very few music teachers on the South Coast and I ended up teaching organ, recorder and guitar as well! Very aware of my technical shortcomings on those instruments, I practised and studied as hard as the students, believing (as I still do)  that it was more important for those kids to develop a love for music than to become music virtuosi.

When moving back to Pretoria, I joined the SAPS Band where I played piano, flute and piccolo, regularly performing for heads-of-state and royalty. We did some interesting gigs like police parades and street marches country-wide, but were also lucky enough to perform in Bremen, Germany at the Musikschau der Nationen in 2001. I also played flute and piccolo for the Pro Musica orchestra in Roodepoort for a few years, and loved every minute of actually playing the operas and symphonies I’d grown up with. One of the nicest jobs I’ve ever had was teaching piano and flute at the American International School in Diepsloot, just before joining the SABC.

3. Tell us more about your collection and the scope of material you need to preserve.
As we earn a modest income for the SABC, we believe that service delivery is extremely important, therefore every single query and request we receive is a priority. In any normal day we could receive repertoire queries or requests for quotes, search the catalogue, advise clients on choices of scores and instruments, do the necessary paperwork and dispatch the orders. We rent out orchestral instruments such as timpani, snare drums, tubular bells and tam-tams as well as double basses and pianos. We have a collection of music scores including orchestral, vocal and choral scores and chamber music.
4. Please tell us about a normal day in your office. What material do you give priority to?
With the music scores, instruments and equipment going out regularly, there is always something that needs to be repaired or cleaned or fixed-up. Great care must be taken when moving or transporting the equipment, as most of the instruments are valuable and hard to replace. It is also difficult to have some instruments repaired or serviced, as the skills as well as parts needed are not always available in South Africa, which means that we have to source it from overseas.
3. Do you struggle with technical difficulties, and if so, what?
Some of our sheet music collection is very old and fragile, and some scores are irreplaceable, especially some original scores handwritten by prominent South African composers. Due to copyright law, we cannot send out photocopies and thus the original sheet music is used by the orchestra or musicians on stage and there is always a risk that something might get damaged or lost.
We are looking forward to having a digital catalogue to replace the current old-fashioned card catalogue - it would save our clients and us a lot of time! I’m not even talking about the day we could have sheet music available as downloads…
5. If you have an anecdote about a specific piece of interesting music or musical instrument, please share it with us.
There are lots of interesting and funny experiences from when I was in the SAPS Band, but one of the weirdest times was when we opened a new border post on the border with Lesotho. We started marching and playing, probably something like Colonel Bogey March by FJ Rickets. The next moment the band members marching on my left got shorter and shorter and all but disappeared! Luckily after a few seconds they appeared again – it turned out we had marched right through the vehicle inspection pit!
6. Tell us why you enjoy doing the work that you do.
I love working in a music environment and dealing with musicians and composers. The work tasks are so varied that one is never bored, and there is the added bonus that one learns something new about an instrument, or a composer or composition every single day!
Questions and post by Karen du Toit.
Afrikaans Archivist (SABC Radio Archives)


  1. Hi l am 29 years old wish to become a music librarians l have a passion with music which makes it good advantage for me,so l would like to know how go about becoming one.

  2. “To work in a library such as this, you would need at least a 3-year BMus degree specialising in classical music. A further library qualification, being able to play an orchestral instrument and a rudimentary knowledge of Italian, French and German would be ideal.”
    - Suzette Lombard

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