Sound not Silence: Libraries and International Jazz Day 2018

At IFLA Headquarters, we spend a lot of time focused on what is going on in Geneva. With the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a number of other major UN institutions, and the library which hosted IFLA’s first Headquarters, there is a lot to do there. But today – International Jazz Day – is an opportunity to look further round the lake, to Lausanne, which hosts the world’s biggest jazz library, the Montreux Jazz Archives.


Nat King Cole, Gottleib Collection, Library of Congress

Nat King Cole, Gottleib Collection, Library of Congress CC0 (

The Spontaneous and the Systematic: Archiving and Jazz


The centre in Lausanne  hosts an exciting collection of recordings – both sound and video, as well as photos, texts and books from the Montreux festival since its creation in 1963. The collection is accessible in particular through the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab, which offers a variety of innovative ways of giving access to the materials held.


It exists thanks to the vision of its founder – Claude Nobs – who meticulously preserved recordings and documentation for the future. The collection was inscribed into the Memory of the World Register in 2013, as an example of a set of materials which offer a significant insight into human history.


Thanks to the centre in Lausanne, the public can now experience these works, while researchers can study them and bring out their uniqueness. By bringing more people into contact with the music – and inspiring new creations – the library, like all others, stimulates both demand for, and supply of, jazz.

Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Max Roach - Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress CC0

Charlie Parker, Tommy Potter, Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Max Roach – Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress CC0 (

Challenges Faced


Jazz – and indeed audio-visual works in general – is not normally associated with libraries. But in their mission to capture what it is that shapes our societies for the benefit of the future, jazz is as important a subject of library collections as anything. The nature of so much jazz – built on borrowing, developing and improvising on existing works – is not so far from what other creators do with works they can access through libraries.


This is not to say that there are not specific challenges involved.


Recording technologies have changed dramatically over the past century, with a serious risk of formats becoming outdated. Moreover, early works are often on highly fragile materials, at imminent threat of disintegration. While many recordings have enjoyed sufficient commercial success to be digitised, remastered and re-issued, this will not be the case for all. It will also not be the case for the programmes, notes and short pieces of film that offer vital context and which may mean so much for aficionados. Preserving the history of jazz requires laws that allow for copying and changing the format of works.


Jazz is also cross-border, with the idea born in New Orleans taking root around the world, witness the importance of Switzerland in this piece. Libraries around the world hold jazz collections, often about the same artist. Developing knowledge and giving access to those who cannot afford to visit requires copyright rules that enable cross-border sharing, and in particular allows libraries to provide access to works which are not in commerce.


Finally, a jazz recording can contain a number of rights – for scoring and arrangements (where appropriate), for performance, and potentially for producers also. Current discussions in Geneva focus on the idea of a Treaty which risks giving broadcasters rights over materials. Some are calling for these rights to reapply each time a recording is rebroadcast. It is clear that musicians and those who make a real contribution to their work should have the possibility to earn a living from commercial uses of works, but the complexity created by an additional layer of rights will not help.



Clearly there are many other issues, not least linked to ensuring that there is adequate funding and staffing for libraries and other institutions taking on the challenge of preserving and giving access to jazz for current and future generations. IFLA’s Audiovisual and Multimedia Section leads on IFLA’s work in the area – check out their web pages for more!