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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Finding Primary Sources of Music in Libraries and Archives

A guide to identifying, locating, and accessing primary sources (including manuscripts, early editions, programs, interviews, and more). This guide covers both digital and physical collections.


Many original manuscripts and early editions might be inaccessible in their print form if they are in a library or archival collection somewhere in the world that you can't travel to, but that doesn't mean you're without options.

Printed facsimiles (which are copies or reproductions that are designed to be as faithful to the original edition as possible) of a manuscript can be an excellent substitute when it is not possible to examine the original manuscript. These can be in print or on microfilm/microfiche. Another option you can explore is tracking down a digital copy. While this won't be exactly the same as handling the original manuscript, digital copies can be valuable sources for your research!

This page will walk you through search tips and access options for locating facsimiles and digital copies. 

Finding Facsimiles in the Library Catalog

To search for facsimiles in the UIUC library catalog or in WorldCat - a catalog that allows you to search the holdings of libraries around the world - try searches for the following subject headings. For a refresher on how to search by subject in the catalog, refer to our instructions on searching for scores & recordings from the finding music materials guide!

Using the library catalog's advanced search, try subject searches for the following:

  • [Composer's name] -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles

For facsimiles of medieval collections, try subject headings like these:

  • Music -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles
  • Manuscripts, Latin -- Facsimiles
  • Sacred vocal music -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles
  • Secular vocal music -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles
  • Chants (Plain, Gregorian, etc.) -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles
  • Motets -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles
  • Polyphonic chansons -- Manuscripts -- Facsimiles

Access Tip: Published facsimiles are generally something you can borrow from another institution through I-Share or Interlibrary Loan if UIUC does not have the facsimile you need. Ask at the service desk if you need help placing a request!

Finding a Digital Copy

In some cases, scores and manuscripts have been digitized and are posted online for public access.  While this is not always the case, there are several ways you can check to see if a copy is available online.  If you know the institution that houses the item, check their website to see if the item is part of any digital collections.  If not, there are several online resources that specialize in facilitating access to digitized materials.

Early & Medieval Sources