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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.


Concert programs, notes, and photographs can be valuable primary sources for your research. By critically examining programs, you can document the program history of particular works over time; composer and performer notes can give you first-hand insight into a particular performance or concert series; photographs and other performance ephemera can give you a window into past musical performances.

This page collects information about archival collections at UIUC that you can browse in person as well as selected digital archives where you can explore programs, notes, and photographs from archives around the country. 

For more help finding images, particularly of historical musical instruments, check out our guide Finding Images and Video: Music.

Collections at UIUC

In addition to checking out the digital archives in the next box, there are also archival materials that you can browse right here at UIUC. Keep in mind that archives work a little differently from libraries - you usually can't just show up without planning ahead.

You may need to coordinate your visit in advance to give the archivists time to pull and prepare materials for you to look at. It's also important to note that archival materials cannot be checked out, you'll have to look at them during your visit, so plan to visit when you have some time to spend with the materials!

To learn more about how to schedule a visit to the archives and what the access procedures look like, check out the University Archive's information about how to plan a visit.

Local Concert Programs

There are even collections of concert and recital programs you can browse here at MPAL!

  • The collection of School of Music Concert and Recital Programs is in the non-circulating reference section at MPAL. While you can't check them out, you can browse them while you are in the Library and scan or photograph sections for later reference. 
  • The collection of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Programs is kept in MPAL's Special Collections. If there's a program you want to consult for your research, ask at the service desk and we can bring it to you. As with the School of Music Programs, these are for in-library use only. 

Digital Collections Beyond UIUC

There are also many archival collections that have digitized materials you can explore online if you aren't able to travel across the country to consult a particular archive. Check out some of the collections below to see programs, photographs, and concert posters that are digitally available!