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WWU’s Music Library holds centuries worth of music history

The Music Library’s “largest collection in the region” is a resource available to everyone

The sun shines through the skylight of the WWU Music Library on July 19, 2023 in Bellingham, Wash. “We love plants and we love art and we love music,” said Marian Ritter, head of the Music Library.  // Photo by Milo Whitman

Boasting huge windows overlooking north campus from the second floor of the Performing Arts Center at Western Washington University is the Music Library

Marian Ritter, head of the Music Library, has put together a collection of audio materials, musical scores and books that total to more than 100 thousand. Despite having a prestigious catalog, she feels the Music Library is underutilized.

“We have a treasure here, but nobody knows it’s here,” Ritter said. “This is for everyone on the campus.”

 The biggest collections of LPs and CDs on hand are of the classical and jazz genres, but the library has all kinds of music.

Heather Dudenbostel, the opera theater director and assistant professor of voice and dramatic arts at Western, talked about Ritter’s drive to help everybody feel welcome in the library. 

“If a student can’t find what they want, which is unlikely, she’ll get it,” Heather Dudenbostel said. “She’ll move mountains for the students to get what they want.”

Heather Dudenbostel encouraged students to experience the music library in any way they can. 

“Even if somebody doesn’t necessarily want to look up an LP, or a music book or anything, they just want a quiet, beautiful place to study,” she said. “Go there for that.”

The interior of the library features artwork, glass skylights, plants and a wall of windows that looks towards the Viking Union and Bellingham Bay. Sitting in front of the window is a long row of turntables and CD players. The LPs and CDs can’t be taken out of the library because of their rarity, but students can use the equipment in the library to listen and even record the music to a flash drive. 

Turntable close up

A record spins on one of  WWU Music Library’s many turntables on July 19, 2023 in Bellingham, Wash. The turntables in the Music Library have step-by-step directions of how to carefully use them. // Photo by Milo Whitman

Included in the library’s many materials are instruction books for people who want to learn how to play an instrument.

Although streaming services seem to offer everything, there are many cases where this isn’t true, especially when it comes to music produced prior to the internet, explained Mehrdad Gholami, a current adjunct professor at Texas A&M-Commerce and a freelance musician.

Gholami, who will be coming to Western this fall as the new assistant professor of flutes, will be giving a presentation on Luciano Berio’s flute “Sequenza” this August at the National Flute Association Convention. Gholami needed a specific recording of this piece performed by Severino Gazzelloni that could not be found on the internet. 

Gholami, who knew of the library from an earlier visit to Western, was able to find the record he needed using OneSearch, the university’s online database. He explained that exact recording was crucial because Berio wrote the piece for Gazzelloni.

Gholami mentioned how having physical media and libraries creates equity and accessibility for everybody. Libraries are “symbolically the emblems of knowledge. It’s a place where you can go and you’re immediately connected to everything,” he said.

Ryan Dudenbostel, the director of orchestral studies and a graduate advisor at Western, said certain scores and musical performances are only available in physical versions. He also explained the way music libraries sort books, scores and performances isn’t always simple. 

Online databases are sorted by humans, and “humans don’t always do a perfect job entering things into databases,” he said. “This is specifically true with music, musical terms and composers.” 

Ryan Dudenbostel used famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as an example. The Russian Cyrillic alphabet is often transliterated to the Latin alphabet differently, so when searching online for a certain book or score, the results may vary depending on what spelling is used.

This confusion is avoided because libraries sort all of these into one place. 

Heather Dudenbostel credits the internet for all that is available, but she feels that listening to music in its physical form is a way to get closer to the music we enjoy. 

“There's something about opening up a record and putting it on the machine. The steps of preparing yourself to be present with the music, I think, has the potential to offer a more profound experience,” she said. “Which I think is perhaps closer to what the original artists and composers intended.”

The music library is available to anyone with a valid Western ID or Bellingham Public Library card.

Ryan Dudenbostel said plugging in your headphones to listen to a record is a way to take a needed break. “That is a wonderful catharsis in a chaotic world.”

Milo Whitman

Milo Whitman (he/him) is a campus reporter for The Front and is planning to major in journalism and minor in film studies. He enjoys playing music, watching movies and sports. You can contact him at

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