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Sheet Music FAQ

Online Sheet Music Collections at York University Libraries

York University is a member of the Sheet Music Consortium (SMC), an online initiative hosted and managed by the UCLA Digital Library Program to aggregate digital sheet music collections world wide. The SMC harvests descriptive sheet music metadata from the YorkSpace repository at regular intervals and links back to both the library catalogue record and the YorkSpace repository record for the item.

Where possible in accordance with Canadian copyright law, York University Libraries are posting sheet music to the YorkSpace repository as it is described and digitized. York University Libraries approach the digitization of historical sheet music based on several best practices related to fair use and Canadian copyright legislation, and the established practices of our partners with the Sheet Music Consortium.

The vast majority of the collection consists of digitized sheet music from the extensive collection of John Arpin, with the addition of approximately 200 digitized items in the Sheet Music Collection. The John Arpin Collection consists of over 70,000 items of sheet music, donated to York University Libraries in 2011 by Dr. Mary Jane Esplen. Due to the size of the donation, the digitization and description of the John Arpin Collection will continue for many years to come.

May I use/perform/share the sheet music in the YorkSpace collection? 

If the item is out of copyright (in the Canadian context at least) and is in the public domain it can be used freely. Your clue to the item being in the public domain is that we have provided a PDF of the sheet music in the YorkSpace repository in addition to a thumbnail of the cover. It is expected that the item will be properly cited.

How do I cite the item?

If the PDF of the item begins with the letters "JAC", the item belongs to the John Arpin Collection. Please cite as following:

  • York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, John Arpin Collection, JAC#####.

Otherwise, if no fonds are listed in the YorkSpace record, cite as following:

  • York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Sheet Music Collection, SMC0####.

If you wish to include a link to the item in YorkSpace in your citation, please use the handle as provided in the descriptive item record as it is a persistent identifier:

Why is only the cover visible? How can I obtain a copy of the item?

If only a cover image is visible in YorkSpace, this indicates that the title is still under copyright and by law we are unable to post or share the sheet music. One would have to contact the copyright holder(s) of the sheet music directly to obtain a copy (or the rights to perform a piece). Copyright holders may include the publisher and/or the composers/lyricists (or the estates of the composers/lyricists).

The contacting of copyright holders may prove to be difficult as copyright may be held by a publisher that is no longer in business and/or composers/lyricists that are difficult to locate, rendering the piece an orphan work. Note that orphan works are still fully protected by copyright law.

Under Canadian fair dealing provisions, you may visit the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University to view a copyrighted piece and take images for personal use and private study.

You may also want to check Sheet Music Consortium website to see if other libraries carry the same piece, as they may be closer to you geographically.

Many sheet music items can be easily found online on eBay or Amazon. This may prove to be the most time-efficient and cost-effective means of obtaining access to copyrighted works.

Content warning

Nineteenth and twentieth-century sheet music reflects both the racial stereotypes and social prejudices of the era. Users should be aware that racial slurs, epithets, pejorative terms, and racially stereotyped images and instances of blackface may be encountered as they search the collection. Such language is especially evident in minstrel songs.


For further information contact the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at