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Having fun isn't hard when you check out music resources with a Kansas City library card

The Kansas City Public Library offers digital and physical music media resources.
Anne Kniggendorf
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Kansas City Public Library
The Kansas City Public Library offers digital and physical music media resources.

Whether you're a student, parent, or a lifelong learner, Kansas City-area libraries have a wide range of resources to check out for back to school season and beyond.

Back to school is in full swing around the metro. And whether you are a parent or a student, fees for school materials rack up — and that’s especially true for musicians, who need equipment like reeds, rosin, and concert attire on top of textbooks and pencils.

Fortunately, there are many resources around Kansas City where you can access books about music and printed and recorded music — among much more — for free or at a reduced price. Classical KC rounded up some of the resources at area libraries to help you fulfill those musical needs.

Kansas City Public Library

The Kansas City Public Library offers a variety of resources, including audio recordings, printed music, music books, and digital access to music of all genres. The circulating collection of printed music includes over 3000 entries: everything from Béla Bartók piano solos to Ukulele for Beginners.

Particularly interesting is the Library’s collection of performance sets: complete sets of orchestral scores and parts. It is one of the few circulating collections like that in the country. The collection of over 300 sets was recently cataloged digitally, making it more accessible to users.

The library is also a great place to see some of the area’s best musicians - for free! It has hosted performances by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Bach Aria Soloists, and KC Baroque. Coming up, the Cecilia Series performs a program inspired by the work of Gabriel García Márquez on October 15 in the Plaza Library Truman Forum.

And if you are just starting out, KCPL has a handy guide to getting started with music, including tips for searching the catalog, some of the music-related periodicals available, and even how to reserve a Clavinova keyboard that’s available in a study room at the Central Library.

Residents of the Kansas City metro (in Missouri or Kansas) are eligible for a library card and there is no age restriction.

UMKC Music/Media Library

The UMKC Music/Media Libraryis located on the ground floor of the Miller Nichols Library on UMKC’s Volker Campus at 51st Street and Rockhill Road. (Disclaimer: author Libby Hanssen was previously employed at the UMKC Music/Media Library.) 

The library has over 130,000 music scores, audio recordings, video recordings, and books, one of the largest collections of physical items (as opposed to digital access) in the region.

A student browses the collection at UMKC's Music/Media Library
Courtesy of the Music/Media Library
A student browses the collection at UMKC's Music/Media Library

While the library primarily serves the students and faculty of the UMKC Conservatory, the library is open to the public, who can use resources onsite. If you want to take printed materials home to study, there is a guest borrower card with an annual fee of $50, which allows users to check out up to five items at a time. (FYI: a string quartet score with parts counts as five items.) Audio and visual material can be used onsite with a valid I.D.

The library also has the Shining a Light collection, which features 21st century music by composers from underrepresented groups. Music librarian Nara Newcomer joined Classical KC’s Brooke Knoll to discuss the collection and the inaugural Shining a Light Concert in April 2023.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

President Harry S. Truman receives a piano at the White House for National Music Week, May, 1951.
Abbie Rowe
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Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
President Harry S. Truman receives a piano at the White House for National Music Week, May, 1951.

While much of the collection at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum is related to government documents, music is well represented. Truman, his wife Bess and his daughter Margaret were all trained musicians. Truman even kept a Steinway piano in the oval office, which is now part of the Library’s collection.

While you can’t check materials out and take them home, the Library has an extensive collection of sheet music from the Truman family that could interest the music historian. The website lists the items in alphabetical order — from “A Beautiful Land” to “Zigeuner ”— that fills 48 boxes! Many are manuscripts, gifts to Truman during his presidency, some with handwritten messages from the composers and hand-drawn covers.

The research room is open by appointment. Email truman.reference@nara.gov at least two days in advance of your intended visit to the Library to schedule a time. While there, you can make copies or scans of research materials or request copies, if you know what you’re looking for.

Along with the sheet music collection, there is information about Truman’s musical involvement in his personal papers, as well as Margeret Truman Daniels’ music career. There are also recordings of painter Thomas Hart Benton and his daughter Jessie singing and playing harmonica and guitar together during an interview about the Benton mural commissioned for Library.

More resources

In the timeless words of Arthur the Aardvark and friends, “having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card.” There’s music and music-related resources at many of the area libraries, probably closer than you'd think.

The Kansas City, Kansas Public Library has a collection of anthologies and song books for pop, rock, jazz, and musicals, as well as a selection of method (AKA learn-to-play) books for a variety of instruments. The collection also includes method books in Spanish.

Residents of Clay, Platte and Jackson Counties have access to the music collection of the Mid-Continent Public Library. You can get a library card in-person or register online. (And if you live in other parts of the metro area, check with your local library, as there may be a reciprocal agreement with Mid-Continent, allowing you to check out materials at both places.) The collection is primarily digital, from the Classical Scores Library. Mid-Continent also has ebooks about music, both serious studies and just for funs. All told, users have access to over a million items!

Johnson County Library, in Kansas, has subscriptions to Naxos Music Library, Naxos Music Library Jazz, and Naxos Music Library World (with the complete Smithsonian Folkways catalog) though its eLibrary. JoCo Library also has a small collection of anthologies and songbooks and a huge collection of audio CDs, over 19,000 in all genres. The library has a reciprocal agreement with KCPL, Olathe and Mid-Continent Public Libraries.

And while, sure, Classical KC isn’t a library, our resources are freely available. Enjoy 24/7 classical music (and see what’s playing on the playlist) at 91.9 FM or online, hear live recordings from local performances on the Classical KC Concert Hall, and learn more about the people and organizations that make Kansas City a vibrant, thriving arts town with articles, interviews, and in-studio performances. Follow Classical KC on Facebook and Instagram for behind-the-scenes content, too.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.