The WH Bell Music Library at the University of Cape Town is named after William Henry Bell, English composer, conductor & lecturer who came to South Africa in 1912 to steer the South African College of Music. The Music Library was opened on 1st August 1943, “… the first completely self-contained, functionally-designed music library in Africa”.
It occupied the former dining room of an old Victorian mansion called Strubenholm, the home of the South African College of Music in Rosebank. In 1948 three adjacent rooms were occupied and the “new library” was opened in 1949. The Library now consisted of a Reading Room, a Control Room, a Record and Score Room and a Listening Room. The stock comprised 2,500 books, 10,000 pieces of music and 3,500 gramophone records. The cost of the alterations and of the equipment amounted to £1,600. During this period Dr Erik Chisholm, Dean of the Faculty of Music, donated a great deal of material to the library and established the practise of purchasing the complete works of standard composers.
In 1973 the Music Library moved to a new building forming part of the South African College of Music complex. Since then, development has been phenomenal and the music library once again expanded. Computers were barely thought of when the present building was built, and paramount attention is being given to the accommodation of IT and electronic media in future plans for the library.
As technology developed and the collections expanded a dire need for upgrading the physical space once again became necessary. A major upgrade was achieved in two phases, Oct 2011 – Feb 2012 and Oct 2012 – Feb 2013. During phase one the lower level was reconfigured to create more stacks as well as a much needed media room. The general staff office space was completely reconfigured. Air conditioning and compact shelving were added. During phase two the space on the upper level was reconfigured to include functional study and computer space, extra shelves for sheet music, new lights, new furniture, carpets, and a modernised information desk, and a modern colour scheme of purple/blue and mushroom.