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I’m back from Pittsburgh, where the Music Library Association held its annual conference this year. The program was so breathlessly jam-packed that I’m just going to have to, unbloglike, post one long report at the end. Sorry!

Dominating the sessions this year were the many creative ways music librarians are exploiting new technologies to enhance their mission:


My colleagues at NC School of the Arts described their use of ipods for music reserves. They do this in two ways: issuing library-owned ipods with the course listening assignments pre-loaded (other schools, like Baylor, also do this); or, upon request, downloading the content to students’ own ipods. They cover their legal liability on the latter service by requiring the student to sign an agreement not to steal the content; violation results in a fine based on the going Itunes rate per track (often totalling hundreds of dollars) and being blocked from class registration for the upcoming semester. They report that this deterrent has proven quite effective. The biggest problem, rather, has been failure to return library-owned ipods.


A number of music libraries are using enhanced podcasts for outreach. Enhanced podcasts combine audio and video to, e.g., feature a performer, a faculty research project, etc.


Quite a few libraries have mounted their staff and student manuals on wikis, citing the ease of updating and editing, and the added benefits of facilitating feedback and collaborative work. Many are also employing wikis in the same way Lauren has in Gov Docs, for optimizing communications in the running of public service desks.


As in the larger library community, music librarians’ frustration with existing integrated library systems (ILS) is widespread. There were presentations on ways libraries are using third-party software to enhance the useability of their ILS: NC State’s use of Endeca with their Sirsi system was mentioned, as well as Lib X, a Firefox browser extension designed for libraries, which features a toolbar containing links to the library’s catalog (a number of other libraries have developed similar toolbars of their own, offered to students for download). Other libraries have gone further, developing alternative open-source ILSs. These include the Univ. of Rochester’s Extensible Catalog; Georgia’s public library systems’s Evergreen; Plymouth State’s WP Opac, which uses blogging software. All these systems have faceted browsing, and various blendings of Google-like features with traditional catalog functions.


An attempt at providing another kind of seamless access was demonstrated in an update session by Naxos Music Library, an online streaming service. Naxos has plans to partner with Proquest’s International Index to Music Periodicals (IIMP), Sheet Music Now (a public-domain digital score provider), and Webfeat, the federated search engine recently demo’d here, to create a product that will enable a user studying a given musical work to listen to a performance, download and print the score, and locate secondary literature, all in a single online search session.

With the advent of Naxos and other online music-streaming products, the imminent demise of the CD has inevitably been prophesied. A lively dabate arose on this topic in a session titled “Hot Topics in Music Librarinaship.” Many attendees reported that, subscriptions to streaming products notwithstanding, they’re still buying CDs, citing the lack of coverage of certain repertoire online (I’ve encountered this problem with our own music faculty: for teaching Medieval and Renaissance-era repertoire they find the online products largely useless, because these are typically licensed to distribute only older recordings, which in the case of early European classical music reflect obsolete/discredited research on performance practices); ease of use (faculty are fond of grabbing a physical CD five minutes before class); connectivity problems; varying levels of psychological readiness of faculty to adopt new technology; and questions of ownership/archiving (there’s no JSTOR for sound recordings).


In the same “Hot Topics” session, several attendees reported on how they’re exploiting the virtual environment for music bibliographic instruction. Facebook and Myspace were deemed particularly valuable as a space for student group work and peer mentoring. Others have found uses for Youtube: one colleague found that when she integrated Youtube clips into an ethnic music studies course, students more readily absorbed information on the more traditional research sources.


On a more esoteric note, Mark Katz of UNC-Chapel Hill gave an intriguing presentation on “The Second Digital Revolution in Music.” The first revolution, of course, was the coming of the Internet. Now we have new artforms such as “turntablism,” a practice developed by DJs of manually manipulating vinyl discs on turntables to produce special effects; and “mashups,” the overlaying of the vocals of one popular song on the accompaniment of another. This, Mark notes, raises questions of authenticity: whereas traditionally a live performance was considered “authentic,” and the recording of it a reproduction, now activities such as turntablism and mashups render the recording itself the “authentic” entity. Does this make turntablists and mashup artists composers?

A second revolutionary trend identified by Mark is the virtual music community. This is found, of course, in places like Myspace (where many performers have pages), Youtube (which brings together people with shared musical tastes), and concerts in Second Life. Are virtual communities “real” communities? Do people hear music differently as an avatar in Second Life? Music scholars, in Mark’s opinion, have lagged behind those in other disciplines in exploring questions such as these; the field of “music and technology” has yet to mature.


I attended a session on RDA (“Resource Description and Access,” the new cataloging rules currently under development) and its implications for music (and other formats such as video). One thorny problem: access points for performers. When do you make the primary access point for the work and when for the performer? RDA has adopted the basic principles of FRBR, which say the primary access point should be the work. But this proves to be at odds with customary practice in various creative communities: the film community considers a film a new work in its own right (not a derivative of the novel, etc.); and what to do about musical performers who are also the composer, arranger,etc. of the work they’re performing?


This year’s conference was a joint one held with the Society for American Music (SAM). In a SAM session, one of our own Music faculty, Louis Goldstein, who specializes in contemporary American repertoire, gave a lecture-recital of a piano work by little-known Denver-born composer Stephen “Lucky” Mosko (1947-2005). Mosko’s reputation is so obscure that most of us in attendance had never even heard of him, but the piece Louis played for us was exquisitely beautiful, so I’m going to look up more of his music to add to our collection.

A tradition of the SAM folks is to hold a shape-note hymn sing at their conferences, and this was a most moving experience also. MLA members fielded a brass band and jazz band, which provided the entertainment at the closing reception. Some years we have a chorus, too. This is one of the coolest things about being a music librarian: getting together with colleagues who are both scholars and performers!


I spent a productive afternoon in the exhibits hall. In particular, I got a chance to talk to some vendors who offer approval plans for scores and recordings, which I’ve been eyeing as a possible solution to some faculty requests regarding gaps in our collections. Also got updates from vendors of music online resources that are still (sigh!) on our desiderata list.

As I said, a jam-packed and most informative program this year. My biggest disappointment was that some sesssions had so many speakers lined up that each one had only five or ten minutes to describe their “how we done it good” projects.