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On Oct. 9, I drove down to East Carolina University in Greenville for the annual meeting of the Southeast Music Library Association. It was a very interesting and varied program this year:

Library “Infomercials”

Nathalie Hristov, Music Librarian at UT Knoxville, gave a presentation titled “The Music Library Informercial: a Practical Guide for Creating the Most Powerful Marketing Tool You Will Ever Use.” Nathalie had noticed that certain materials in the Music Library — audio-streaming databases, directories, vocational literature (job ads, etc.) — seemed to be under-utilized. She contacted Alan Wallace, UT’s Education Librarian, who had made videos for the main library, about producing an infomercial on the Music Library’s resources and services, with a special focus on the under-used resources, to be shown at the music school’s fall convocation, which all students were required to attend.

The infomercial fulfilled all expectations: surveys conducted before and after showed increased student awareness of the Music Library’s services in general; an increase in the number of students who knew about the under-used materials and who had used or planned to use them; and a large majority who reported that they found the infomercial to be both entertaining and helpful.

Nathalie’s and Alan’s advice on the nuts-and-bolts of producing an infomercial:


  • Don’t overload your infomercial. Decide what you want to focus on (e.g. under-used resources), and cut your script to make it as concise as possible.
  • Keep narration to a minimum, or you’ll lose viewers’ attention.
  • Speak the students’ language (not librarianese).
  • Play on students’ strengths, wants, and needs (papers due, rehearsals to prepare for, finding a job after graduation).


  • Create a timeline. Divide the project into sections, and set a deadline for each section’s completion.
  • Stay on schedule to avoid losing currency of information.


  • Use local talent. (One option: drama students.)


  • Survey your venue for aesthetics. Ugly objects like trash receptacles, signs taped up on walls, etc., are “forgiven” by the eye in real life, but jump out on the video screen.
  • Use cue cards, since your cast are likely not to be trained actors.
  • Use uniform clothing (a school T-shirt is good) for your cast. Otherwise, if you’re filming the same people in separate sessions, subsequent editing can create a comical impression of sudden costume changes (say, for warm and cold weather).
  • Go for interesting angles (from above, below, etc.). In cramped stacks spaces, the UT team shot through openings between shelves.


  • The UT team used iMovie, a Mac-based software. They also used Final Cut Pro, but warned that this product was expensive and involved a steep learning curve.
  • Screencasting tools like Snagit and Camtasia can be used.
  • The final step is exporting and burning to disk, which depending on the application can take anywhere from a couple of hours to fifteen.


  • Solicit viewer feedback, as the UT folks did with before-and-after surveys.
  • Also important is cost/benefit analysis. Document everything: the UT team made daily records of time spent, tools used, etc.

Embedded Info-Lit

Sarah Manus, Music Librarian for Public Services at Vanderbilt, gave a presentation titled “Librarian in the Classroom: an Embedded Approach to Music Information Literacy for First-Year Students.” Vanderbilt’s music curriculum includes a “core” of four courses on music history and literature which all incoming music majors are required to take. Sarah took advantage of this opportunity to embed herself in all four courses, giving progressive instruction from the basics (the library’s catalog) in the introductory course to advanced research tools (composers’ thematic catalogs) in the fourth. Her original plan was to give two info-lit sessions per course, but faculty subsequently asked her to “front-load” her syllabus with more sessions in the first course.

Sarah’s participation included:

  • Attending all class sessions.
  • Participating in class discussion, when asked to by the instructor.
  • Answering students’ questions about their research.
  • Holding office hours twice a week.

Sarah warned that this degree of embedment required a huge time committment, especially after the music school added a second section to the core, and she consequently found herself attending class five days a week. Sarah said she also had difficulty remembering which material she had given when to each section!

(It’s also worth noting that Vanderbilt has three music librarians — one for public services, one for cataloging, and a director of the music library — which enabled Sarah to make the necessary time committment to an embedded project of this scale. As Sarah noted, where you have one person performing all three roles (like at Wake), or you have a large program with several hundred students enrolled, it would not be the most feasible option.)

There were some other unanticipated difficulties with the embedded approach. Sarah’s familiar presence in the classroom led some students to draw the wrong conclusion. The inevitable procrastinators expected her to do their research for them, and others prevailed on her to pull strings on their behalf, such as having library fines forgiven. The instructor had to give the class a stern lecture to the affect that “Sarah is not your slave, and will not do your work for you!” Still, Sarah found that the opportunity to get to know the students and their needs, and to be more closely involved in the overall educational process, was well worth it.

Improvements Sarah plans:

  • Devote more time to the research process. Sarah found that many of the students were used to doing short critical essays, and had never done an extended research project before.
  • Use active learning techniques, such as small-group work.

Ethnological fieldwork

Holling Smith-Borne, also from Vanderbilt, gave a presentation on “Recording the Traditional Music of Uganda.” This was an update on the development of the Global Music Archive project, a website hosted by Vanderbilt that offers audio streaming of traditional music, so far from Africa. Holling became acquainted with a prominent Ugandan musician who served as an adjudicator for Uganda’s annual national music festival. This man consequently knew all the best traditional musicians in the country, and had an extensive network of contacts with universities, govenment agencies, and other institutions interested in preserving Ugandan culture. Vanderbilt provided him with a salary, recording equipment, and training, and engaged him to travel the country supplying material for the Global Music Archive. Holling and his team hope to identify similar contacts in other African countries, to expand on this work.

They next plan to add to the Archive:

  • Appalachian dulcimer music
  • Indigenous Mexican music
  • An existing Vanderbilt archive of tango music

Greenville being so near the coast, our guest speaker was retired ethnomusicologist Otto Henry, who shared wonderful reminiscences of his fieldwork on the Outer Banks, recording old-timers singing and playing folk music of the area. Many of his recordings were issued on the Folkways label.

Business meeting

We missed the company of a number of colleagues this year due to cutbacks in travel funding (Georgia’s state library system in fact announced the total elimination of travel funding just a day before the SEMLA meeting). We dovoted some time in our business meeting discussing how the general downturn in the economy was likely to make professional travel increasingly difficult for many for some time to come, and explored ways of compensating for this unfortunate trend, including screencasting future SEMLA meetings.

Also in the business meeting, a student member proposed creating a Facebookaccount for SEMLA, with the object of outreach to library-school students, and of increasing awareness of music librarianship as a career. The idea was well received, and an exploratory committee was set up.

All in all, a very enjoyable and informative meeting this year — I’ve come back with lots of ideas for our LIB250 course and other endeavors!