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Music librarians are inured to battling winter weather to convene every year during February in some northern clime (during a Chicago snowstorm last year). So it was almost surreal to find ourselves, this year, at an island resort in San Diego in March (beautiful weather, if still a bit on the chilly side). Despite the temptations of the venue, I had a very productive meeting this year.


In the Southeast Chapter session, it was announced that East Carolina’s music library had scored top place among music libraries participating in a national assessment, sponsored by the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP), of effectiveness in answering reference queries. Initially, the East Carolina staff had misgivings about how onerous the process might be for users, who were asked to fill out a one-page questionnaire. As it turned out, students, when informed that it was part of a national project, typically responded “Cool!” and readily participated. The only refusals were from users who had to rush to their next class.


A panel presentation titled “Weaving the Web: Best Practices for Online Content” resulted in a case of what might be termed the Wake Forest Syndrome: walking into a conference session only to find that we’re already “doing that” at WFU. It was largely about music librarians implementing LibGuides. One item of interest was a usability study conducted by one school of their LibGuides. Its findings:

Users tend to miss the tabs at the top. One solution that was tried was to replicate the tabs as links in the homepage “welcome” box.

Users prefer concise bulleted lists of resources over lengthy descriptions.

Students tend to feel overwhelmed by long lists of resources; they want the top 3-4 resources to start with, then to see others as needed.

Users were confused by links that put them into other LibGuides without explanation.

Students had trouble identifying relevant subject-specific guides when these were offered in a comprehensive list display.

One attendee voiced concern over an apparent conflict of objectives between LibGuides that aim to transmit research skills (i.e., teaching students how to locate resources on their own) and course-specific LibGuides (listing specific resources). Is the latter spoon-feeding?


A panel presentation on scores approval plans gave me some useful tips, as I’m planning to set one up next fiscal year.

In another panel on collecting ethnic music, Liza Vick of Harvard supplied a gratifying number of acquisition sources that I didn’t know about (in case other liaisons are interested in these, Liza’s presentation, among others, will be posted on the MLA website: The session also produced an interesting discussion about the objectives of collecting ethnographic materials in the present era. Historically, libraries collected field notes and recordings done by (mostly European) ethnographers of (mostly non-Western) peoples, premised on producing the most “objective” or “authentic” documentation. The spread of technology in recent years has resulted in new situations: “sampler” recordings produced by the former “subjects” with the aim of representing their culture to a general public (once dismissed by academics, these now benefit from a new philosophy that views the ways people choose to represent themselves as worthy of serious attention); in the last twenty years or so, a new genre of “world” music has appeared, fusing elements of historical musical traditions with modern pop styles; and of course the former “subjects” are now documenting their own cultures in venues like YouTube. As a result, there is a movement on the part of ethnographers and librarians away from trying to define authenticity, and towards simply observing the ongoing discourse between traditional and modern communities.


Lynn has remarked on the need to reduce the percentage of our collections devoted to print bibliographic tools where the online environment now offers equivalent or superior discovery methods. In an MLA session that seemed to constitute a demonstration of this very principle, musicologist Hugh McDonald talked about his work in progress on a born-digital thematic catalog of the works of Bizet. Thematic catalogs have a long and venerable history in print, as definitive sources for the identification and primary source materials of a given composer’s works. They typically provide a numbering system for the works, with incipits (the musical notation for the principle themes) as an additional aid to identification, and cite manuscript materials and early editions. When freed of the space restrictions of print, McDonald envisions these catalogs as “theoretically” (i.e., when copyright issues have been ironed out) capable of documenting not just early editions but all editions ever published; not just the premiere performance, but all performances to date; not just incipits but full-text access to scores, recordings, reviews, and correspondence – compiled and updated collaboratively by many hands, in contrast to the famous catalogers of Mozart and Beethoven, who labored alone and whose catalogs are now “seriously out of date.” There are already many websites devoted to individual composers, but none, McDonald claims, presently approaches the kind of comprehensive compendium that might be realized based on the thematic catalog concept. One attendee, voicing a concern about the preservation of information in the online environment that is certainly not new and not unique to music, wanted to know if edits would be tracked and archived, noting that many librarians retain older print editions on their shelves for the light they cast on reception history and on the state of scholarship at a given time.


Arriving late for the “Hot Topics” session, I walked into the middle of a lively debate on the comparative benefits of having a separate music library in the music department vs. housing the music collection in the main library. Those who headed departmental music libraries argued passionately for the special needs of performing musicians, and a librarian onsite who speaks their language. Those who work as generalists in main libraries pointed to music’s role in the arts and humanities as a whole, and in the increasingly interdisciplinary milieu of today’s academe. In terms of administrative clout, a sense of isolation has always been endemic to departmental libraries: one attendee who “survived” a move of her music collection from the music department to the main library reported that she now enjoys unprecedented access to administration, more effective communication with circulation and technical services staff regarding music materials, and daily contact with colleagues in other disciplines that has opened opportunities she would not have had otherwise.

Another hot topic was “MLA 2.0”: in response to dwindling travel budgets, a proposal was made to ask conference speakers to replay their presentations in Second Life.


There were presentations on RDA and FRBR, two new cataloging standards, and I got to see some helpful examples for music materials, and well as a report on “deferred issues” that MLA continues to negotiate with the steering committee of RDA (these involve uniform titles and preferred access points; lack of alternative options for the principle source of information – problematic when you have a CD album without a collective title on the disc, but one on the container; definitions and treatment of arrangements and adaptations; and LC genre/form terms for music – which to use anglicized names for, and when to use the original language).

Indiana U, in their upcoming release of Variations, a program they’ve developed for digitizing scores and recordings collections, is “FRBRizing” their metadata. Unlike other early adopters of FRBR, they plan to make their metadata structure openly accessible, so that the rest of us can actually go in and see how they did it – this promises to be an invaluable aid to music catalogers as they transition to the new standard.

Another presenter observed that both traditional cataloging methods and the new RDA/FRBR schema are centered on the concept of “the work” – an entity with a distinct title and a known creator. Unfortunately, when faced with field recordings (and doubtless other ethnographic or other-than-traditionally-academic materials), a cataloger encounters difficulty proceeding on this premise. Does one take a collection-level approach (as archivists do with collections of papers) and treat the recording as “the work,” with the ethnographer as the creator? Or does one consider “the work” to be each of the often untitled or variously titled, often anonymously or collaboratively created performances captured on the recording? Music materials seem to span both sides of the paradigmatic divide, with Western classical repertoire that requires work-centered descriptors of a very precise and specialized nature (opus numbers, key, etc.) and multi-cultural research that challenges traditional modes of description and access.

Finally, I’ve got to share a witty comment made by Ed Jones of National University, who gave the introductory overview of FRBR. Describing how FRBR is designed to reflect the creative process – the multiple versions of a work from first draft through its publication history, to adaptations by others – he noted how the cataloger’s art, working from the other end, is more analogous to forensics: “We get the body, and have to figure out what happened.”