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This year’s meeting of the Southeast Music Library Association, in Chapel Hill, had a special event to celebrate: the seventy-fifth anniversary of UNC-CH’s Music Library, now the largest music collection in the Southeast. Some of the collection’s rarest treasures were on exhibit at the opening reception.

Among the most interesting presentations was one given by Sonia Archer-Capuzzo of UNCG, posing the question “How can librarians support faculty and students doing fieldwork?” Music librarians, in particular, have rarely given much thought as to how they can fill this role. By like token, their traditional patrons — musicians — often find fieldwork intimidating; classical musicians tend to be introverted types. Nonetheless, fieldwork is done by ethnomusicologists (who study musical traditions using ethnographic methods), music educators, performers, and even music theorists. And of course fieldworkers in other disciplines – religion, dance, anthropology – encounter musical traditions. Sonia notes that librarians can add value by: (1) reminding our users that we also do fieldwork (e.g., library user studies); (2) stocking our collections with the right resources, of course; and (3) leveraging our connections: knowing the experts among our colleagues and other scholars, to whom we can make referrals. Finding little existing literature designed specifically to guide the librarian, Sonia conducted two email surveys: one of fieldworkers in music and other disciplines, asking how they used libraries in their fieldwork; and one of librarians, asking how they had helped fieldworkers. (The survey instruments, and Sonia’s presentation slides, are posted at Responses revealed that fieldworkers do value libraries, and librarians’ assistance, in doing the background research for their fieldwork; they also appreciate having one online portal — the library’s website — for re-consulting resources as needed while in the field.

Ethnographic studies of library user behavior have attracted attention in the last decade or so. David Hursh of East Carolina reported on the first such study conducted in a music library. ECU’s music library staff collaborated with a resident ethnologist to design a study using “seating sweep” and “timecard” methods to collect data on such factors as group vs. solo study, social activity, time spent in the library, use of technology, and volume and type of activity in various areas of the library. The timecards were short questionnaires handed to users as they entered the library; staff recorded the time of entry, asked the user to return the card when they left, and recorded the time of departure. Because “people often say one thing but do another,” library staff also did unobtrusive visual sweeps of the premises at designated time intervals, recording their own observations of user activities. As expected, there was some variance between the self-reported and observed data. Results from both, however, suggested that users spent most of their time working alone; spent up to a quarter of their time socializing; and used the tech lab (which included the music listening stations) more heavily than the study carrols, reference collection, or the stacks. Multi-tasking was not quite as ubiquitous as might be expected: some 30% of users were observed spending more than 20 minutes on a single task, but when technology was in use, there was a strong correlation with multi-tasking.

Like many library associations, SEMLA and its parent organization, the Music Library Association, have seen declining membership in recent years, in large part due to the current economic climate. Some strategies brainstormed during the business meeting included:

  • Demonstrating our association’s value to music faculty by hosting a clearinghouse of lesson plans, and reminding advisers about music librarianship as a career option.
  • Cheaper dues; reduced dues for the first year; additional membership options (e-membership; membership without the journal subscription).
  • Dropping the membership requirement for first-time conference attendees; sponsoring an attendee; inviting local library-school students to conferences, where they would be mentored by student members.
  • Recruiting from more diverse populations.
  • More webinars, podcasting, etc. for those who can’t travel to meetings.