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A welcome escape from the usual wintry rigors of traveling to a Music Library Association conference — mid-February this year found us in San Jose, soaking up sun, balmy breezes, and temps in the 70s. (Colleagues battered by the Midwest blizzards were especially appreciative.)

This was the title of a plenary session which yielded a number of high-level insights. For one, it was the first time I had heard the term “disintermediation” to describe the phenomenon of librarians being displaced by Google et al as the first place people go for information.

Henriette Hemmasi of Brown U analogized the MOOCs trend as “Diva to DJ”: that is, the role of the instructor is shifting from lone classroom diva to the collaborative role played by a disc jockey — selecting and presenting material for team-produced courses, working with experts in web development, video, etc. Her conclusion: 21st-century competencies must include not just knowledge, but also synthesizing and systems-thinking skills.

David Fenske, one of the founding developers of Indiana’s Ischool, noted that the rapid evolution of technology has rendered it impossible to make projections more than 5 or 10 years out (his reply to a boss who asked for a 20-year vision statement: “A 20-year vision can’t be done without drugs!”). He also observed that digital preservation is in many ways more difficult than the traditional kind: the scientific community is beginning to lose the ability to replicate experiments, because in many cases the raw data has been lost due to obsolete digital storage media. Fenske envisions the “library as socio-technical system” — a system based on user demographics, designed around “communities of thought leaders” as well as experts. Tech-services people have long mooted the concept of “good-enough” cataloging, in the face of overwhelming publication output; public-services librarians, in Fenske’s view, should start talking about the “good-enough” answer. Fenske wants to look “beyond metadata”: how can we leverage our metadata for analytics? semantic tools? How can we scale our answers and services to compete with Google, Amazon, and others?

Some interesting findings from two studies on the library needs of performing faculty and students (as opposed to musicologists and other researchers in the historical/theoretical branches of the discipline):

One study addressed the pros and cons of e-scores. Performers, always on the go and pressed for time, like e-scores for their instant availability and sharability; the fact that they’re quick and easy to print out; their portability (no more cramming a paper score into an instrument case for travel); easy page turns during performance (a pedal mechanism has been devised for this). Performers also like an e-score that can be annotated (i.e., not a PDF file) so they can insert their notes for performance; and the ability to get a lot of works quickly from one place (as from an online aggregator). On the other hand, academic users, who work with scholarly and critical editions, like the ability of the online versions to seamlessly integrate critical commentary with the musical text (print editions traditionally place the commentary in separate supplementary volumes). Third-party software can also be deployed to manipulate the musical text for analysis. But the limitations of the computer screen continue to pose viewability problems for purposes of analysis. Academic users regard e-scores as a compliment to, not an alternative to, print scores.

Another study interviewed performing faculty to find out how they use their library’s online catalog. Typically, they come to the library wanting to find known items, use an advanced-search mode, and search by author, title, and opus number (the latter not very effectively handled by many discovery layers; VuFind does a reasonably good job). Performing faculty often are also looking for specific editions and/or publishers (aspects that many discovery interfaces don’t offer as search limits/facets). Performing faculty (and students) study a work by using a score to follow along with a sound recording, so come to the library hoping to obtain multiple formats for the same work — icons or other aids for quickly identifying physical format are important to them, as for film users and others. There is also a lot of descriptive detail that performers need to see in a catalog display: contents, duration, performers’ names.

Stuff a lot of music librarians have observed or suspected, but good to see it quantified and confirmed in some formal studies.

This is a topic that has generated much interest in the library community, and music librarians have also been exploring collaborative options for acquiring the specialized materials of their field. Besides shared approval-plan profiles for books, and shared database subscriptions, music librarians have divvied up the collecting of composers’ collected editions, and contemporary composers whose works they want to collect comprehensively. Because music materials are often acquired and housed in multiple locations on the same campus, internal collaboration is as important as external. One thing that does not seem to lend itself to collaborative collection: media (sound recordings and videos). Many libraries don’t lend these out via ILL, and faculty tend to want specific performances — making on-request firm orders a more suitable solution. One consortium of small Maine colleges (Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin) divided the processing labor of their staffs by setting up rotating shipments for their shared approval plan: one library gets this month’s shipment of books, another library receives the next month’s shipment, and so on.

There was a good bit of discussion concerning demand-driven e-book acquisitions among colleagues whose institutions had recently implemented DDA services. On two separate occasions, attendees raised the question of DDA’s impact on the humanities, given those disciplines’ traditional reliance on browsing the stacks as a discovery method.

It was a very busy conference for music catalogers, as over a hundred of us convened to get prepared for RDA. There was a full-day workshop; a cataloging “hot topics” session; a town-hall meeting with the Bibliographic Control Committee, which recently produced a “RDA Best Practices for Cataloging Music” document; and a plenary session on RDA’s impact across library services (the latter reprising a lot of material covered by Steve and others in ZSR presentations — stay tuned for more!)

A very special experience was a visit to the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies (located on the San Jose State campus), the largest collection of Beethoveniana outside Europe. During a reception there, we got to play pianos dating from Beethoven’s time. Hearing the “Moonlight Sonata” up close on the model of instrument he wrote it for (Dulcken, a Flemish maker) was a true revelation.