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This year’s meeting of  the Music Library Association was held in Portland, Oregon. A very busy conference for me, between session attendance and committee duties.


The Music OCLC Users Group (MOUG), which holds its annual meeting as a pre-conference to MLA, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. We received updates on cataloging standards and tools, and heard about collegues’ projects processing student recital recordings, digital scores, and digitizing LPs. I was happy to see our neighbors at the Moravian Music Foundation get national exposure for a project first presented at a chapter meeting, describing their ingenious integration of hosted services to make their resources accessible online.

Government Documents

Also at MOUG, we learned about a growing movement to create “data refuges,” designed to ensure that federal government data survives changes in presidential administrations, and other politically-motivated activity. Scholars, archivists, and librarians gather at one-day workshops to identify docs that are most vulnerable (i.e., aren’t being archived by any other institutions) and copying those docs to safe homes. Spearheaded by scientists, it is now attracting humanists and arts people, who are beginning work on the NEH, NEA, and IMLS. Interest is also turning to state-level government.

Information Literacy

At the poster session, a colleague at Chapman University compared his experiences delivering a mandatory IL program to music majors, first as a four-year curriculum (one 90-minute session per year), then as a one-semester course (six one-hour sessions). Clearly, retention was a problem with the once-a-year shots, but they did allow customization to each year’s challenges as students progressed from freshmen to seniors. The semester course proved more effective overall, but presented its own retention problem in that, delivered in the freshman year, some information didn’t really become relevant until junior and senior years.

Another poster, presented by a colleague at Northwestern who had moved from tech services to public services, compared FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, a cataloging model designed to enable the user to perform four tasks: find, identify, select, and obtain) to the “Strategic Exploration” concept of ACRL’s Framework. She’s developed an interactive tool to help public-services librarians incorporate FRBR concepts into their catalog-use instruction.

Reference resources: Oxford Music Online

At a much-anticipated session, an OUP rep described an ongoing project to move their online products to a new platform. Oxford Art Online and others have so far been largely successfully migrated, but the music discipline presents some distinctive challenges: the stable of New Grove Dictionaries (a general encyclopedia plus specialist spin-offs, containing a mix of overlapping and unique content, and all on independent revision schedules); the comprehensive composer worklists historically maintained by music reference sources; and the famous musical families (the Bachs, the Mozarts, etc.) who present complexities for indexing and linkage. OUP’s initial effort with the new Oxford Music Online, released a few weeks ago, provoked a firestorm on the MLA listserv; at the conference, we learned about work being done to resolve the issues, and heard the explanation “We are publishers, not a tech company”– the platform is maintained by a third-party firm, a fact that has at times complicated communication re customer feedback, but will ultimately give Oxford more control and extensibility (their old platform was shared with other publishers.) In the meantime, MLA members have started a blog collocating known and resolved issues, which RIS colleagues may find helpful if you have occasion to tangle with the new Oxford Music Online.

Committee work

As coordinator of an advisory service, I spent this past summer and fall pairing advisees with advisors for in-person consultations at the conference; now, in Portland, I enjoyed meeting them in-person myself. I was blessed with a very energetic and creative co-coordinator, who came up with all kinds of marketing ideas, resulting in record usage stats. After I finish the annual report and a bunch of thank-you letters, I hand the reins into her capable hands as incoming coordinator.

My other committee administers the Best of Chapters Award, and hosts the conference session for the winning paper. After a successful presentation, we met to discuss ideas (broached in prior email correspondence) for refining the rubric, and for additional channels for recognizing chapter work. All of which will land in my lap for implementation as incoming chair this year.

Archives and Outreach

This year’s Best of Chapters presentation reminded me so much of Rebecca’s “Hop into History” program — in this case, a YouTube series (“If Books Could Talk”) produced by the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. It brings together a music librarian, an archivist, a faculty historian, and guest experts to introduce a lay audience to the joys of analyzing manuscript sources. Their simple but effective formula: Begin by asking the manuscript a question (How did you get to Iowa? Why is so much of you missing? What can we learn from a single leaf?); supply three “clues” in the course of demonstrating research methodologies; and a suitable conclusion. For a snappy style, they found models in other YouTube projects such as PBS’s Art Assignment, and The Brain Scoop. An added bonus: one episode led to the unexpected discovery of leaves (in several locations in the U.S. and England) from the same source as one in Iowa’s collection.