This year’s meeting of the Music Library Association was held in St. Louis (where in mid-February the wind never stopped blowing!)


D & I was this year’s conference theme. While much of the programming replicated the work we’ve done here at Wake, two sessions yielded some fresh insights for me:

In one, titled “Accessibility of Electronic Music Resources for the Visually Impaired,” colleagues from Western Michigan University described a project in which they recruited a visually-impaired student employee to test the interfaces of a sampling of their e-resources (WorldCat, EBSCO and ProQuest music databases, Oxford Music Online, and their Primo OPAC), using two widely-used screen-reading apps, NVDA and JAWS (another product is Apple’s VoiceOver). The student produced and narrated video demos of her test results, and the videos were shown during the presentation. These were highly enlightening: attendees noted not only the practical usefulness of the videos, but also the value of letting visually-impaired users speak for themselves in advocacy efforts. As for the test results, individual resources presented a variety of issues for the screen readers: dialogue boxes that couldn’t be read; search buttons that couldn’t be found; sidebars and main columns that were read straight across, inter-garbling the two; search screens and page elements not labelled for screen readers. The presenters’ conclusion: there are just “too many moving parts” for a simple solution. Given multiple screen-reading products, continuous vendor updates, changing standards, local hardware configurations, etc., this type of periodic in-house testing is not sustainable for libraries. As one attendee remarked, “This [the IT maintenance] is not our responsibility – it should be the vendors’.” Towards that end, the presenters’ recommendations included: making sure routine vendor contract renewal processes include a review of accessibility compliance; customizing local coding, and including its testing in routine update processes; training for librarians, available from library associations and organizations such as the Library Juice Academy; using the ACRL Learning Framework to guide adaptation of resources for disabled users; and considering accessibility when recommending resources to faculty.

In a forum on engaging minority students,  a colleague from the University of Utah described a peer-to-peer engagement project they developed for their Chinese and Spanish-speaking students. Having noticed that these students came into the library more often when a friend who spoke their language was on the service desk, librarians decided to capitalize on this effect by recruiting Chinese and Spanish-speaking students and pairing them up with a native English speaker to produce bi-lingual videos marketing library services and demonstrating specific resources. They also invited study groups, and offered writing-assistance sessions with library subject specialists, to help students master the English terminology and usage of specific disciplines.

A colleague from The New School (New York) shared tips for training front-line student employees to interact with non-native English speakers. Some of the little things that should go without saying, but do need reinforcing from time to time: Speak clearly, not too quickly (“you do have an accent”); don’t pretend to understand – repeat the question back to the user, for clarification; don’t raise your voice; don’t be condescending (“just because they haven’t yet mastered their second – or third – language, doesn’t mean you’re smarter”).


In a session on interface design, OCLC presenters shared their finding that, when multiple editions of a work exist, undergraduate students expect the “best” edition to display first. How do undergrads define “best edition”? (1) the most recent; (2) in the user’s language (as reflected in their search statement); (3) locally held. The OCLC folks are working to get WorldCat’s clustering function to produce these results. May also be worth noting for local discovery interfaces.


As always, the Music OCLC Users Group pre-conference was very productive for me. While this year’s programming was pretty deep in the tech-services weeds, which I won’t bore everyone with here, I’ll be sharing out to the usual parties. (Or feel free to ask!)


This year, after two years’ service on the “Best of Chapters” Award Committee, I rotated to Chair, which meant running the session for the winning paper. In line with the conference theme, we had two colleagues from UCLA present on their work developing collections of Hip Hop and local Punk bands’ recordings, and preserving scores from the Depression-era Federal Music Project and now-rare Russian scores published during the Soviet era. They discussed these in the context of the current movement away from canon-based curricula, and how libraries are responding by moving towards developing distinctive collections, and promoting “hidden” existing collections. During a brisk Q&A, colleagues doing similar collecting of local pop music shared their experiences, which included challenges with digital-only distribution and copyright; respecting local communities when approaching them as an outsider; defining the scope of local collecting projects; and the interesting question of the tendency for canonization to develop within once-marginalized genres (solution: collect comprehensively within your area of focus).