Networking and Meeting Folk

You might imagine that not a great deal is happening in the months leading up to a new networking initiative – but actually, quite a lot’s going on.  It’s just beneath the surface, like a duck paddling!

For example, yesterday I attended a meeting of librarians about collaborative collection management.  I was there with my librarian hat on.  (At this point, I must issue a health warning – be prepared for acronyms.  Librarianship is full of them!)  The meeting was followed by a workshop led by three colleagues from JISC.  It proved very interesting indeed – surprisingly interesting, since I imagined it was primarily for librarians whose collections are in Copac, and ours currently are not.  However, my interest was double-edged, because I could see that the application I was  being shown might actually be interesting to my researcher-self as well as in my role as a librarian.  What’s more, the facility clearly was of potential use to our library for stock management activities. Indeed, Copac will eventually be superceded by a newer, bigger database called the National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (still with JISC), and that could offer fresh opportunities again.  However, I digress.

Now, JISC exists to ‘provide digital solutions for UK education and research’.  As such, it is the organisation running Copac – the great union catalogue of British university, research and national library collections.  It’s one of my go-to websites in many contexts, both professional and scholarly – I couldn’t do what I do without it.  Yesterday, we were learning about CCM tools, which is a new initiative from Copac.  The abbreviation stands for Copac Collections Management.  It’s a little bit tricky to find (it comes under ‘Innovations’ on the Copac website), but it’s basically a tool for librarians managing their physical book-stock, not something many scholars would be spending time on.

CCM isn’t a completely perfect fit for what I would like to do – which is to compare the whole huge corpus of historical British legal deposit music across between nine and eleven research libraries – because it works best with batches of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which hadn’t been invented in the Georgian era!  CCM does also work on subject headings, though these are probably more relevant for print books than for music, which isn’t always keyword-indexed in catalogues.

However, Georgian era music is listed in another online resource, RISM, which begs the question, do any libraries routinely apply RISM numbers to historic British music publications?  If this category of music had RISM numbers, a CCM-type search of vast series of RISM numbers would reveal where the historical legal deposit libraries had the most or least repertoire in common.

In short, the historical legal deposit music of the United Kingdom and Ireland represents a vast, vast amount of metadata, but it exists in various places. The question is, how to bring it all together to get meaningful results.  And that means big data, with a vengeance.  This is something I’d love to develop into a much larger project in the future, having seen the work that the British Library has already done using an even more massive corpus of music metadata in their own collection.

nature-1242617_640So what did I do yesterday?  I networked!  Potential networkers can be found in a wide variety of places – not just academic departments or university libraries.  We need people with technical skills every bit as much as we do researchers and librarians.

This morning, I sat down to deal with a few emails.  By lunchtime, I’d done most of what I intended to do, but felt somewhat uneasy that all I had to show for my morning was a series of carefully-worded emails.  Until the glorious realisation dawned on me that actually, what I’d been doing was exactly what I’m supposed to be doing – networking and making connections.  From that point of view, today has been well-spent.  I’m forging new contacts, and building upon existing relationships with other people whom I hope will share my enthusiasm for this new network.


The Long Tail of Research …

I’ve recently spent a few days assessing a departmental music collection in St Andrews.  I St Andrewshad my ‘librarian hat’ on, primarily, but even that hat has a musicological lining, so I couldn’t help thinking research-minded thoughts from time to time.  In particular, one train of thought was provoked by the discovery of a pile of early 20th century popular songs with eye-catching cover art, betraying cultural trends and prevailing preoccupations such as patriotism around war-time; nostalgia; family ties; romantic relationships; or the portrayal of children.  Not ‘serious music’, this, but the pictures and the content, not to mention musical styles such as ragtime, all tell us about popular musical preferences.

Cover art - ukuleleIs it worth keeping, then?  It might be.  Not for the classical musicians to attempt to analyse as they would a Haydn string quartet, but to inform us about cultural history.  So, if early twentieth century popular music can inform us in this way, then it follows that the Georgian and early Victorian songs and other material appearing in legal deposit music collections will have their own stories to tell … and any statistics about library usage tells us just which volumes were popular with the borrowers.  I’ve made a start on this with the St Andrews historical copyright music collection, having collated the music borrowing records from 1801-1849 and started gathering statistics.

My other research-minded thoughts were more directly focused on the St Andrews historical collection.  We know that a twentieth-century professor dis-bound some volumes and redistributed their contents to other collections.  (How much he did, I have yet to discover. Not a huge amount, maybe, but it’s interesting all the same, isn’t it?)  And I’ve a suspicion that I unearthed a handful of disembodied legal deposit music pieces during my departmental collection assessment.  The librarian in me knows that they should go “home” to their special collection friends and relatives.  But the researcher itches to check out whether they really are taken from earlier bound collections, and whether they number amongst the items listed in the archival receipt books of materials claimed from Stationers’ Hall.

So, the Claimed from Stationers Hall project may be focused on early nineteenth century library collections, but there’s a long tail extending into at least the mid-twentieth.  It was hinted at in Elizabeth Frame’s article for the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, but today’s scholars need to understand in perhaps greater detail just what the esteemed professor got up to!

Research Impact in Library Land

I’m reading a book about research impact at the moment.   (We have a copy in the library, but I’ve also got it on Kindle, so I have no excuse not to plough right through it!)  I must admit, there are moments when I metaphorically kick myself under the table, because some of the advice is basically common sense.  But, if it’s common sense, why didn’t I think of it?  So it’s a good idea to get reminded of the obvious things whilst simultaneously getting plenty of fresh ideas, and just generally making sure that impact is built into this research network right from the very start.

So, here are the first questions, quoted directly from my new guru (Mark S. Reed, author of the Research Impact Handbook, pp.72-73):-

  • “What aspects of [our] research might be interesting or useful to someone?…”
  • “Could [our] research help address these needs [ie, issues, policy areas … trends]?”
  • Can our research help remove barriers that are currently inhibiting these areas?
  • If we know who might benefit from our research, can we identify “what aspects of [our] research they are likely to be most interested in?” Could we make it even more relevant?
  • So, what changes could our research effect?
  • And do we know who would benefit and who we should guard against disadvantaging?

Please don’t leave these questions hanging in the air! I’m looking for answers, and I’m keen to engage with other researchers interested in similar issues in this curious world where musicology, book history and library history meet with legal deposit on the one hand, and individual music-makers on the other.  Do share your views!












Researching at The Bodleian Library, Oxford (by Brianna Robertson, reblogged here)

I am reblogging Brianna Robertson’s observations about binding of songs at the Bodleian and British Libraries.  These are really interesting, and just what the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall project might be interested in pursuing. All part of the rich story of what happened to the legal deposit music once it had been registered at Stationers’ Hall and made its way to its ultimate destinations.

Research Adventures

Today was my first ever visit to The Bodleian Library at The University of Oxford. Special Collections has recently moved from what is known as The ‘Old’ Bodleian to The Weston Library aka The ‘New’ Bodleian, which I am assuming is a building much better suited for our modern needs and modern conservation. However, while The Weston Library is architecturally very beautiful, I didn’t quite get that magical feeling as I might have walking into an ancient space, housing the world’s knowledge, which is represented in The ‘Old’ Bodleian. Then again, the new space is open and light, making it feel quite inviting for first time visitors.

Despite being very organised with all of my documentation and even emailing ahead with details about the music I wanted to see as well as the time, date and double checking the documentation I needed (the admissions officer commended me on my organisation – something I very proud of, I must say!), the admission…

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The AHRC-funded Claimed from Stationers’ Hall network commences in August 2017.  As planning progresses, more will appear on this blog.

Professor Playfair was Principal of the University of St Andrews.  He had a piano, and there’s plenty of evidence of a musically active family: he, and later, his sons in military retirement, all made heavy use of the copyright music collection at the University.  Library borrowing records tell us exactly what the men of the family borrowed, whilst the young Janet Playfair’s journal pages refer to a lively interest in music, both practically and as listener.  She may also have borrowed music as the prematurely widowed Mrs James Macdonald.  Her married sister Jean, Mrs Playfair of Dalmarnock, alluded in her 1807 journal (illustrated above) to music at a friend’s house, and a trip to hear the famous Madame Catalani, violinist Janiewicz, and Morelli, a comic singer and actor.  However, as the family grew, she seems to have had very little time for music, commenting instead either on domesticity and family matters, or current affairs.

The niece of one of the Principal’s colleagues was later to catalogue the University’s music collection – her two catalogue books survive to this day, and indeed, were occasionally borrowed by the professors – presumably to assist with their music selection!  The music, along with the catalogues and borrowing records, enable us to form a richly nuanced impression of music-making in a rather remote University town.  This is the impetus for the present project, seeking to unearth the stories lurking behind the music in other UK copyright library collections.