New Mental Images Since Oxbridge Trip

Bodleian 9 Book of SongsIn the past month, I’ve been to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford in connection with the Claimed From Stationers’ Hall research network.  I’ve chatted with Almut Boehme in the National Library of Scotland, Elizabeth Lawrence and Jenny Nex at the University of Edinburgh, Margaret Jones and Jill Whitelock in Cambridge, and Martin Holmes and Giles Bergel in Oxford.  We’ve talked about how different libraries stored and curated their legal deposit collections, attitudes towards music and cataloguing, and the influence of the British Museum’s mid-nineteenth century cataloguing rules.  Several libraries began by categorising their music as instrumental or vocal – so to anyone wondering why our library does it that way – well, we’re following the Library of Congress, and they seem to have followed the British Museum too!

As I’ve mentioned before, our Victorian forbears periodically attempted to impose order on the never-ending stream of music that just kept on flowing into their libraries.

Both in Cambridge and in Oxford, we looked at old bound books of legal deposit music, Cambridge 30 King opera Up all Nightand the lists of music – lists that came from Stationers’ Hall at regular intervals, and lists that were made of material as it was accessioned.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing – Margaret looked out scores corresponding to material in the lists, and came up with a bound collection of various national songbooks – always a popular genre – not to mention an English opera that might have made no ripples in nearly two centuries, but certainly raised a few smiles in that meeting room in February 2018!

Bodleian 8 Miss Sarah Allison Heward A Grand FantasiaMeanwhile, Martin’s selection of scores included a composition by a young English woman whom I’d never heard of before – Sarah Allison Heward – and a network member in Germany has since unearthed a whole wealth of information about her and her musical family.  Watch this space – there’s a blogpost coming up!

A tour of shelves at Cambridge University Library was enough to change the mental pictures in my mind from a general impression of scores gently drifting towards the various libraries, to a picture of a very, very large fountain – or an overflowing bathtub.  You see, whereas the Scottish university libraries and Sion College lost their right to legal deposit books in 1836 – a very long time ago – the flood simply never stopped when it came to the national libraries, Oxford and Cambridge.  For someone working in a conservatoire library – large enough on its own terms, but certainly tiny compared to the legal deposit giants – it’s quite overwhelming to see just how much music has actually been published.   And then, to realise that it hasn’t all been catalogued online – a backlog of these proportions is a frightening thing to get one’s head around!  I didn’t ask how many linear miles of bookshelves each library is responsible for – offsite storage and all – but they are certainly amazingly big institutions.

In Oxford, a large data-input exercise in the Philippines meant that most of the legal deposit music has now been listed online, but only by accepting that the catalogue data would be less clearly formatted, and more incomplete, than a modern cataloguer would consider acceptable.

My meeting with Giles, on the other hand, afforded me the opportunity to find out more about two projects using Stationers’ Hall data – one, a commercial database, and the other, a website that will go live in April this year.  I also learned about optical recognition software being tasked with identifying different imprints of ballad texts and woodcuts – all fascinating stuff.

Our forthcoming research network meeting will bring together all the legal deposit library ‘descendants’ with a responsibility for the surviving sheet music.  There might have been meetings or correspondence between groups of these libraries in Georgian times,  but I think we can safely say that there has never before been a gathering quite like this before.  We’ll be looking both backwards (at the history) and forwards (at documentation and access issues, not to mention big data considerations.  It promises to be quite a day!



Send Tea! The Librarian-Musicologist version of Data Crunching

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Batt-printed porcelain contemporary with the copyright music era

No disrespect to my day-job, but years of cataloguing have trained me to tolerate repetitive tasks to a very high degree!  Cataloguing can be repetitive and, I’m afraid, monotonous.  However, in terms of endurance training, this background stands me in good stead.  I just  keep on going, like the Duracell bunny in the battery ads!

My innocent vacation amusement this week has been the rather slow-moving exercise of comparing one database with another. Why would anyone spend hours, days, starting to go through a list that amounts to some 2000 pieces of music? Ah, for a very good reason. This is the list of Edinburgh University Library’s Reid Hall Cupboard collection, and I’m finding out how much legal deposit music was actually retained. First, I compared it with the entire registered output of 1810 as listed in Kassler. Very little was there. Then with the registered output for 1818, the last year listed there. Possibly one match. Then I compared the Reid Cupboard contents with the material listed by the Advocates in 1830 – twelve years after the period itemised in Kassler. Very little correlation there, either.

A Significant Sample: 68 Hits

However, at different periods, copyright music WAS selectively retained at the University of Edinburgh.  I concluded that there was nothing for it but to go through  that a significant sample of that spreadsheet, just to begin with. Some music is continental (mainly French or German) in origin, and some is in manuscript; these categories don’t form part of my investigation.  The problem is that no single approach can be taken to the whole corpus. We’re not comparing like with like, and different listings cover different periods, apart from any other considerations:-

  • There is the option of checking Kassler’s listing (if Copac indicates that the piece Kassler Music Entrieswas published before 1819); checking Kassler in digital format is generally easier than in the paper edition, because one can check by title in the e-book.  The physical book has various indices, but there’s no alphabetical title listing, and only the composers’ names are listed, not their works.
  • The Advocates 1830 lists merely cover February to March of one year.  Even if much of this material turns up in the Victorian catalogue at NLS, it’s not a huge sampling.
  • It’s marginally quicker checking the EUL Reid cupboard material against the St Andrews copyright music spreadsheet (which did arrive by the legal deposit route) than it is checking against Copac, but it has to be said that checking Copac is the more thorough way.  Having said that, we can’t be totally certain that the Copac-listed material was registered at Stationers’ Hall if it postdates 1818, short of actually checking the Stationers’ Hall records.  An item appearing in the British Library, and one or more of the other copyright libraries, was probably accessioned under legal deposit, but not categorically so.  And not everything that should have been registered and legally deposited, actually was.
  • The St Andrews collection is only catalogued online for material dating from 1801 onwards, and of course, will not include items that were discarded rather than being bound in the big composite volumes.

After several lengthy sessions checking and cross-referring, I had nearly finished composers beginning with “G”!

Thursday – the brightness of a [rainy] new dawn …

Faced with a very large collection of Haydn publications, I concluded that although the most comprehensive approach would be a complete comparision of the EUL Reid Hall cupboard contents with Kassler, St Andrew’s online copyright collection, and items listed in Copac, maybe this isn’t necessary immediately.  Instead, a few broad statistics give us an overview of what’s there.

  • Comparing Kassler’s listing for 1810 with the Reid Hall cupboard: a maximum of 9 matches, and possibly only 7.
  • Comparing Kassler’s listing for 1818 with the Reid Hall cupboard: possibly one match.  It’s a very popular Irish selection, so it could have arrived by other routes than legal deposit, eg by donation.
  • Comparing the Advocates’ lists of February and March 1830 with the Reid Hall cupboard: only three matches, which are European editions.
  • Comparing an initial sample of 68 Reid Hall cupboard items matched either with the St Andrews copyright collection or Copac: obviously, percentages could only be calcuated if the entire list was compared; they’d be meaningless with a small sample.  Nonetheless, we can observe that in Edinburgh, items seem to have been retained very intermittently between 1770 and 1811; there’s no real pattern.  Between 1812 and 1821, noticeably more material was retained, although nothing like the St Andrews collection.  After that it appears to be even more intermittent than in the earlier period.

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.