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!