IAML Annual Study Weekend, Cambridge 2014

In April this year, I attended a workshop for music librarians organised by the UK and Ireland branch of the International Association of Music Librarians (IAML). Thanks to a bursary from the Music Libraries Trust, I was able to attend all three days of the workshop at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

One of the best things about the weekend was the wide range of talks and people attending. The talks varied in length from one-hour presentations to shorter reports to an afternoon where you could pick from a range of interactive ‘mini workshops’. We heard speakers ranging from the British Library to the Bodleian to public libraries to music publishers.  There were also talks from the National Jazz Archive and the local music hub which provides music education for young people. One morning of the workshop was also dedicated to looking round a library in Cambridge. I chose the Cambridge University Music Faculty library to get an insight into the running of a busy faculty library.

In the evenings there were also opportunities to meet the other people attending. Newcomers to the ASW were given a buddy who helped make introductions. There was a drinks reception and concert on the first evening and a three-course meal followed by a concert on the second evening. I met many people and was able to talk about my course and ask questions about music librarianship to my heart’s content. I even met a couple of City alumnae, one of whom was there to collect a prize for her dissertation on digital sheet music. The after-dinner concert by the Erasmus choir featuring music by Villiers Stanford, Gibbons, Rossini, Vaughan Williams, Rutter and Skempton, was wonderful.

In the paragraphs below I will try and give a flavour of some of the topics covered during the weekend.

Teaching research skills in universities and conservatoires

The ASW began with two seminars which ran concurrently – one focusing on academic libraries and the other on public libraries. I attended half of each.

The academic library seminar’s focus was on the special characteristics of conservatoire music libraries. In conservatoires, I learnt that students may well be beginners in research skills and/or more interested in performance than research. Different solutions were proposed for how to go about tackling this. Karen McAulay, librarian at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, talked about a course she’d done that could feed into information literacy training: ‘The Teaching Artist’. As a way of learning about pedagogical theories and new technologies for teaching and learning (blogging, social media etc), the course sounded like a great idea. It would have been interesting to hear more though about which ideas Karen decided to implement in her teaching at the RSC and with what results. Geoff Thomason from the Royal Northern College of Music spoke about an exercise for new post-grads, which involves splitting them into three groups to compare the effectiveness of print resources, free online resources such as Google and Wikipedia and proprietary databases for a set of research questions. He stressed the importance of seeing the advantages and disadvantages of each set of resources rather than favouring or ruling out a particular resource based on preconceptions such as ‘Google is bad’.

Open Access

Another speaker at the academic libraries seminar focused on the question of publishing research in open access repositories. In particular, Charity Dove’s talk gave me a better understanding of the practical significance of funders’ policies. The fact that by REF 2020 all funded research may have to be published in open access repositories brought home the need to educate researchers about this complex field. Libraries’ limited ability to pay for funders’ preferred model of depositing research – ‘gold’ – also raised interesting questions.

Declining CD stocks in public libraries

The public library seminar focused on declining CD issues and stock across local authorities. According to CIPFA statistics, in 2013 twelve libraries had no CDs at all. Yet librarians from Hackney Central Library were able to counter this bleak picture by telling us more about their highly popular CD service. The key to their success has apparently been to take on selection of stock themselves, drawing on staff’s knowledge of music and local communities’ tastes, and to try and make the library more like a record shop by arranging CDs by genre. They were optimistic about libraries’ potential to revive CD issues and stressed libraries’ USPs – attractively displayed stock that has been curated by a trusted source and can be easily browsed.

Digital music trends 

Digital music trends were explored by Richard Chesser and Andra Patterson from the British Library. Firstly, we heard about the Transforming Musicology project which is investigating the influence of digital technologies on the study of music. Further research on this project led me to the Transforming Musicology blog where I was particularly interested to find out about initiatives to promote discussion of music on social media that could then be mined for musicological insights.

Moving on to big data, we were invited to think of research questions that could make use of big data, for example ‘How did music travel across boundaries?’ or ‘How did music form into canons?’. Subsequently I found out that Queen Mary University London and others are developing tools for mining large music collections. Examples of how these tools can be used for musicological research will be made available to the general public, which should help us to evaluate the impact of big data on musicology. For the moment its potential benefits to researchers and the music industry seem to be facilitating analysis of broader trends and a more quantitative approach to research.

Digital sheet music is now subject to legal deposit and we found out about some of the challenges of this new regulation for the British Library. For example, digital sheet music tends to be published in ‘bundles’ of files – e.g. parts, score and recording – making up one piece of music. As a result, data models are needed to help organise the metadata for each piece of music. I was interested in the work still to be done on cataloguing digital sheet music, including investigating how far the standard used for printed sheet music needs to be adapted for use with digital sheet music.

Inspiring projects in public libraries

My buddy for the weekend was Ros Edwards, librarian at the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester. Newly reopened, as well as its large collection of books and music, the Henry Watson library now also boasts a drum kit, pianos and a mixing deck, which are proving very popular. Ros’s account of the life of Henry Watson (1846-1911) in her presentation told of his early life working in various small music businesses and teaching himself the piano through to the setting up of his own business to becoming a professor at the Royal Northern College of Music. His large collection of music and instruments was eventually left to Manchester, hence the library being named after him. It was an inspiring tale of determination to succeed and to help others do the same by leaving his collections to a public library.

Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines project is a year-long programme of workshops for everyone from school children to adults to families. It is delivered by Westminster Music Library and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and celebrates the music and composers of World War One. (Do have a look at the blog, especially the fantastic Resource Packs.) Ruth Walters and Ruth Currie gave lots of useful advice on putting together a funding bid, recruiting an advisory board and finding sponsors. It sounded like a huge amount of work went into it. However, we were treated to a slideshow of photos from the project showing highlights from the workshops with musicians from the RPO and everyone looked like they were having a fantastic time. As Ruth Currie, pointed out, libraries have so much to offer educational projects as they can provide space, staff, their collections etc. Similarly, the Barbican Music Library’s exhibitions and People’s Piano Project show how inventive public libraries can be when it comes to making use of their space and collections. It sounds like the collaboration with the National Jazz Archive for the Golden Age of British Popular Music exhibition was particularly successful.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. I heard a fascinating range of talks and improved my understanding of different areas of music librarianship – particularly in the public and higher education sectors. I also met lots of librarians who could talk to me about their careers and fellow LIS students. It has given me ideas for potential dissertation topics and some valuable contacts. I am very grateful to the Staypar Trust for subsidising my bursary and would definitely recommend the ASW to other students interested in music librarianship.


Queen Mary University London, 2014. Digital music to feel impact of big data. Available: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/se/124189.html

Richard Lewis, 2013. Social music analysis widget. Transforming Musicology. Available: http://transforming-musicology.org/blog/2013-10-18_social-music-analysis-widget/