A whistle-stop tour of the ALS (Phew!)

The Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar 2016

Tube, train, Magical bus, a little dash and I’m in, just in the nick of time (or almost) for this year’s Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar. Run parallel to the Public Libraries Seminar, it is arguably one of the most unmissable of all the Annual Study Weekend’s completely unmissable gatherings, despite not technically being part of the ASW proper. As anyone from the Conservatoire / University sector will tell you, attending the Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar is pretty critical for our all-round well-being for the year until the next one. Like many of the sessions that follow over the next few days, it manages the balancing act of being hugely informative – not least in showing us the varied and innovative ways our colleagues / contemporaries / fellow professionals are dealing with the challenges and expectations we all have to meet – whilst at the same time, providing a forum where we can exchange ideas, knowledge and experience. As anyone might imagine, it’s invaluable time spent, and the brevity allowed in the following summary cannot offer nearly appropriate justice:

Megan Dyson (Leeds College of Music)

The hybrid music library: Researching users’ format preferences at Leeds College of Music Library.

Megan wisely took the opportunity to sound out the room on questions related to her forthcoming dissertation. It was interesting to hear about the resurgent interest in vinyl recordings amongst LCM’s students. Also a number of people proffered that their students preferred paper copies to digital ones (going so far as to wait for hard copies to be returned rather than use instantly available e-books). The term “digital natives” was also roundly criticised amongst attendees as nonsensical, with no trends amongst anyone’s users to support it as a concept.

Anna Wright (Royal Northern College of Music)

Keeping the customers satisfied

Anna gave an in-depth breakdown of how the RNCM Library have used, refined and redeployed the survey as a tool for monitoring user satisfaction. A compelling argument was made for using a heavily refined survey to get down to the very essence of what people want, and don’t want. Also to nip any negativity in the bud and avoid the damning impact any poor results can have for our institutions in the National Student Survey (sadly now a great barometer of success or failure). How to do this in light of “survey fatigue” was discussed (keep it to the point, offer chocolate / sweetie incentives, and don’t use Survey monkey), as were the positive benefits of comments boxes, the undoubted importance of conversation between library staff and users, and keeping a spreadsheet of things regularly asked for that weren’t collections related (a suggestion from the room I’d be interested in adopting).

Richard Chesser (British Library)

Research training at the British Library

Richard talked about the highly successful Doctoral Open Days offered by the British Library, aimed at opening up their enviable collections to PhD students and post-grads expecting to follow on to doctoral level. He gave an overview of why the initiative exists, how the days are structured and what ground is covered. THe music day “Exploring the Collections: Music” generally raised a number of important considerations about user education.

Geoff Thomason (Royal Northern College of Music)

They shall take up serpents: The snake-handlers’ guide to library inductions

Novel approaches to mass participation always seem to go down swimmingly at ASWs and this was no exception – an oversized game of snakes and ladders. The difference here was that in order to roll the dice you had to get a question correct. The yes or no answers to those questions were all triggers to further embellishment from the quizmaster – with facts the like of which we all tell students as part of our own induction tours. I came away with the genuine feeling that this is a monumentally brilliant approach – I think many others did too. We all know induction week: what begins with enthusiasm becomes a relentless series of boring and monotonous sessions of do’s and don’ts, so the RNCM Library have devised a way to make theirs as memorable (in terms of both the information and the experience) as possible. It does raise a few further questions: Is fairly direct plagiarism acceptable if we give appropriate acknowledgement of the source?; How best do we convince our colleagues to believe it will work if they weren’t there?; Can we justify buying novelty sized editions of board games from our budgets? (yes we can – I think is the answer to that last one!)

Librarian snake-charmers at work
Librarian snake-charmers at work

Here’s a hazily paraphrased sample question (Because we were engrossed in the game and not note taking!) to give a flavour of what’s involved

Q: If I return my books late, will I be expected to pay overdue fines? A: Yes

Quizmaster Geoff Thomason: Correct, library fines are charged at n pence per day for standard loans and n pounds per day for short loans etc.

It should be noted that Megan Dyson of Leeds College of Music is reigning champion. Myself, I came a dismal third (of four).

Karen McAulay (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)

Liberated from the stacks: Performing the collections

Karen took to the floor to host an open-participatory segment, asking those among us how we get the music from our collections off the page (if we do at all) and in through people’s ears – so as to promote the use of the collections themselves, not just the pieces being performed. Here’s a summary within a summary of some (but maybe not all) of the things mentioned:

– The University of St. Andrew’s innovative Echoes from the Vault blog, particularly their recent(ish) blog series: 52 weeks of historical how-to’s – a kind of experimental archaeology like approach to following the instructions (to the letter) given by texts in their collections – for instance making and then testing medieval herbal remedies. They also formed a library choir to sing some ye olde Christmas carols. (The St. Andrew’s librarians were also in evidence on IAML’s Advent Calendar!)

– The inaugural performance of the Jerwood Library Catch and Glee Club from Trinity Laban Conservatoire. Taking in works from their unusual and extensive collection of catches and glees, it was aimed at encouraging students to research and present this material themselves in future.

– The Bodleian Library’s very recent (26th March) Performing the Treasures event exploring 15th century Indian classical Sattriya dance and music, performed in the library space.

– The Royal College of Music Library’s Exploring the Archives concert series – involving a termly concert featuring music programmed from the special collections. Often with digital facsimiles made available online, and done with the hallowed page-turning technology so the audience can follow along on their electronic device of choice.

So there you have it (and apologies if I’ve missed anything), but I think we can all agree that it was another bumper bonanza of advocacy and best practice. As was surmised at the end of the seminar, and at times across the subsequent ASW, Music Librarians are a good bunch, doing good things, and every now and again it’s good to let people know about it. I’m already looking forward in anticipation to what those things might be at next year’s!

Adam Taylor (Royal Academy of Music)

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