ASWs Past and Future: a personal reflection

My diary tells me that Friday 17th April should have been the first day of the 2020 Annual Study Weekend in Leeds. Planning for the conference had taken more than a year and at the last Conference Committee meeting held on March 11th most of the final details were in place and the committee was anticipating another stimulating and informative ASW ahead.

Sadly, as we all know, within a week events had overtaken careful planning and the 2020 ASW had to be postponed for a year due to Covid-19 lockdown measures. We are very grateful, as a committee, for the understanding of our venue at Weetwood Hall Leeds and for their willingness to rebook the Annual Study Weekend for 9-11 April 2021. We look forward to welcoming many of you there in what we trust are more settled times.

However, looking at my crossed-through diary entry for the ASW has prompted me to think about highlights from ASWs past and I thought it would be appropriate to share these with my IAML (UK & Irl) colleagues at this ASW time of year!

The first ASW I attended was back in 1994 at Queen’s University, Belfast. I was, at that time, music librarian at the Royal National Institute for the Blind working in a fairly specialized environment and was looking forward to sharing experiences with music librarians in other sectors and expanding my knowledge of the field. I am afraid my memory fails in recalling any of the presentations from the Belfast ASW but the event obviously made a positive and valued impression as I have since attended 17 ASWs – by no means a record I am sure. I wonder who among my IAML (UK & Irl) colleagues has attended the most ASWs?

As I moved into working as a music librarian within the public library sector I valued the ASWs as a continuing opportunity to learn from music library colleagues in other library sectors and adapt ideas and trends to my own working environment bringing back new resource suggestions, ideas for changing working practices and an awareness of wider developments impacting music libraries.

There have been a number of threads which have run through successive ASWs enabling me to keep abreast of emerging sector-specific developments. A regular focus on the minefield which is copyright as it relates to music resources has been extremely useful and much valued by my employer. An ongoing focus on the ever-increasing wealth of new digital resources available to music libraries has always proved valuable and more recently to consider the challenges these pose as we approach a tipping point perhaps between print and digital. My musical knowledge has been broadened by presentations focused on specific music genres of which I knew little (hymnology, jazz, folk traditions and world music come to mind), composer specific presentations, and presentations from speakers outside the field of music librarianship – from local government, music performance and education – highlighting external trends impacting music librarianship.

Looking back over 26 years (!) of attending ASWs if not every year then certainly on a regular basis I can honestly say that they have enormously enriched my working life. The opportunity to network with colleagues in a wide variety of music library sectors enabled me to find colleagues outside my immediate working environment with whom I could share challenges and seek solutions. The invitation to be share in the work of IAML (UK & Irl) committees – Courses and Education, Copyright, Conference, Excellence and Executive – has also been immensely rewarding and enabled me to again bring back broad best practice into my own field of music librarianship.

Some personal stand-out memories of ASWs include helping to lead the very last midnight walk during the 1998 Canterbury ASW when I acted as local rep (we even managed to follow the track of a disused railway – another old IAML tradition now long abandoned). There have been some wonderful Saturday evening participatory choral highlights and first performances – in 2014 at Cambridge delegates joined in a mass performance of a Cambridge catch performed for the first time since the early 1800s and the 2016 Manchester ASW had the unusual Saturday evening highlight of a specially composed partsong – Hail Mancunia Fair – composed by IAML (UK & Irl)’s Geoff Thomason and given its first impromptu performance by the massed voices of the 2016 conference. Finally, at the 2018 Edinburgh ASW we enjoyed James Beaton from the National Piping Centre magnificently piping delegates into the Saturday evening Annual Dinner.

I know that many ASW delegates will have their own highlights of past ASWs and it would be wonderful to share these sometime. In the meantime, I do, indeed, look forward to seeing many of you in Leeds for the postponed ASW in April 2021!

Frances Allott
IAML (UK & Irl) Conference Committee