The 2019 IAML Congress in Krakow: Brilliant Ideas in a Beautiful Historical Setting

As former capital of Poland and site of many historical buildings and architectural marvels, Krakow has been attracting visitors from around the globe for centuries. This July it drew in music librarians, musicologists and heritage sector professionals in particular. They all had the same destination: the Auditorium Maximum of the second oldest university in Central and Eastern Europe, re-named and re-founded by King Vladislaus Jagiełło almost exactly 619 years before hosting the 2019 IAML Congress.

I was lucky to be able to join the crowd pouring into this modern campus extension on the second and third day of the conference, thanks to funding from the Music Libraries Trust and a favourable reference from the Saxon State and University Library (SLUB) Dresden, whose Specialised Information Service for Musicology (musiconn) I have been supporting as a freelance after taking my leave from York St John University Library this April. Since then I have been responsible for clearing rights for one of the SLUB’s open access initiatives and for putting concert data into its newly developed musiconn.performance database. My fascination with music performance ephemera goes back 10 years further, however, when I read about the British Concert Programmes Project on the IAML website. At that time I was in the early stages of writing my PhD thesis on Mendelssohn, but already decided there and then to turn my musicological interests towards becoming a music library professional after graduation.

Since my attendance at this year’s IAML congress coincided with another imminent thesis submission – this time in order to complete my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science – I decided to make the best of it and chose to attend sessions which revolved around topics most relevant to my work and studies. Monday’s opening session was particularly interesting for me since it focused on music librarians’ and musicologists’ endeavours to re-discover, preserve and publish Polish music, some of which has been buried away in musical archives across continental Europe for 150 years. Their ongoing and committed search for the still lost scores of Polish composers such as Adolf Konrad Gużewski brought back memories to me of my own ventures into music archives in Greece in 2015 and 2016. At that time I conducted a trans-Continental scoping study in order to trace materials related to Mendelssohn’s counterpoint student Camille-Marie Stamaty and other Hellenic composers of the long nineteenth century. Thinking of Mendelssohn’s own music revivals, I am convinced that he would have loved to witness performances of re-discovered Polish musical works, as they have been featured at the International Music Festival Chopin and his Europe for several years, thanks to the concerted efforts of Artur Szklener and the artistic department of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw.

During coffee break I gained insights into the state of music librarianship further afar. Yifan Yu and Bin Han from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Library told me more about China’s music libraries which are affiliated with its independent music conservatories. According to them, library staff at these institutions is rarely trained in both music and library science. Beyond that, even though library science can be studied at many universities and colleges within the country, it is practically impossible to specialize in music or any other field of librarianship while doing so. As a result, professional discourse on classification schemes for music and other issues of music librarianship is sparse across the workforce. In Greece this – in some ways previously similar – situation has improved over the years within the framework of the Hellenic Academic Music Libraries Cooperative Scheme (HAMLC) and more recent efforts to complete a nation-wide transition from AACR2 to RDA, as I found out in the following session exploring ways of “Preserving music collections and facilitating discovery”. Aris Bazmadelis, music librarian at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and former President of the Greek IAML branch, introduced the scheme on his own since his colleague Maria Aslanidi from the Archive of Greek Music at the Ionian University in Corfu could not be present. I still remember both of them well from my time in Greece, since their knowledge and expertise had steered my research on Thessalonician composers such as Dimitrios Lalas and Emilios Riadis in the right direction. Thanks to them and their colleagues at the “Lilian Voudouri” Music Library of Greece in Athens, communication and collaborations between Greek academic music libraries are finally increasing. When I remember their initiative and vigour, I can only agree with Aris’ quote of the English author Ashleigh Brilliant: “Good ideas are common — what’s uncommon are people who’ll work hard enough to bring them about.”

Other highlights I was able to catch on Monday included an afternoon session on open access and research impact schemes, a working meeting of the Study Group on Access to Performance Ephemera, and an evening concert at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Before enjoying the concert premiere of Józef Nowakowski’s Quintet in E flat major, Op. 17, I was thrilled to find out about the SPARC Coalition which supports affiliated institutions in their intention to make scholarly publications and other academic resources available for open access. Australian partnership models for librarians and music researchers presented by Georgina Binns also caught my full attention and enthusiasm. New service models at her home institution, the library of the University of Melbourne, allow music librarians to support researchers and academics in a truly partnership-driven role. RILAS, their Research Impact Library Advisory Service, provides users with guidance on how to engage with recent research evaluation tools and measures in order to make their research grant and academic promotion applications more sustainable and lucrative.

Partnerships and issues of collaboration were also discussed subsequently by IAML’s Study Group on Access to Performance Ephemera (whom I have joined last year) in the context of present and anticipated concert database projects. Integrative performance databases unquestionably rely on an overwhelming amount of data and materials. Hence, there is a clear necessity for libraries, publishers, research teams and HE institutions to collaborate with each other and to harvest data from existing orchestra management tools as well as digital archives and portals of concert venues. This thought was further substantiated in Tuesday’s morning session on Digital Scholarship, when André Avorio presented Alexander Street’s new Performance History Project. Currently in its beta version, his team’s events database uses its own identifiers in order to bring together performance data from the Weimar Playbill Database, the Open Music Library (OML) and the Royal Opera House. At the same time, it provides charts and diagrams which illustrate these data based on their origin and the composer performed. Back home in Durham (and fully recovered from a sprained ankle which had put a premature end to my active conference participation at Jagiellonian University), I was able to conclude my Master’s thesis with a broader discussion of such visual strategies to extend the scope of the German musiconn.performance database. Now that this task is done, I deeply regret not to have spent more time in Krakow with old and new friends from the international IAML community. Hopefully next year’s IAML Congress will provide more opportunities for doing so – let’s meet in Prague in 2020 and find out!

Sabine Koch, Research Assistant, Saxon State and University Library (SLUB) Dresden