When in Belgium…

Having recently returned from the IAML conference in Antwerp, my mind is still reeling with new ideas and good intentions to actually do something with them. The conference was, for me at least, a great success. The programme had a lot to offer to anyone interested in music libraries and music librarianship. The wide range of topics and angles is typical for a IAML conference (as opposed to “themed” conferences one often comes across) and since in the day job I deal with quite a wide range of tasks and aspects as well, this suits me just fine.

IAML Antwerp
IAML Antwerp (©IAML Antwerp)
IAML chocolates (©IAML Antwerp)
IAML chocolates (©IAML Antwerp)

I will not bore anyone with a blow by blow account of which sessions I chose and why but focus briefly on a small sample of what was on offer (and why I liked it).

1. A Big data History of Music. Royal Holloway and the British Library are jointly working on a project that aims to analyse a dataset created from seven existing bibliographical databases in order to research “the circulation of music and the formation of musical taste between 1500 and 1900”. I think it’s fantastic that in the world of Digital Humanities it is now possible to take data that was primarily created as a bibliographical tool and use this for research using a range of technologies, statistics and visualisations. It just struck me how labour intensive (if not completely impossible) this would have been in the good old days when I was a musicology student and feel very impressed indeed. The actual process of cleaning up the data in order to make research possible sounded absolutely fascinating.

2. Patron driven (or evidence based) acquisitions for music. I admit this is more of an acquired taste and rather pragmatic but it was really interesting to hear how in Florida the traditional ebooks PDA model just did not quite have the required result for music, although it worked absolutely fine for other subjects. They will now run a trial of a print based PDA model for notated music. We didn’t get too many details but it could be an interesting avenue to explore.

3. Topical sessions featuring Belgian music collections (often including a WWI angle). Depending on the conference location and ones personal interest, hearing about “local” collections and composers can potentially be very interesting.  This year they featured heavily on the programme and there were talks representing all sizes and types of music collections in Belgium. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Kortrijk Public Library, which has very bravely launched it’s own digitization project of sound recordings and demonstrated very nicely how not only unique music is being preserved, but also sociological and cultural history (the LP covers they showed to illustrate this were just brilliant and I’m sorry I can’t show you any). I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect from going back to Belgium to attend a conference and hearing about collections I was quite familiar with up to 10 years ago, but it was great. It was really impressive how some libraries have developed and again, it has given me lots of food for thought.

Antwerp Conservatoire (original buidling with lending library)
Antwerp Conservatoire/deSingel (original building with lending library)
Antwerp Conservatoire and deSingel (new building including brand new reading room)
Antwerp Conservatoire/deSingel (new building including brand new reading room)

I can’t resist mentioning just a few more highlights such as P. Delsaerdts view on Heritage libraries “a heritage librarian should also be a library historian”, a study on information literacy (finding out which sources are considered to be most important), ephemera and metadata, special collections everywhere and what people are doing with them (including digitization and outreach), music engraving, crowdfunding, illegible contemporary scores that are insufficient to recreate the music and what to do with them, updates on RISM, the opportunity to chat to music publishers, music suppliers, a lovely firm producing folders for orchestral material and much more.

You get the picture, there was a lot of information to process and many views were represented. All this took place in the lovely surroundings of Antwerp and Antwerp Conservatoire, during a superbly well organised conference that highlighted Belgian life – well at least specialities such as custom made IAML chocolates, Antwerp beer (yes, at lunchtime too. When in belgium…), a proper “frietkot” selling fries that made me almost feel nostalgic and last but not least lunchtime as well as evening concerts giving an excellent sample of Belgian music.

I went to Antwerp with specific and very simple goals: hear about new developments in the profession and make new contacts as well as renew old, and came away feeling I had achieved both.

For those of you interested to hear more, IAML members have been very active in sharing their impressions in various ways so why not check out the IAML Facebook page, IAML Antwerp 2014, #IAML2014 and the IAML webpage  and IAML conference diary.

Anna Pensaert, University of Cambridge

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