Once upon a time, when there were no online library catalogues or online library resources, music students and researchers would go to the library and browse through card catalogues and many printed reference works to find the answer to what we now consider to be basic questions. Online data in general and “big data” in particular open new ways of doing research, enabling us to find a relatively quick answer to questions that 20-odd years ago could have taken up most of a research career. Those of us who remember these not so ancient times will appreciate how easy it is nowadays to find information just one little click/swipe/touch away.
On the other hand, we do tend to be swamped with information and the challenge of getting quickly to the most relevant resources is a new(ish) one. The idea that we ought to find “everything” on a given subject is becoming more and more mind boggling. However, when we are looking for primary resources such as music manuscripts and early printed editions, we do want to be able to identify and locate all available resources if at all possible. Oh yes, and preferably see them fully digitized on screen before we decide whether or not a research trip to see the original is necessary.
Traditional bibliographic resources such as RISM have evolved in response to these new expectations and already help us nicely along with the move towards open data and linked open data. It’s still early days, but don’t you just love it that when you have identified a source in this pretty essential go-to reference work you can be taken straight to a digital image… It’s amazing. RISM however cannot possible cover all areas of music and music research and quite a lot of repertoire is out of scope. There are many more well known research tools, such as RILM which will link to literature about music and take you straight to subscribed full text content.
But what about the wide range of freely available online resources out there? How to pick these out from the vast amounts of information available? As music librarians we like to think we can still be of help there in many different ways because one of the things we are good at is finding out what exists and how to get to it. We have after all played a key role in helping users link to the information they need for decades, if not centuries. So, one thing we do is provide a human touch in the process of evaluation and selection.
At the Music Collections at the University of Cambridge, one of the ways we share the results of our quite modest endeavours is through our library social media channels; we blog and tweet and have a presence on Facebook and Pinterest. None of these are finished products, or even attempting to be anything like that. Let’s look at Pinterest for example. We currently have three boards available that have grown out of our past selection of resources, with a focus on general resources (such as thematic catalogues, databases, digitised notated music and sound…) and specific Music Faculty research interests. We have more plans to promote our own collections as well, so watch this space. I could tell you much more of what has been chosen and why, and definitely have my favourites, but that is part of a different story.
“… helping users link to the information they need” and “… provide a human touch in the process of evaluation and selection.” That is a good definition of what music librarians do!