Professional Development

Leslie at MLA 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014 4:38 pm

This year’s Music Library Association conference was held in Atlanta. It was a very productive meeting for me: I got a lot of continuing education in RDA, the new cataloging standard; and an opportunity to renew contacts in the area of ethnomusicology (music area studies), having learned just before leaving for MLA that our Music Department plans to add an ethnomusicologist to their faculty.

RDA

The impact of RDA, one year after its adoption by the Library of Congress, was apparent in the number of sessions devoted to it during the general conference, not just the catalogers’ sessions sponsored by the Music OCLC Users Group. I learned about revisions made to the music rules in the RDA manual, in MLA’s “Best Practices” document, and in the various music thesauri we use. (So if you see a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door, you’ll know I have a lot of re-reading to do, all over again!). One sign of the music library community’s clout: MLA’s Best Practices will be incorporated into the official RDA manual, with links integrated into the text alongside LC’s policy statements. In a session on RDA’s impact on public services, I was gratified to find that almost all the talking points presented by the speakers had been covered in my own presentation to our liaisons back in September.

PRESERVATION AND COPYRIGHT

LC gave a report on its National Recordings Preservation Plan (NRPP), which began in February 2013. The group has developed 31 recommendations, which will be presented at hearings scheduled for this year by the US Office of Copyright, covering the entire copyright code, including section 108, orphan works, and pre-1972 sound recordings (the ones not covered by federal law, leaving librarians to navigate a maze of state laws). Also to be presented: a proposed “digital right of first sale,” enabling libraries and archives to perform their roles of providing access and preservation for born-digital works whose licensing currently prohibits us doing so. In the meantime, best-practices documents have been developed for orphan works (by UC Berkeley) and fair use for sound recordings (by the NRPP).

ONLINE LICENSING ISSUES

Perennial, and always interesting, sessions are held at MLA on the ongoing problem of musical works and recordings that are issued only online, with licensing that prohibit libraries and archives from acquiring them. An MLA grant proposal aims to develop alternative licensing language that we can use with recording labels, musicians, etc., allowing us to burn a CD of digital-only files. A lively brainstorming session produced additional potential solutions: an internet radio license, which would stream a label’s catalog to students, at the same time generating revenue for the label; placing links to labels in our catalogs, similar to the Google links that many OPACS feature for books, offering a purchase option; raising awareness among musicians, many of whom are unaware of the threat to their legacies, by speaking at music festivals, and asking the musicians themselves to raise public awareness, perhaps even by writing songs on the topic; capturing websites that aggregate music of specific genres, etc., in the Internet Archive or ArchiveIt; collaborating with JSTOR, PORTICO, and similar projects to expand their archiving activities to media.

DIGITAL HUMANITIES

This hot topic has begun to make its impact on the music library community, and MLA has established a new round table devoted to it. In a panel session, music librarians described the various ways they are providing support for, and collaborating with, their institutions’ DH centers. Many libraries are offering their liaisons workshops and other training opportunities to acquire the technical skills needed to engage with DH initiatives.

OTHER TECHNOLOGICAL PROJECTS

In a panel session on new technologies, we heard from a colleague at the University of Music and Drama in Leipzig, Germany, who led a project to add facets in their VuFind-based discovery layer for different types of music scores (study scores, performance scores, parts, etc.); a colleague at Haverford who used MEI, an XML encoding scheme designed for musical notation, to develop a GUI interface (which they named MerMEId) to produce a digital edition of a 16th-century French songbook, also reconstructing lost parts (we’ve been hearing about MEI for some years — nice to see a concrete example of its application); an app for the Ipad, developed by Touch Press, that offers study aids for selected musical works (such as Beethoven’s 9th symphony) allowing you to compare multiple recordings while following along with a modern score or the original manuscript (which automatically scrolls with the audio), watch a visualization tool that shows who’s playing when in the orchestra, and read textual commentary, some in real time with the audio; a consortium’s use of Amazon’s cloud service to host an instance of Avalon, an audio/video streaming product developed by Indiana U, to support music courses at their respective schools; and ProMusicDB, a project that aims to build an equivalent to IMDB for pop music.

Leslie at MLA 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011 2:08 am

I’m back from another Music Library Association conference, held this year in Philadelphia. Some highlights:

Libraries, music, and digital dissemination

Previous MLA plenary sessions have focused on a disturbing new trend involving the release of new music recordings as digital downloads only, with licenses restricting sale to end users, which effectively prevents libraries either from acquiring the recordings at all, or from distributing (i.e., circulating) them. This year’s plenary was a follow-up featuring a panel of three lawyers — a university counsel, an entertainment-law attorney, and a representative of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation — who pronounced that the problem was only getting worse. It is affecting more formats now, such as videos and audio books — it’ not just the music librarian’s problem any more — and recent court decisions have tended to support restrictive licenses.

The panelists suggested two approaches libraries can take: building relationships, and advocacy. Regarding relationships, it was noted that there is no music equivalent of LOCKSS or Portico: Librarians should negotiate with vendors of audio/video streaming services for similar preservation rights. Also, libraries can remind their resident performers and composers that if their performances are released as digital downloads with end-user-only licenses, libraries cannot preserve their work for posterity. The panelists drew an analogy to the journal pricing crisis: libraries successfully raised awareness of the issue by convincing faculty and university administrators that exorbitant prices would mean smaller readerships for their publications. On the advocacy side, libraries can remind vendors that federal copyright law pre-empts non-negotiable licenses: a vendor can’t tell us not to make a preservation copy when Section 108 says we have the right to make a preservation copy. We can also lobby state legislatures, as contract law is governed by state law.

The entertainment-law attorney felt that asking artists to lobby their record labels was, realistically speaking, the least promising approach — the power differential is too great. Change, the panelists agreed, is most likely to come through either legislation or the courts. Legislation is the more difficult to affect (there are too many well-funded commercial interests ranged on the opposing side); there is a better chance of a precedent-setting court case tipping the balance in favor of libraries. Such a case is most likely to come from the 2nd or 9th Circuit, which have a record of liberal rulings on Fair Use issues. One interesting observation from the panel was that most of the cases brought so far have involved “unsympathetic figures” — individuals who blatantly abused Fair Use on a large scale, provoking draconian rulings. What’s needed is more cases involving “sympathetic figures” like libraries — the good guys who get caught in the cross-fire. Anybody want to be next? :-)

Music finally joins Digital Humanities

For a couple of decades now, humanities scholars have been digitizing literary, scriptural, and other texts, in order to exploit the capabilities of hypertext, markup, etc. to study those texts in new ways. The complexity of musical notation, however, has historically prevented music scholarship from doing the same for its texts. PDFs of musical scores have long been available, but they’re not searchable texts, and not encoded as digital data, so can’t be manipulated in the same way. Now there’s a new project called the Music Encoding Initiative, jointly funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the German Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. MEI (yes, they’ve noticed it’s also a Chinese word for “beauty”) has just released a new digital encoding standard for Western classical musical notation, based on XML. It’s been adopted so far by several European institutions and by McGill University. If, as one colleague put it, it “has legs,” the potential is transformative for the discipline. Whereas critical editions in print force editors to make painful decisions between sources of comparable authority — the other readings get relegated to an appendix or supplementary volume — in a digital edition, all extant readings can be encoded in the same file, and displayed side by side. An even more intriguing application of this concept is the “user-generated edition”: a practicing musician could potentially approach a digital edition of a given work, and choose to output a piano reduction, or a set of parts, or modernized notation of a Renaissance work, for performance. Imagine the savings for libraries, which currently have to purchase separate editions for all the different versions of a work.

http://music-encoding.org

Music and metadata

In a session titled “Technical Metadata for Music,” two speakers, from SUNY and a commercial audio-visual preservation firm respectively, stressed the importance of embedded metadata in digital audio files. Certain information, such as recording date, is commonly included in filenames, but this is an inadequate measure from a long-term preservation standpoint: filenames are not integral to the file itself, and are typically associated with a specific operating system. One speaker cited a recent Rolling Stone article, “File not Found: the Recording Industry’s Storage Crisis” (December 2010), describing the record labels’ inability to retrieve their backfiles due to inadequate filenames and lack of embedded metadata. Metadata is now commonly embedded in many popular end-user consumer products, such as digital cameras and smartphones.

For music, embedded metadata can include not only technical specifications (bit-depth, sample rate, and locations of peaks, which can be used to optimize playback) but also historical context ( the date and place of performance, the performers, etc.) and copyright information. The Library of Congress has established sustainability factors for embedded metadata (see http://digitizationguidelines.gov). One format that meets these requirements is Broadcast Wave Format, an extension of WAV: it can store metadata as plain text, and can include historical context-related data. The Technical Committee of ARSC (Association of Recorded Sound Collections) recently conducted a test wherein they added embedded metadata to some BWF-format audio files, and tested them with a number of popular applications. The dismaying results showed that many apps not only failed to display the embedded metadata, but also deleted it completely. This, in the testers’ opinion, calls for an advocacy campaign to raise awareness of the importance of embedded metadata. ARSC plans to publish its test report on its website (http://www.arsc-audio.org/). The software for embedded metadata that they developed for the test is also available as a free open-source app at http://sourceforge.net/projects/bwfmetaedit.

Music cataloging

A pre-conference session held by MOUG (Music OCLC Users Group) reported on an interesting longitudinal study that aimed to trace coverage of music materials in the OCLC database. The original study was conducted in 1981, when OCLC was relatively new. MOUG testers searched newly-published music books, scores, and sound recordings, as listed in journals and leading vendor catalogs, along with core repertoire as listed in ALA’s bibliography Basic Music Library, in OCLC, and assessed the quantity and quality of available cataloging copy. The study was replicated in 2010. Exact replication was rendered impossible by various developments over the intervening 30 years — changes in the nature of the OCLC database from a shared catalog to a utility; more foreign and vendor contributors; and the demise of some of the reference sources used for the first sample of searched materials, necessitating substitutions — but the study has nevertheless produced some useful statistics. Coverage of books. not surprisingly, increased over the 30 years to 95%; representation of sound recordings also increased, to around 75%; but oddly, scores have remained at only about 60%. As for quality of the cataloging, the 2010 results showed that about 20% of sound recordings have been cataloged as full-level records, about 50% as minimal records; about a quarter of scores get full-level treatment, about 50% minimal. The study thus provides some external corroboration of long-perceived music cataloging trends, and also a basis for workflow and staffing decisions in music cataloging operations.

A session titled “RDA: Kicking the Tires” was devoted to the new cataloging standard that the Library of Congress and a group of other libraries have just finished beta-testing. Music librarians from four of the testing institutions (LC, Stanford, Brigham Young, U North Texas, and U Minnesota) spoke about their experiences with the test and with adapting to the new rules.

All relied on LC’s documentation and training materials, recording local decisions on their internal websites (Stanford has posted theirs on their publicly-accessible departmental site). An audience member urged libraries to publish their workflows in the Toolkit, the online RDA manual. It was generally agreed that the next step needed is the development of guidelines and best practices.

None of the testers’ ILSs seem to have had any problems accomodating RDA records in MARC format. LC has had no problems with their Voyager system, corroborating our own experience here at WFU. Some testers reported problems with some discovery layers, including PRIMO (fortunately, we haven’t seen any glitches so far with VuFind). Stanford reported problems with their (un-named) authorities vendor, mainly involving “flipped” (changed name order) entries. Most testers are still in the process of deciding which of the new RDA data elements they will display in their OPACs.

Asked what they liked about RDA, both the LC and Stanford speakers cited the flexibility of the new rules, especially in transcribing title information, and in the wider range of sources from which bib info can be drawn. Others welcomed the increased granularity, designed to enhance machine manipulation, and the chance this affords to “move beyond cataloging for cards” towards the semantic web and relation-based models. It was also noted that musicians are already used to thinking in FRBR fashion — they’ve long dealt with scores and recordings, for instance, as different manifestations of the same work.

Asked what they thought “needed fixing” with RDA, all the panelists cited access points for music (the LC speaker put up a slide displaying 13 possible treatments of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise arranged for saxophone and piano). There are other areas — such as instrument names in headings — that the RDA folks haven’t yet thought about, and the music community will probably have to establish its own practice. Some catalogers expressed frustration with the number of matters the new rules leave to “cataloger’s judgment.” Others mentioned the difficulty of knowing just how one’s work will display in future FRBRized databases, and of trying to fit a relational structure into the flat files most of us currently have in our ILSs.

What was most striking about the session was the generally upbeat tone of the speakers — they saw more positives than negatives with the new standard, assured us it only took some patience to learn, and were convinced that it truly was a step forward in discoverability. One speaker, who trains student assistants to do copy-cataloging, telling them “When in doubt, make your best guess, and I’ll correct it later,” observed that her students’ guesses consistently conformed to RDA practice — some anecdotal evidence suggesting that the new standard may actually be more intuitive for users, and that new catalogers will probably learn it more easily than those of us who’ve had to “unlearn” AACR2!

Sidelights

Our venue was the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, which I must say is the coolest place I’ve ever stayed in. The building was the first International Style high-rise built in the U.S., and its public spaces have been meticulously preserved and/or restored, to stunning effect. The first tenant was a bank, and so you come across huge steel vault doors and rows of safety-deposit boxes, left in situ, as you walk through the hotel. Definitely different!

Another treat was visiting the old Wanamaker department store (now a Macy’s) to hear the 1904 pipe organ that is reputed to be the world’s largest (http://www.wanamakerorgan.com/about.php).

Leslie at MLA 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009 7:59 pm

I’m back from this year’s annual conference of the Music Library Association, held in Chicago (during a snowstorm) Feb. 17-21. This year I also attended the pre-conference hosted by MOUG (Music OCLC Users Group). Some highlights:

Sound Recordings and Copyright

Tim Brooks of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections described the ARSC’s work lobbying Congress to reform US copyright law on pre-1972 sound recordings. These recordings are not covered by federal law, but are often governed by state law, which tends to give copyright holders, in Tim’s words, “absolute control.” Tim cited some startling statistics: of all recordings made in the 1940s-70s, only 30% have been made available by the copyright holders; of recordings made in the 1920s-30s, only 10% are available; and of the enormous corpus of ethnic and traditional music from all over the world that was recorded by Columbia and Victor in the early years of the 20th century, only 1% is available. Because US copyright law for sound recordings is the most restrictive in the world, early recordings of American artists are currently legally available in other countries but not in the US — which means that American libraries and archives are unable to preserve this portion of our own heritage.

In response, the ARSC has made the following reccomendations:

  • Place pre-1972 recordings under a single federal law.
  • Harmonize US copyright law with that of other countries.
  • Legalize use of “orphaned” works (whose copyright holders cannot be identified).
  • Permit use of “abandoned” works, with compensation to the copyright holders.
  • Permit “best practices” digitization for preservation. Libraries and archives are the most likely to preserve early recordings (they have a better track record on this than the recording companies themselves) and the least likely to re-issue recordings (so they’re no financial threat to copyright holders).

Of ARSC’s experiences lobbying Congress members, Tim reports that many were simply unaware of the situation, but were sympathetic when informed; that libraries are seen as non-partisan and a public good, “the guys in the white hats”; and that there is now much “soft” support in Congress. Other ARSC activities include a “white paper” for the Obama administration, and the establishment of an organization called the Historical Recording Coalition for Access and Preservation (HRCAP) to further lobbying efforts.

In another copyright session, attendees and speakers offered some good tips for approaching your legal counsel re digitization projects:

  • Present your own credentials (copyright workshops you’ve attended, etc.) pertaining to libraries and copyright.
  • Cite specific passages of the law (section 108, 110, etc.)
  • Show you’ve done due diligence (e.g., you’ve replaced LPs with CD re-issues where available; you’ve determined other LPs are in deteriorating condition, etc.)
  • Try to persuade counsel to adopt a “risk assessment” approach (i.e., just how likely is it that a copyright holder will challenge you in this case) versus the more typical “most conservative” approach.
  • File a “contemporaneous writing” — a memo or other document, written at the outset of a digitization project, in which you explain why you believe that you are acting in good faith. This will go a long way towards protecting you if you are in fact challenged by a copyright holder.

Is the Compact Disc Dead?

This was the question addressed by a very interesting panel of speakers, including a VP of Digital Product Strategy at Universal Music Group; the CEO of the Cedille recording label; a concert violinst (Rachel Barton Pine); a former president of the American Symphony Orchestra League; and a music librarian at Northwestern U.

The panel quickly cited a number of reasons to believe that the CD remains a viable format: among these, the universal human desire to own a physical artifact “to give and to show”; the ability to listen on room speakers, not just earbuds; violinst Pine noted that she sells and autographs some 40-70 of her CDs after each performance, that people enjoy the personal contact with the artist, and relish being able to take home a souvenir of the concert. Flaws of downloadable releases were cited in comparison: garbled indexing, making identifying and retrieving of classical works difficult; frequent lack of program notes to provide historical context; the inferior audio quality of compressed files. Changes in student behavior were also noted: in online databases, students tend to retrieve only selected works, or excerpts of works; there doesn’t seem to be the inherent incentive to browse like that offered by physical albums, with the result that students don’t develop as much in-depth knowledge of a composer’s works. On the other hand, the reduced cost of digital distribution has enabled smaller orchestras and other groups to reach a larger audience.

Concern was expressed over an increasing trend among major labels to release performances only in the form of downloadable files, often with a license restricted to “end user only” — preventing libraries from purchasing and making available these performances to their users. The panel proposed that performers and IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries) put pressure on the record companies. Alternative approaches? CDs-on-demand: Cedille’s boss sees this as a growing trend. Also, consortial deals with individual record companies: OhioLink has recently done one with Naxos.

Finally, a concern was expressed about the aggregator model of audio-steaming databases: that these hamper libraries’ responsiveness to local user needs, and the building of the unique collections important for research. The music library community needs to negotiate for distribution models that enable individual selection for traditional collection development.

How Music Libraries are Using New Technologies

  • Videos demonstrating specific resources, such as composers’ thematic catalogs (similar to Lauren’s Research Toolkits).
  • “Un-associations,” in informal online forums like Yahoo or Google groups. There are currently groups for orchestra libraries, flutists, etc.
  • Use of Delicious to create user guides.
  • Meebo for virtual ref.
  • Twitter for virtual ref and for announcements/updates.
  • Widgets and gadgets to embed customized searches, other libraries’ searchboxes, and other web content into LibGuides, etc.
  • ChaCha (a cellphone question-answering service) for virtual ref. Indiana U is partnering with ChaCha in a beta test.

JSTOR

A JSTOR rep presented palns to add 20 more music journals to the database, including more area-studies and foreign-language titles. Attendees pointed out that popular music serials (Downbeat, Rolling Stone, etc.) are becoming primary source material for scholarly research — would JSTOR consider including them? The rep replied that JSTOR originally required that journals be peer-reviewed, but had recently begun to relax this rule. A dabate ensued among attendees as to whether the pop publications were sufficiently relevant to JSTOR’s mission — some believed that JSTOR should stick to its original focus on scholarly literature, and that others could preserve the pop stuff.

Bibliographic Control and the LC Working Group (or: Music Catalogers Freak Out)

The MOUG plenary session gave catalogers a forum to discuss ramifications of the LC Working Group’s recommendations on bibliographic control (see my blog posting for RTSS 08). Concerns expressed:

If collaboration is properly defined as “doing something together for a purpose,” then the disparate (and sometimes opposing) purposes of publishers, vendors, and libraries means that LC’s vision of collective responsibility for metadata and bibliographic control will not constitute true collaboration, but merely exploitation.

The Working Group appears to some to harbor a naive faith in digital architecture to meet all discovery and retrieval needs (it reminded one attendee of predictions that microform would solve all our problems). This is perceived to cultivate a gobal, generalist, one-size-fits-all outlook divorced from existing patterns of scholarly communication and “communities of practice” (e.g., the subject specialist and the community of practitioners that he/she serves). Bibliographic control should be “a network of communication between communities of practice.” An MLA liaison to ALA’s RDA committee noted that the RDA folks expected local catalogers to help fill in the gaps in the currently-vague RDA code — but when specialist communities actually propose details (such as a list of genre terms for music), they’re “dissed.”

Others fear that if LC backs away from its historical role as national library, relying on the larger community of publishers, vendors, and libraries to collaborate in bibliographic control, the actual effect will be that library administrators will think: “If LC isn’t doing this work, then we don’t have to either” — and collaboration will disappear.

Yet others fear the “commodification of cataloging.” With the increasing availability of MARC records and other metadata from third-party sources, there seems to be a growing perception that all metadata is the same — and a concommitant decline in willingness to investigate its source and quality. Administrators increasingly speak of metadata as a commodity.

Remember Katrina?

I’ll close with an item from the business meeting of SEMLA (the Southeast chapter) which was a cause of great celebration: our colleagues from Tulane University in New Orleans, whose music collection was flooded in Hurricane Katrina, announced that 70% of their collection has successfully been restored, and the last portion of it recently returned to them. They brought along a few representative items for show and tell — including a score died pink by its red paper covers. Recalling photos of the original damage, a 70% recovery rate seems a miracle!


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