50 Shades of Teaching Artist

To the teaching artists who work with clay, fabric, paint or in the performing arts, much of what I do must seem very far from teaching art in any sense at all.  Nonetheless, I teach performing artists, I’m a performer myself (albeit in a small, local way) … and my relaxation often involves textile arts, so yes, I’m a teaching artist.

I blogged earlier this week about my conference-attending this month.  You could argue that all conferences are learning opportunities – I’m sure my line-managers would agree! But what I’d like to pick out for special mention (in the context of being a teaching artist) is the Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar at the IAML (UK and Ireland) Annual Study Weekend. I was gratified to find that Adam Smith from the Royal Academy of Music had blogged about it on the IAML blog, so I saved the link, because it compliments my own notes from the session.

The sessions looked at different aspects of our work as music librarians, and obviously it’s about more than teaching library skills. We heard about user format preferences for different kinds of audio (vinyl is popular with jazz musicians!) – and electronic versus paper books.  We heard about library surveys.  Richard Chesser talked about research training programmes at the British Library, which cover a wide range of topics essential to researchers.  And we heard – as I’ve mentioned – about the RNCM’s use of a giant Snakes and Ladders board in their induction sessions.  I was also interested to hear that they run separate sessions for their international students. Speaking personally, I think I’d prefer to keep our brief library tours and then maybe have an extra session called ‘Meet the librarians’ which anyone could attend, but which would be particularly targeted at students from different cultures/ with hesitant English.

Karen took to the floor to host an open-participatory segment, asking those among us how we get the music from our collections off the page (if we do at all) and in through people’s ears – so as to promote the use of the collections themselves, not just the pieces being performed.

My own session was requested at very short notice, so I decided that leading a session and facilitating a discussion of practice was pragmatically the most feasible, but would also give me useful experience in this kind of seminar. After all, it wasn’t all about our practice at RCS, but simply sharing ideas about what works in terms of getting readers enthused about some of our most special, rarely seen items.  So I started by talking about some ventures that I’d encountered, in St Andrews, Oxford Bodleian and the Jerwood Library at Trinity Laban, and then invited everyone else to share their best outcomes.

  • Peter Linnett, Librarian at the Royal College of Music, explained that the library works with the performance department and in particular those concerned with historical performance. This leads to ‘exploring the archives’ sessions at which readers can see manuscripts, perhaps using materials to prepare for a concert. Crucially, such sessions get into the monthly RCM events guide.  They also have ‘Turning the Page’ postings on the website.  Peter also reminded us that the library doesn’t have to focus solely on big names – even highlighting minor composers or less flashy ‘treasures’ still shows what the library does and what it can offer.
  • Richard Chesser (British Library) told us about the live music element in what they do – eg, Chris Scobie had a live quartet playing Donizetti, and the Stefan Zweig collection of 120 manuscripts were drawn upon for a concert in the Wigmore Hall. Again, marketing and promotion are key – getting the library mentioned in the programme to highlight the importance and relevance of the materials that are curated in the collections.
  • Geoff Thomason (RNCM) cited public performances of Arnold Cooke’s 6th Symphony and a 1905 cadenza for the Schumann Cello concerto – emphasising, like Peter and Richard, the desirability of making sure the marketing department knows that the library has had input by making these special materials available to performers. He also stressed that related archival material can also be displayed in connection with library initiatives or public performances.
  • Roy Stanley (Trinity College Dublin) told us how the library responded to requests for increased access and publicity surrounding the Irish composer, Enid Boyle (fl. 1920-60s), by digitizing and making many of her manuscripts available online, and also encouraging postgraduates to make performing editions.  These might one day be published and made available to purchase. Roy also told us about library collaboration with the Irish Traditional Music Archive, in which ITMA published two volumes of the mid-19th century James Goodman’s tune collection, and put material on their website.  This led to performances, broadcasts, a CD and a symposium.  (I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to being a little envious at these remarkable outcomes!)

I am hatching a plan involving an exceptionally rare string quartet from the late eighteenth century, that we’ve recently acquired.  We have possibly the only copy in the UK.  Until I’ve had discussions with colleagues at work, I’d better not share what is (in my mind, at least!) a rather exciting idea – no praise like self-praise – but I can certainly say that I have learned lessons from the shared experience session that I led, and I’m hopeful that we might be able to facilitate quite an exciting event if all goes well.


Teaching -Technological Tools

Thinking in a calm-verging-on-urgent kind of way about pedagogy and teaching methods, I logged onto the library Twitter account today to see what was happening in the worlds of libraries, education and the performing arts.

I have several tasks for the weekend, relating to a submission deadline for the PGCert course I’m currently undertaking.  Some of these tasks aren’t directly related to the assessed teaching sessions that I did, but they’re things I want to develop further anyway.

So, there I was with “pedagogy, classes, library training” at the back of my mind, and I encountered a tweet about the TLDR blog authored by W. Ian O’Byrne.(1)  And most specifically, a timely posting about podcasting:-

Getting Started with Podcasts: Identifying your purpose, audience, and format

I must admit that initially, I started reading with slightly rebellious, “I think I already know about this stuff” thoughts, but as I read on, it became clear that although I already knew about the introductory matter, there was more to think about than I realised.  Identify a prototypical audience?  Okay, I’d have just said, “know your audience”, but O’Byrne elaborates on this a bit more.  As for a “customer avatar” – I thought avatars were the little Manga figures that our teenage son adopts as his online gaming identity, but I’m quite prepared to accept that there’s a wider, more useful meaning than this in the business world, which can be extended to the education sphere.

So, I’ve saved this link to my Diigo account and must remember to add it to my bibliography for the course, BECAUSE …..

I need to make some podcasts in response to a question that our course leader put to my PGCert cohort.  Someone recommends that we have some library podcasts about useful library resources or library-related skills.  That’s encouraging.  It sounds like a job for me, doesn’t it? I’m planning to spend a bit of time doing these over the summer months, once I’ve had a chat with appropriate people.

I’m not going to talk about scaffolded learning here – even though it’s a theory that I find really interesting – except to mention (as I always do) that library training is markedly different from teaching to an extended syllabus.  Where the academic departments have a module, with a series of lectures and seminars, and a sense of progression, we librarians are catapulted into classes to deliver one-off sessions imparting a particular skill or introducing a particular set of resources.  So we have to work harder to provide context, and it’s very difficult to build on prior learning.  In many cases, we don’t even know what the prior learning might have been.  With new undergraduates, we don’t know what resources they’ve encountered before they arrived, or indeed if they’ve been introduced to the idea of quality online resources, online readings lists, and so on.

It occurred to me today that we maybe have as much in common with the kind of freelance trainers who are invited to deliver a one-day course to a group of people (maybe a department or a subset of a larger organisation), as with lecturers delivering an extended course.  Get in there, get their attention, deliver the training, see if they think they’ve benefited.  The difference is, of course, that we are providing instruction that will enable the students to pursue their mainstream studies to better advantage.

So – back to the podcasts.  I see these as providing quick, tailored instruction that will complement, but not entirely replace, the training that we deliver in person.  I know from my own experience that I would watch a podcast that I knew would be very quick and succinct.  But if I’m looking for a solution to a problem, I haven’t usually got the time to stop and watch a video for half an hour. So, now to decide how many podcasts we need …!

 (1)  TLDR stands for, Too Long, Didn’t Read.  I only encountered this expression a couple of days ago, but isn’t it appropriate to our modern times? So much to do, so little time.  Call it digital impatience, if you will.

Three conferences in April … and networking

I’m surprised I’ve made it to the end of the month, really!  Earlier this month, I went to my professional association’s annual conference – the International Association of Music  Libraries (UK & Ireland) Annual Study Weekend.  I had the opportunity to speak at it, so quite a bit of my spare time in March went into making it good!  I spoke about my latest research project and how I hope to extend it more widely, if I can get grant funding.

That was a fairly last-minute opportunity, but not so last-minute as my session at the Academic Music Librarians’ Seminar which preceded the Conference.  I decided to raise the question of ‘Performing the Collections’ – getting the library readers to explore and interact with rarer items in our libraries, and I cited examples of glee-singing in Trinity Laban, the Library Choir at the University of St Andrews, and the Bodleian Library’s Resident Artist, Dr. Menaka PP Bora, who interprets Indian dance.

That session also saw talks by other librarians about how they engage students in user education sessions. The giant snakes and ladders board used at RNCM was the zaniest idea, but certainly seems to have caught on.  (Can I see myself adopting it?  I’m not sure I have the guts!)

The following Saturday saw me shoogling up to Kingussie in the Highlands to accompany a couple of Schubert’s Ossian Lieder, which used German translations of the historic James Macpherson’s so-called Ossian tales. I’m hoping to do a public engagement library seminar in Inverness with a lecturer from the University of the Highlands and Islands, later this year, so this was a great opportunity to meet her and start the conversation. (Networking, it’s all about networking!)

And then this last weekend, I delivered my Ghosts of Borrowers Past paper again at Musica Scotica, in Stirling.  This time, I was a co-organiser, but my main role was as communications and marketing officer – by the time I got there I was exhausted, as I’d been managing the two email accounts and social media postings leading up to the conference, answering queries about bookings and amenities and forwarding scheduling queries to mye co-organisers.  Nonetheless, all went well, as my Storify story reveals.

And now I have to put my teaching artist hat back on, to think again about the teaching sessions I gave before Christmas! – is it really that long ago?

As it happens, on a personal note, I’ve been working with our youngest son to help him organise his studies and exam revision, because his ASD poses problems that his older brothers just didn’t encounter.  I have considerable admiration for special needs teachers, considering how hard I can see things are for someone at the high-function end of the spectrum.  It makes me realise how much structure has to be in place before learning can happen – not to mention how hard it is to keep someone else’s attention from wandering!



Unashamedly Research

Not a blogpost about teaching and learning, or even about librarianship – just an update.

October 2012 – October 2015 I was seconded as 40% postdoctoral researcher to the AHRC-funded Bass Culture project, which resulted in the Historical Music of Scotland database at hms.scot

October 2015 – April 2016 my secondment continued to enable me to start a new research project of my own, Claimed from Stationers’ Hall, in which I’m investigating the post-deposit history of historic legal deposit music.

This was effectively a part-time sabbatical, and it’s been great – I have really got my teeth into this new area of research, visiting the collection at the University of St Andrews once a week and giving a paper about it at the IAML (UK and Ireland) Annual Study Weekend in Manchester a couple of weeks ago.  (I’m repeating it at Musica Scotica 2016, and I have more engagements lined up in St Andrews to share the story of their collection with anyone who’ll listen!)

April 2016 – July 2018.  My secondment has been extended, now for one day a week over 28 months.  I’m ecstatic! I really do feel this endorses me as a researcher, and I’m obviously going to keep working on grant applications, as well as delving more deeply into the St Andrews material now that I have more time in which to do it.  Not to mention other collections!

My name is Karen and I am a researcher …


Opportunity Knocks

This time last week, I was at the IAML(UK & Ireland) Annual Study Weekend.  (It’s the highlight of the year for music librarians.)  I had a comparatively last-minute opportunity to give a paper on my historic legal deposit music research, so I took a week’s holiday between Palm Sunday and Easter, during which I blitzed both the paper and an encyclopedia article that I’d promised elsewhere.  So far, so good.

Now, we also have an academic librarians’ seminar before the Annual Study Weekend formally starts, but I hadn’t offered to present anything there.  I worry about “hogging the stage”, so I tend to hang back in the hope someone else will seize the opportunity.  To no avail, this time – I was offered an even more last-minute opportunity to lead a session at the seminar, and now I really had no time in which to write anything!  And then it dawned on me that if I used the technique I’ve tried in my Teaching Artist assignments –  encouraging everyone else to join in, and NOT holding forth myself, then I really wouldn’t have too much to prepare.

In recent weeks, I have pondered how I could encourage students to engage with our library special collections materials.  There’s a background to this: I attended a lunchtime seminar at St Andrews over a year ago – before I started my research there – when a ‘library choir’ performed some of their special collections music, and they also blogged about what they been working on.  This had been part of a longer series of blogs in which different ‘instruction manuals’ were explored, tried out and blogged about – the  music posting was just one of many.

Much more recently, Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts posted a blogpost about a recent event in their library: “Performing Special Collections: Jerwood Library Catch and Glee Club“.

And then, literally the weekend before our ASW, I spotted on Twitter that Dr Menaka PP Bora, Affiliated Artist at the Bodleian Libraries – a specialist in Indian dance – was to perform the collections at an event in Oxford.  I wish I could have been there!  I have since made contact with her, so maybe I might one day hear more about her research.  In the first two of these sessions, I know that academic staff were also involved, and faculty endorsement does seem to be key in making such events successful.  I don’t really know much about the third, since I only saw the promotional web-page in advance of the event.

Anyway, I shared these three very different, but equally successful ventures with my fellow academic librarians, and then asked for examples of their own practice.  I had already emailed the list flagging up this single question – I’m a great believer in setting the scene and getting people thinking about what they’d like to share, before they actually arrive.

I got some great examples from a variety of music libraries.  Activities in the Royal College of Music, the British Library, Trinity College Dublin, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive were particularly relevant, and of course, we were due to go to the Royal Northern College of Music to see some of their Archive treasures and then to hear a recital of violin and piano music with particular RNCM associations.  Librarians and archivists love sharing exciting things from their collections, so it came as no surprise that my ‘guided discussion’ got a good response.

I have recently had the opportunity to acquire a very rare set of parts for an 18th century string quartet for the Whittaker Library, and after I’d led this discussion session – and heard a presentation by the RNCM archivist – I was beginning to formulate an idea to incorporate this old string quartet into a library concert.  This would not only showcase a new acquisition, but also offer the chance to impart some techniques for researching early printed music, both with performers and then with an audience.  Watch this space – I’m still watching for the postman to deliver the parts!