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!





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