Speaking and Being Spoken To

In the past fortnight, I’ve attended two one-day conferences, and given a presentation to my library colleagues.  I went to the National Library of Scotland a couple of weeks ago for the Reading and Identity Conference (26 August 2014).  Although the title of the conference was promising, I was a little disappointed in the content, not because of the presentations but because of the sheer diversity.  When I talk about reading and identity, I have in my mind eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish song enthusiasts discussing their sense of identity, and how their songs expressed that identity.  To spend a day hearing about reading to babies, teens’ reading preferences, experimental verse and a transsexual interpretation of the New Testament was perhaps not the best use of my time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been happy to sit and talk to any of the presenters – who came from libraries, academia, trusts and other backgrounds –  over a cup of coffee in my own time.  I might even have argued with one or two!  As a Christian, I was discomfited by a mock ‘prayer’ session during which all delegates were invited to close their eyes and hold hands.  I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been politically incorrect and simply ‘not done’ to have subjected any other faith to that treatment, but poor old Christians are supposed to smile bravely and put up with it.  (I sat with my eyes open and my hands in my lap, and I suspect that the brave smile would have been spotted as fake if anyone else was also looking!)  This was not my idea of a research conference!

Faced with the incipits of 20 digitized Scottish fiddle collections to transcribe, of which only two are currently completed, I couldn’t help feeling a touch resentful that I was being unfaithful to my tunes by neglecting them for a whole research day. The lesson, I suppose, is to think carefully about how a conference theme might be interpreted by other delegates!  On the positive side, I learned about a digital Ossian text project which certainly warranted my attendance at the afternoon session, so all was certainly not lost.  The organisation and technology worked impeccably, apart from my phone being unable to access the wi-fi using the password I was given.

Yesterday (12 September 2014), I was back in Edinburgh for a digital humanities workshop: Research and/as Engagement.  This was as engaging for me as the earlier one was not!  Each speaker was interesting, and all the projects were fascinating.  It was much more my scene.  I tweeted away merrily, took copious notes, and came back invigorated and keen to get on with the research project.

Between these two events, I and a colleague did a dry-run of a presentation that we’re delivering ‘for real’ to our academic colleagues next week; our drama opposite number did his session the following morning.  It’s easy to be critical of other people’s talks, so it was good to have the boot on the other foot as we practised explaining how various subscription databases worked, and what benefits they offered.

And I have yet to finish off the paper I’m writing for the ‘Understanding Scotland Musically’ conference in Newcastle in October.  (See my previous post.)  Mind you, I’ve got the Greenock roundabout to photograph tomorrow morning, Cecil Sharp’s biography and a compilation of Hamish Henderson’s writings to read yet, so things are certainly humming along!


Wynds, Vennels and Dual Carriageways: the Changing Nature of Scottish Music

I’m writing what I hope will be a controversial conference paper for the forthcoming Understanding Scotland Musically AHRC-funded two-day conference in Newcastle, 20th-21st October.  I’ll be making the point that pinning down what Scottish music actually IS, is pretty much like going to look for the place where your ancestors come from, and wondering why it doesn’t look the same.  You can’t compare what people thought Scottish music was, 200 years ago, with what people think it is now.  Indeed, if you try to compare what I think Scottish music is, with what you think Scottish music is, or what my son, or your granny, think Scottish music is, you’ll get as many different answers. 

WherGreenock Dalrymple Street Car parke do the wynds, vennels and dual carriageways come into it?  Ah, that would be telling! Though I can tell you that if you see a small, middle-aged personage taking photographs in the middle of a roundabout in Greenock with a perplexed look on her furrowed brow, then you can be fairly sure that’ll be me.

The abstract for my paper can be found under the “Musicologist” tab on this blog.

Apologetic Postnominals: See Me? See My Letters!

PostnominalsI was looking at someone else’s website the other day.  If I thought I had a lot of postnominals, they had – ooh, easily three times as many, the whole width of their web-page.  They were Fellows of a vast number of societies, only one of which I’d ever heard of. Now, not all Fellows are equal: I worked hard to attain my FCLIP, and was elected into the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The academic, music and librarianship qualifications were all earned after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  However, it set me wondering.  There’s a place for postnominals, but maybe one can overdo it.  Suffice to say, for the first time I found myself embarrassed, not because I’m well-qualified, but because those hard-earned postnominals may come across as showing off – an almost paranoid demonstration of one’s own worth.  Or am I becoming tainted with the Scottish “I kennt his faither” tendency, which basically translates as “who do they think they are?”

Establishing My USP

You’ll see from the pages on this website that I’m very enthusiastic about social media, and I author several other blogs.  However, they’re not all equally active.  At the same time, though, they all represent different aspects of me.

This KarenMcAulay.wordpress.com blog is going to be my main personal blog from now on.  Anything relating to my Scottish music research, or continuing professional development, will have its own place here, so TrueImaginaryFriends.blogspot.com, and AirsandGraces.cpd.blogspot.com will become dormant.

The successful performing arts blog, WhittakerLive.blogspot.com, which I author for the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will, of course, be unaffected.  You’ll recognise my blogging “voice”, but it’s done in my daytime professional capacity.

I’ll maintain my Academia.edu page – it’s not a blog, and I think it’s worthwhile – but I intend to do a radical pruning of my LinkedIn pages.  They are beginning to look cluttered.

I can also be found tweeting @Karenmca. However, I generally use Facebook only for family and close friends. That’s my personal choice.


Looking at my career, and my published output, it’s clear that I have a wide range of interests.  I’m an academic music librarian and a musicologist in equal measure. I’m a musician, an author, a teaching artist and a public speaker.

Commonwealth Games cushionCome Holy Ghost, clipAnd in my spare time, when having fingers in so many pies makes me think my head will surely explode, I chill out by doing dressmaking or patchwork, or sometimes arrange music for choral or instrumental ensembles.  I might tweet about that, but I don’t need to blog about it!

All these activities make it hard to decide what my USP (Unique Selling Proposition) actually is! Chameleon-like, I profile different aspects as the situation requires.  I’ll revert to this topic another day!

Officially a Teaching Artist, Author, and a Graduate’s Mum


In five days, I’ve seen our firstborn graduate, received a royalties cheque from my publisher, and scraped an Excellent in our recent Teaching Artist short course. Quite a week! Admittedly, the royalties only just cover my petrol costs for attending the graduation, but they’re royalties for all that. And my SCQF credits reflect the fact that it was just a short course, but it’s still great to have survived the course and come away with a decent mark! What next? Watch this space.

Students these days, part II

Meg Westbury did an anthropological study of students’ use of study space in Wolfson College, where she’s a librarian.  This is the second part of her blog – there’s a link to the earlier posting.  Interesting reading – it’s a different perspective on a perennial topic.


ubc student 2 4093136283_b89704085c_oThis post is a continuation of last week’s post in which I described how, with no money and very little time, I successfully used a small survey and some ethnographic techniques to sharpen discussion about students’ technology and study-space needs at my college. It was remarkable how such techniques swiftly illuminated a host of previously unconsidered issues. In this post, I discuss specifically the ethnographic techniques that I used.

Cognitive Maps

At the end of the computer-room survey (discussed in last week’s post), I asked if the students would be interested in doing a quick 10-minute follow-up interview with me, and about a third said yes. I felt strongly that there was likely more to be said about their use of the computer room than my simple survey could get at. I’ve been inspired lately by the idea of cognitive mapping, discussed by anthropologists Donna Lanclos here and here

View original post 887 more words

I'm a musicologist disguised as a librarian. I'm qualified in music, librarianship and education. I began this blog when I was studying for my PGCert in Learning & Teaching in Higher Arts Education, and I'm now using it for CPD. I'm a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Midweek I am PI for an AHRC-funded research network @ClaimedStatHall – early legal deposit music. Off-duty I'm hard-wired into my sewing machine!