This post was written for my Bibliography & Research in Music (MUTH 65200) course at Ithaca College. I will be posting eight reflections from the class here throughout the course of the semester. You can find the other posts under the category Bib Class Reflections.
1. Scholars Perspective: Impact of Digitized Collection on Learning and Technology (2008)
2. Notes on IMSLP (Dec 2010)
3. The Cobweb: Can the Internet be Archived by Jill Lepore (New Yorker – 2015)
4. Google’s Slow Fade with Librarians by Jessamyn West (Medium – 2015)
5. Never Trust a Corporation to do a Library’s Job by Andy Baio (Medium – 2015)
When the genre bending group Fifth House Ensemble came to Austin to perform Black Violet, they also gave a few talks on arts entrepreneurship to the music students at the University of Texas. I was lucky enough to catch their vegan, flute playing, anime loving, executive director Melissa Snoza talk about how she conceptualizes job opportunity in the current classical music landscape.
The way Snoza sees it, nearly 100 percent of the classical musicians are competing for the mere 2% of the general population who actively engage with classical musicians. In a race to the bottom fighting for grants and ticket sales, we compete each other out of jobs. The far more secure route is instead to work on showing the other 98% of the public that they really do love classical music, they just don’t know it yet. She went as far as to say that while pulling the majority of the population in to our world is the most obvious economic option, it is also the most responsible one. We shouldn’t sequester this beautiful art to ourselves, clinging onto it as to only be accessible by the few learned folks who have worked as hard to understand it as we have. Classical music can and should be shared creatively with anyone (not just those who already know they want to listen to it). But doing requires breaking our molds, doing something different, and taking risks.
I was reminded of Snoza’s talk while I read our blog readings this week. The five readings all revolved around ways the internet is changing the way the public interacts with information.
Casey Mullin’s review of IMSLP from 2010 hailed the way the Petrucci Library had opened up access to scores of many varieties and provided meta data that were provided by members of their own community. Mullin made it clear that IMSLP’s presence on the digital landscape could not replace a well-curated physical library, but that it might in fact be a platform for librarians to upload their collections of scholarly, rare, and out of print scores.
The three articles from 2015, The Cobweb, Google’s Slow Fade with Librarians, and Never Trust a Corporation to do a Library’s Job, all discuss the way internet archival does and doesn’t work. I was fascinated to read that archiving was not a built in process as the internet was being created, though it makes sense knowing how valuable computer storage space used to be. The pockets of people doing work to archive what happens on the internet (via the Wayback Machine, for example) believe strongly that the public deserves a collective memory. Furthermore, the corporations (i.e. Google) who committed making the world’s information universally accessible and useful and have sense dropped the ball, are outlasted by their librarian counterparts who remain true to this mission. While librarians work to digitize the past and to download the present, the public only has limited access to what is available.
The oldest reading, a transcript of David Harrington Watt’s address at the RLG Programs Symposium, is the one I found most forward thinking. In the address Watt’s questions the approach that many university’s are baking into their curriculum to set students up to be “information literate.” The curricular demands are not ones that professors feel passionately about or want to teach, but Watt’s makes the point that professors, curriculum designers, and students are all really aligned with their goals. With incredible access to incredible primary sources comes the need to learn how to navigate intelligently.
I feel the general population (including students and professors) fall in the 98% category that Snoza talked about above. Except, instead of being classical music illiterate, they are source illiterate. And as the body of resources online — archived material, digital collections, open access journals — expands, fewer and fewer people have the tools or the interest to even approach it. Librarians are in the unique position of the 2% who do have an insight into this world. And they, like the classical musicians can either compete with each other to help support the rest of the 2%, or they can reach out and invite the rest of the public into the incredible, expanding world of the digital age.
Also important to remember, though, is that as a member of the 98% I can do my side of the work to understand the best way to explore the digital world. I can find mentors and guides, those who know what they are doing, to guide me forward.