"Archival Description of Notated Music"

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Music Library Association’s Working Group for Archival Description of Music Materials. Archival Description of Notated Music. Music Library Association & Society of American Archivists, 2020. Ebook, 166 pages. Free (ISBN 978-1-945246-55-5).

Archival Description of Notated Music gives readers a broad understanding of archival description for notated music, as well as specific, practical guidelines. It will appeal to those without in-depth knowledge of music librarianship or archives. With the various examples, supplement to the DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) included in Appendix B, and easy searchability due to its electronic format, it may also come in handy for professionals who need a quick answer while working.

Archival Description of Notated Music has an incredibly knowledgeable and carefully selected group of authors at its core. The authors listed include seven of the eight members of the Music Library Association’s Working Group for Archival Description of Music Materials. They hold a broad and impressive range of credentials in music and archives, with both archivists and special collections librarians represented. Sofía Becerra-Licha is the lead archivist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, John Bewley retired in 2019 from his position as associate librarian/archivist at the University at Buffalo Music Library, Maristella Feustle is the music special collections librarian at the University of North Texas, Vincent Novara is the head of the Acquisitions and Processing Section in the Music Division at the Library of Congress, Matthew Snyder is an archivist at the New York Public Library, Karen Spicher is a manuscript cataloger and processing archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and Elizabeth Surles is a faculty member at Rutgers University-Newark and archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies. In addition to the significant musical collections with which the authors work, all have educational and professional backgrounds in music that go beyond what can be shown by my quick mention of professional titles and places of employment. More information is available about the authors and the rich experiences they bring to bear at the end of the book, in the “About the Authors” section.

In the Preface, co-chair of the aforementioned working group Elizabeth Surles states that the book can be seen as “a guide that is practical for a range of professionals, from archivists with little musical knowledge to music librarians with little knowledge of archives” (5). The book does a great job with this, clearly stating how the guide can be used for different levels of expertise in the ensuing Introduction. Moreover, the book goes beyond telling readers what the DACS recommendations would be for notated music to contextualize and bring understanding to these recommendations.

The Introduction first takes us through a basic understanding of the scope of this book, specifically stating its focus on notated music (as opposed to sound and moving-image records) and DACS. It also states that the book’s primary goal is “to remedy the limited information in DACS by both addressing broader archival practices that impact description of notated music and by providing guidelines that supplement specific elements in DACS” (9). It then goes on to explain how to use the book, outlining the different sections so that professionals with different expertise and needs can easily know what part they should consult without necessarily reading the entire book.

The authors structure the book as two main sections. The first deals with the basic archival principles of appraisal, arrangement, and description; the second focuses specifically on how these archival principles apply to notated music. The second section is helpfully laid out in the same way as the first (i.e., also going in the order of appraisal, arrangement, and description), allowing the reader to transition easily between the two sections. While the authors recommend that those without archival experience start with the first section, someone who already has general archival expertise could skip over it to the second.

In addition to the two main sections of the book, the additional resources are also quite useful and serve the authors’ instructional purposes well, particularly the Related Resources, Glossary, and Appendices. In fact, these features take up about half of the book, highlighting their importance. The two main sections previously mentioned (“Principles of Archival Appraisal, Arrangement, and Description” and “Notated Music in Archival Collections”) allow the authors to outline the major aspects of archival description and archival description of notated music, but the other resources enable the authors to provide materials for those who want and need more in-depth information. Naturally, an ebook further benefits from its text searchability so that the reader can easily look for keywords, concepts, etc., without relying exclusively upon the table of contents and glossary.

There are a variety of sources in the Related Resources section, including more information on outside standards to be used, some possible sources for understanding user behavior (while the authors note an absence of resources solely dedicated to archival music materials), and a range of other sources either cited in the book or that the reader might want to consult. While the authors have done an excellent job of distilling core principles for the purposes of this relatively short book, if readers want and need to know more, a great list of options is provided.

The Glossary comes next, containing both musical and archival terms (although more musical than archival). While the terms are mostly from the text of the main body, there are some additional terms provided for reference. The definitions are fairly concise and may occasionally include terms that are not familiar to those less expert in either music or archival procedures; further research may be necessary for such readers. One option, in such cases, could be to consult the sources listed with many of the definitions.

While there are examples sprinkled throughout the main text, it would have been difficult and likely impractical for the authors to include full finding aids, EAD, and catalog records. Appendix A fulfills this purpose. Furthermore, unlike the examples provided within the text, the authors specifically note that all of the finding aids in this appendix are DACS-compliant. This section provides readers a great look at how the various principles mentioned within the main body come into play in an actual finding aid and catalog record.

The final section (outside of “About the Authors” at the very end) is a supplement to DACS, approved by SAA, specifically related to notated music. These guidelines are maintained by the Music Library Association’s Archives and Special Collections Committee, further showing that this is a collaborative effort between music librarians and archivists. The guidelines are particularly useful because they go beyond DACS and also emphasize required (versus optional) actions for archival description of notated music. Once again, examples are provided, which are very helpful in illustrating the guidelines.

This book could be used for any kind of archive with musical collections, regardless of the size of the institution/department or whether the musical materials are a major collecting area or not. As mentioned before, because the authors have intended it to appeal to a wide range of archivists and librarians, it has the particular strength of a guide that can quickly be consulted by an expert for answers and read more thoroughly by a relative novice. While some further research or consultation of experts may be necessary for those who are either not archivists or not musically trained, this book, with only 166 pages, is an excellent, relatively succinct source for the various basics of archival description of notated music. While there have been other publications dealing with archival practice for musical collections (such as those listed in the Related Resources section of Archival Description of Notated Music), including case studies, cataloging of music, and even examples of how to describe musical collections, it is useful to have a work from a leading group like SAA to encourage some level of standardization and so that librarians and archivists feel that they have an authoritative source to which they can turn.

—Ikumi Crocoll, Daughters of the American Revolution Library