Ruminations on Specialism

Last spring I played host to two library science students from Germany who were doing internships with the University Library Services as part of their degree. One of the first activities I arranged when they arrived at the Music Library was a trip to Collection Management Services at McKenzie House to look at various music acquisitions and to learn more about the process of cataloguing music materials, in particular music scores and sound recordings.

 Cardiff University is very fortunate to have on staff the talented Janice Finnie, who has done the lion’s share of cataloguing University Library Services’ music materials for many years now. With the JISC-funded project, we also of course had Loukia Drosopoulou, a specialist in rare and antiquated music materials.

 Our visiting library students were able to first spend time with Loukia, who walked them through the process of using RISM (the international catalogue of music sources), to track down plate numbers, investigating signatures and bookplates to identify provenance, and the various highs and lows of attempting to catalogue materials that challenge modern cataloguing processes.

 They then spent time with Janice, who walked them through the intricacies of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules II, MARC 21, and how an item that could contain a multitude of authors, titles, and many additional layers of information can be squeezed into sometimes quite rigid record formats.

 Watching Loukia and Janice each demonstrate their skills, the tools of their trades, and examples of the surprisingly vast variety of materials they catalogue (considering all fall under the heading of “music”), really crystallised for me the importance of specialist information resource management and provision.

 Perhaps it’s simply a side-effect of globalisation and increasingly ergonomic technology, but I think that the seemingly shrinking value placed on specialists flies in the face of the growing need for knowledge and skills equipped to meet the demands for personalised service.

 As an active member of the national music librarian community, it has been painful to watch the intersection of increased expectation for skills diversification meeting the increased number of niche interests, as they together brave the oncoming storm of dwindling resources and bureaucratic apathy.

 That Cardiff University has managed to maintain its library experts to support students and staff in meeting demands both broad and narrow, and to help build collaborative engagement opportunities both internally and externally, is a testament to the institution and to the University Library Service. That Jisc  has supported what might be seen as a ‘traditional’ cataloguing project as part of its digital innovation programme is a testament to their organisation, as well.

 Tonight, I’ll be raising a glass to Loukia and her many discoveries and achievements with the Music Special Collections. I’ll also raise a glass to our Project Steering Committee and to the memorable experience of watching what happens when specialist skills, knowledge and experience come together. I hope that we’ll continue to buck the trends and that there will be many more opportunities to celebrate our specialists in the future.


On the Importance of the Aylward and Mackworth Printed Music Collections

By Professor Rudolf Rasch

Why are the Aylward and Mackworth printed music collections important for musicians and musicologists? Although I have not gone through the entire collections, rather the opposite, I have only seen a very small portion of them, still some remarks can be made.

First of all, we should be happy with every copy of an early edition of music that has been preserved. We may think that once we know a piece of music from one source, all the other sources are no longer relevant. But it is just the opposite: copies of early music may be similar, but they may be different as well. Composers and publishers may have inserted changes and additions, and users may have left indications on them such as fingerings and articulations. The more copies we have of the same composition, the better we can tell the story and the history that are present in every piece of music. The number of preserved copies is a rough estimate of its popularity, and the variation between the copies shows us to what extent music was merely left as it was or instead arranged, corrected, changed, improved, etc.

Another feature of many items in the Aylward and Mackworth collections is that they are still as they were when they were last used. This means that they show their way of being used, they have signatures of former owners, and copies bound together also tell us about the taste of certain owners, and so on. Other music collections in libraries often have rebound all the early music and have thereby destroyed a lot of information about the history of the book.

Also, the Aylward and Mackworth collections are typical collections where “surprises” are possible. The collections were brought together over a considerable stretch of time, probably by more than one person, and they reflect a variety of tastes and preferences. By this they may have somewhat unpredictable contents, and among these unpredicted items may be rare or even unique items.

I have studied in detail only the Geminiani editions in the two collections, which, although not very large in number, have brought me to new ideas about the history of these editions. It was for instance the first time I saw Whatman watermarks in Geminiani’s music. (So far in music scholarship, these watermarks had only been found in music by Handel.) Also, a copy of the composer’s Concerti grossi Op.2 (AYL 480-486 (3)) looked in one way like a Walsh edition, and in other ways like Geminiani’s private edition. A comparison with other similar copies of this edition brought me to the conclusion that at a certain point of time Geminiani did not have sheets of all the pages of the edition left. Then John Walsh printed anew the missing pages so that at the end there is some kind of a composite edition. Such conclusions are only possible by studying a number of copies of an edition.