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.

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