MLA Pan-American Conference 2017: Conference Diary #2

Treshani Perera shares her reflections of the MLA conference in Orlando, Florida. Treshani is a Master of Library and Information Studies and Master of Music in Music History dual degree candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Treshani Perera at her poster session (courtesy of Gerry Szymanski)For my conference diary, I wanted to focus on two sessions with an archival emphasis, and one on music copyright issues. I had been looking forward to Eric Harbeson’s (University of Colorado Boulder) session titled Copyright and Institutional Sound Recordings since the conference schedule was released. Harberson’s session covered a complex topic - legal issues behind reproduction of sound recordings - which made his overall message a strong one. There’s risk leading to a lawsuit or legal action when one is reproducing sound recordings in a physical or digital format, but lack of action to preserve legacy formats will ultimately lead to risk of losing content within them. Harbeson used an appropriate example of institutional magnetic-tape sound recordings that continue to sit on library shelves due to complex copyright laws controlling access to physical and digital reproductions. Another concern about copyright law and sound recordings is the lack of absolute rules, which often leads to “it depends” responses (or more precisely, “yes-ish” or “no-ish”)! To begin with, each sound recording has at least two layers of copyright protection: copyright of work itself and copyright of the performance. To make matters more complex, additional layers may be added, especially if a work has accompanying text. Harbeson’s presentation was informative, but is strictly relevant and applicable to institutions dealing with U.S. Copyright Law. Harbeson’s advice to those dealing with copyright issues for sound recordings: take a risk, take action in the name of fair use, but be aware that there are many instances that demand risk-averse decision making. It would take me pages to cover the contents of Harbeson’s excellent presentation, so I hope you will stay tuned to the session recording when it is released via the Music Library Association Vimeo channel.

The session titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Backlog? MPLP and Music Special Collections, which took place Friday afternoon, focused on minimal processing of archival backlogs to provide access to hidden collections. Session moderator and panelist Maristella Feustle (University of North Texas) began the session with some results from the 2016 Archives and Special Collections Committee Survey indicating music librarians’ changing duties and added job responsibilities related to archival processing with limited experience. Thus, the session focused on giving an overview of the archival processing method More-Product-Less-Process (MPLP) with some real-world examples of how it applies to music collections. More information on the MPLP method can be found in the seminal archival article by Dennis Meissner and Mark A. Greene. Dan Santamaria (Tufts University) provided a thorough overview of the MPLP method; much of the presentation was taken from his MPLP workshop offered through the Society of American Archivists Continuing Education Workshops Series. One of the initial takeaways from this presentations was the triadic approach to successful processing: making collections discoverable, knowing and promoting what’s in your collection, and being sensitive to user needs. Santamaria also provided valuable advice on how to be conscientious of user needs during description and arrangement of archival collections, and looking at the bigger picture of archival processing when applying the MPLP method. Feustle’s short albeit informative presentation focused on archival processing during times of doing more with less time, funding, expertise, and personnel. Matt Snyder (New York Public Library) talked about the implications of MPLP when processing large music collections on a tight schedule. Snyder views MPLP as a method in favor of researcher-led content discovery with archivist’s role being limited to creating access through description and appraisal. This approach empowers researchers to interact with the collections themselves instead of through the eyes of the processing archivist. Snyder believes that processing archivists should focus on good description by researching the creator and having a thorough understanding of the collection’s “aboutness”, as well as provide a clear inventory of minimally-processed items so that collections are no longer hidden from users.

The session titled Hyperconnected Access to Archival Music Collections, presented by Mac Nelson and Stacy Krim of University of North Carolina Greensboro, had a similar theme. This session was the winner of the MLA Best of Chapters Competition, which honors outstanding presentations from regional MLA meetings. The focus of the session was the use of detailed catalog records and finding aids to increase visibility of UNCG’s cello music special collections. According to Nelson, the cello collections have continued to gain interest from cello musicians, researchers, and donors interested in cello music, which led to data-rich catalog records for ease of search and discovery via the world wide web. A typical item-level catalog record includes not only details pertaining to the publication itself but also notes fields (MARC 5xx) for annotations and content (such as original cadenzas) added by performers. In the age of Google-like universal search catalogs and integrated library systems, Krim sees the presence of detailed item-level catalog records as a useful strategy for researchers interested in collections from afar. Krim also discussed the importance of collection outreach via social media (Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook), which has impacted some international researchers to progress with their research without even setting foot into the archives. Krim pointed out that in some cases, Facebook statistics and interactions were used to add items into UNCG Digital Collections on an on-demand basis.

This year’s MLA annual meeting was personally significant for some extenuating circumstances altering my conference experience, but I was glad to be in the company of those that continue to come together for one shared goal: making music collections the center of our professional universe! The people, on the other hand, are always the motivation to keep coming back to MLA annual meetings!

Image: Treshani Perera at her poster session (courtesy of Gerry Szymanski)



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