IAML Cambridge Congress Diary #1: 11 days ago (UK)

The following is by Margaret Jones (Chair, Organizing Committee IAML 2023) and was originally published on the MusiCB3 Blog. It is reprinted here with kind permission.

11 days ago (and some statistics)

You may remember that a few months ago, I posted a not dissimilar blog titled 59 days and counting. Many of the Cambridge music team at the UL and the Pendlebury were busily counting down to IAML 2023, an international music librarians congress which was heading to Cambridge, and which we were hosting.

Margaret Jones, Congrss Diary with date

So 11 days after the opening, now it’s all behind us, what was it like?

Busy! Long days starting at around 8, and routinely finishing after 10 or later. Throughout the week, we hosted just over 310 delegates, of whom 210 were there for the whole week, others were there for social events, or stayed for a day or longer. We also had 28 sponsors (thank you, we couldn’t have done it without you), of which 17 exhibited for all or part of Congress week. Those who were exhibiting brought in 30 staff. There were also 47 accompanying people, who joined in some or all of the social events, including a small, but surprising number of children.

We had 21 volunteers (including the core team), who stewarded, registered, directed, and were generally unflappable.

As well as the professional programme, there were concerts throughout the week. These ranged from Baroque music from the Flauguissimo Duo (a theorbo and flute duo) through 20th century British music from the Rossetti ensemble, sitting in on an At home with Jane Austen thanks to Gillian Dooley, an Australian delegate, and contemporary music much of it with a particularly Cambridge flavour from the Living Songs team of Jessica Summers and Jelena Makarova. There were also choirs at the opening event (thank you Fairhaven singers) and at the Final Dinner (ditto, Ensemble of Friends).

We opened with a world premiere of a new work by Cecilia McDowall commissioned for IAML UK & Ireland‘s 70th birthday A tree is a song. Very appropriately the lyrics were written by Heather Lane, former librarian at Scott Polar, which some of us visited later in the week. And we continued with premieres throughout the week. The Living Songs concert featured the first live premiere of Ed Nesbit‘s In Antarctica, a lock-down work that had only previously been heard via video. We were lucky enough to have both Ed, and Richard Causton, whose work was also featured, at the concert.


The professional programme opened with the premiere of a short piano piece by Olive Pull, first wife of William Alwyn, which had almost certainly never been played publicly before, and the week ended with another premiere, a short but beautiful grace written by Douglas Coombes, the conductor of the Ensemble of Friends, at the Farewell dinner.

Wednesday saw the much loved afternoon socials as IAML delegates hit the sights of Cambridge and the Fens dodging showers as they went. There were a variety of trips available from punting and visits to museums, libraries, and King’s College, to the celebrated organ crawl, Ely Cathedral and Anglesey Abbey. There was also a (dry) tour of London libraries pre-Congress, and a ridiculously wet post-Congress tour to Snape, the Red House and Aldeburgh. Despite the weather it was very exciting to see behind the scenes at Snape Maltings, and the tour of the Red House and its archives was surprisingly touching.

Across the week there were 113 papers, 2 General Assemblies, 20 working groups, 5 workshops or demonstrations, and 4 open / panel discussions. There were also 6 library tours.

The papers covered a huge variety of subjects from those that were particularly dear to Cambridge librarians’ hearts – Music collections at Cambridge University Libraries – to rather more unusual collections, such as the remains of the first post-war record label in Poland. There was talk of copyright issues, born digital, and adding to digital collections. Librarians (especially cataloguers) love their acronyms, so there was plenty of discussion from FRBR to IFLA LRM and RDA/LRM and, not forgetting, UNIMARC. One of my favourite things about IAML Congresses is learning about other libraries, and many of them are truly fascinating. I discovered, for example, that the Carabinieri have their own bands, and, of course their own music library in Rome. They had, without doubt, the smartest delegate at the Congress.

Italian delegates in Cambridge

Italian delegates including Paolo Violini (Banda Musicale dell’Arma dei Carabinieri). Readers may remember Roberta Schiavone, second left, formerly of the Pendlebury Library. With thanks to Sara Taglietti.

Back to the lighter side, there was a lot of food and drinks consumed – 1 opening event buffet (thank you Trinity College), 5 coffee breaks, 1 lunch with a sponsor, 5 tea breaks, a cream tea for a select group (thank you Christ’s College), 1 sit-down Farewell dinner (thank you to King’s College). Apologies to all at nearby cafes, who found lunchtimes unexpectedly busy, our delegates loved the food here. Indeed they loved Cambridge.

And so that’s it for another year until IAML hits South Africa in June 2024. It’s almost certainly the last Congress that most of the Cambridge team will ever organize. It was an incredible experience. A ridiculous amount of work, far more than any of us could have anticipated. Occasionally very stressful, but gosh, it was exhilarating when it worked.

Thank you to all (but especially Katharine for sponsor wrangling, Anna for staying on top of the finances, Helen, who as well as finances, produced a curry when it was most needed, Kate for cheeriness under stress and crafty skills, Meg for rescuing THAT concert, and all the volunteers for their hard work).


Dear Margaret and others involved in organizing the successful 2023 IAML Congress, Thank you all so very much for an unforgettable congress week in beautiful Cambridge! After the congress followed a few very hectic weeks for me back home, so only today have I found time to go through my notes and think back on the extraordinary time we spent together. It will certainly be a cherished memory of a lifetime! Pia Shekhter,


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