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Becoming a Music Librarian, Part 2

Tomorrow I teach my first real music research class, so I’ve spent the last couple of days putting together what I’ve affectionately termed the Longest Research Guide Ever (link will be live until Dec. 2007, after which time you can contact me if, for some strange reason, you really want to see this monstrous thing). On the one hand, I’m really proud of this guide. It represents the sum total of what I know about finding sources for music research (except that it doesn’t list a couple of important bibliographic databases… Sad that this would be the sum total, but there you have it. After all, I only learned this stuff myself 10 days ago…). On the other hand, it also represents all that I try to avoid in a course research guide, and so I feel kind of guilty even showing it to my students tomorrow.

Here’s what I don’t like about the guide: it’s long. It’s a long block of text. There’s nothing to lessen the unrelenting, overwhelming length of the thing. I’ve tried to mitigate this by including a sort of table of contents at the beginning, blockish indents, and bulleted lists. But still, the thing is just plain long, and the whole point of a course research guide as opposed to a subject research guide is that it’s supposed to be neatly tailored to the needs of a specific course or even a specific assignment. … This is no neatly tailored piece of writing; it’s a dissertation on how to find specific content in the library.

But this particular course guide is long for three very good reasons.

  • First and probably most important, I’m not yet familiar enough with the subject, its research methods, or the students in that department to know what kind of detail is appropriate or helpful. When this happens, my nature is to write lots and then cut back later. This may not be the best method of attack, but it’s the only way I can wrap my head around the subject myself. So really, this is the guide that I need rather than the guide my students need.
  • Second, the teacher wanted the students to be able to “see the possibilities” that exist for music research (including access editions, manuscripts, (auto)biography, recordings, reviews, criticism, etc.). For their final oral presentation, the students will then be asked to take a piece of music and demonstrate to the class the kinds of artifacts that could be used to learn more about that piece.
  • Which leads to the third reason: the only commonality between the possible student topics will be that they’re pieces composed for piano, and there are a lot of pieces composed for piano… quite a lot. So I felt I had to somehow cover all the bases that would be possible for any piece, any composer.

Whether this ends up being a success or not, I hope that at the very least the students learn as much by using the guide as I learned to create it. I also anticipate stealing most of the content from this thing to work into the research guide for the whole department, and probably 4 or 5 littler handouts for the music faculty.

Published inLibraries and LibrariansTeaching and Learning


  1. Mark Mark

    Um … OK, completely unqualified to judge the content or whether you met your goals but we must have differing ideas of what constitutes long.

    If you worked at Podunk State U. then I’d probably agree that this was too long since you could generally only be effective for most of your students by directly feeding them the resource they need.

    But you don’t. On the whole, I imagine your students are a notch or two above. It looked to me like there were only a couple resources in each category and a good student won’t assume that only one resource will cover all they need, even with a resource type.

    So I, oddball that I am, don’t see it as long. But like I said, what the heck do I know?

  2. Martha Hardy Martha Hardy

    You know, this doesn’t seem overly long to me, it probably just feels that way because you had to write a bunch of original, explanatory text. It looks good to me, like you have covered all the most important things, like the Grove, Naxos, finding reviews, finding scores in the catalog, etc. I learned some useful tips from reading this.Yay, and good luck with the class.

  3. Patricia Patricia

    Iris, I think you did a great job on this, and I’m going to “save” it for future use. I don’t think it’s too long– as a previous poster said, you don’t have an overwhelming amount of sources, and you provided explanatory text. This is much better than those endless lists of sources that some guides have.

    I’m not a reference librarian and I don’t teach, but I’m on various teams to help with outreach and PR and updating our website. Our user guides are really badly outdated. I don’t think we have enough reference librarians for the amount of work. So I’m trying to help. Also, none of them have much background in music, and I do.

  4. Iris Iris

    Thanks everyone. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it just felt so long because I had to write everything from scratch. We’ll see how the students react later this afternoon.

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