Articles worth a read – Neil Gaiman, Woody Caan, John Harris

These two articles have been sitting in my Evernote blog notebook for months now. They’re still interesting so I wanted to share them.

Neil Gaiman, the author and a big supporter of libraries, gave an interview where he discusses among other things, the library as a safe place. This was an issue I thought was very important for school libraries. He talks about it more in the context of a public library. Read it here.

Woody Caan writing in Times Higher Education about the vital role librarians play in the university context. Read it here.

Here’s a more recent article by John Harris in The Guardian that was relevant to an essay I was writing and also my current work context in a music conservatoire with a significant (and in demand) vinyl collection. My library, based on student demand, recently brought out more LPs into the main stack area and bought another record player. This article highlights the growing synergy or tension in the music industry, also reflected in my workplace, between rapidly evolving technology and a desire to return to roots. Read it here.

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IAML UK-Irl Annual Study Weekend 2014

A blow by blow account of last weekend when I attended the International Association of Music Libraries (UK & Ireland branch) Annual Study Weekend in Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

Gardens, Fitzwilliam College Cambridge

I found my third ASW equally as rewarding as the previous two and am grateful once again to the Music Libraries Trust for enabling me to attend. This year I attended the Academic Music Librarian Seminar on Friday afternoon since it was relevant to my work in a school library. Though the session was aimed at the conservatoire and HE sectors, it was still pertinent and interesting. Karen McAulay (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) gave a talk about a short course she is taking called ‘The Teaching Artist’. This was enlightening on many levels and everyone enjoyed learning the latest education buzzwords like ‘backwash’ and ‘scaffolding’. I hope to have a look at the books she mentioned as I am currently embarking on designing some information literacy skills training at school. Emma Greenwood (Trinity Laban) shared about using special collections to support research. As a historical performance nerd, this made total sense to me but it seems that getting non-HiP lecturers to utilise library resources is more difficult. This thread was picked up in other talks and during the round table discussion. Conservatoire librarians highlighted the difficulty with instrumental tutors who are part time and less available and think library resources are the same as they were 20 years ago when they were studying. Geoff Thomason’s (RNCM) presentation was another useful one and I will definitely try to incorporate some of his research skills teaching methods into my work such as splitting students into three groups, each of whom uses only a certain resource type to answer a research question.

The ASW proper started off with a lovely reception and the exhibitor’s presentations. I managed to win a freebie (guitar pick) from Rock’s Back Pages which will be useful at school! I enjoyed Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie’s (IAML president) report on RILM and the new search options within EBSCO. The first presentation concerned music hubs and was given by Matthew Gunn (Cambrideshire Music Hub). This was very informative and built on what we heard about the hubs last year. I plan to see what my own local music hub is up to now, particularly whether they link with schools. The evening recital by Francis Knights of music from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book was the perfect end to the day.

Reading Room, University Library Cambridge

University Library, Cambridge

University Library, Cambridge

Saturday started with visits to various libraries in Cambridge. I toured the University Library. ‘Fortress’ was the first word that struck me to describe it but, inside it is actually quite warm, inviting and wood panelled, with a distinctive art deco charm.  We toured the closed access areas and various reading rooms. Their approach to space as a legal deposit library was certainly innovative: a ground floor courtyard was moved up one floor, plants and all, to allow for more storage space. Of course now I am thinking why didn’t I ask what was in the tower?? (see picture) Upon returning to college, we had a few sessions before lunch. Though I’m no pop music scholar, I always like to see what Academic Charts Online can do as demonstrated by Roger Press (Academic Rights Press) in his R&I session. Richard Chesser and Andrea Patterson (British Library) gave a whistle-stop tour of what’s happening with digital music at the BL. This was cutting edge stuff and included digitisation projects with Gale Cengage and the letters of Vaughan Williams. Various prizes were awarded on Saturday and this was a great moment to recognize excellent music services, music dissertations and music scholarship, which winners can then bring back to their home institutions to demonstrate what a fantastic job they are doing. Susi Woodhouse (Consultant) gave another delightful musicological talk on the Black Bear Music Club which was active in Cambridge in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. This talk ended with a group sing of one of the glees the club performed—and I think Susi was very pleased with our can-do attitude! Next was a new type of session that the conference committee dreamed up called ‘Quick-Fire Rounds’. I went to sessions by Graham Muncy (Vaughan Williams Society) on forging partnerships with music societies, Karen McAulay on social media and Helen Mason (Trinity Laban) on learner development/user education. These were all useful and informative, but very quick! Ideas I gained were using Diigo for storing and sharing online bookmarks and doing a treasure hunt type game (with chocolate!) to teach users where to find things in the library. Wrapping up Saturday was a presentation by staff from the National Jazz Archive that highlighted their collection not only as a treasure trove of jazz history, but also as a history of twentieth-century society and culture through the eyes of jazz.

Sunday began with a third R&I session. Rupert Ridgewell (British Library) gave us a sneak peak of the new Cecilia and Concert Programmes Project websites and we heard the latest from Library of Birmingham music library staff. Ros Edwards (Henry Watson Music Library) gave a fascinating presentation on Henry Watson, the man and his collection, and also about their new digs in the refurbished Manchester Central Library. Claire Kidwell (Trinity Laban) presented the latest copyright reforms—in understandable English—that were relevant to music librarians. Rachel Cowgill (Cardiff University) talked about her research into music clubs in World War I London, particularly one called Ciro’s near Trafalgar Square. Finally we heard about fundraising and grant writing from two successful grant writers, Ruth Walters (Westminster Music Library) and Ruth Curries (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). Their collaborative project in currently underway and is centred on WWI composers and music.

Other highlights of this year for me were seeing old and new faces. It was great catching up with people I’d met at previous ASWs. Similarly I enjoyed getting to know the first timers. The setting was also very special. The Fitzwilliam College gardens were stunning and being in such a picturesque, musically-rich city like Cambridge was a real treat. Thank you again to the Music Libraries Trust for supporting my attendance and to the IAML (UK & Irl) conference committee for organising another brilliant weekend.

Parterre Garden, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

IAML UK-Irl ASW 2014 (abstract)

University Library, Cambridge

For the long version of this see my blow by blow account in this post. In short, the International Association of Music Libraries (UK & Ireland branch) hold a fantastic conference every year which they call the ‘Annual Study Weekend’. This year it was held at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. It is a great chance to meet music librarians and those who work with music from around the country, hear about what’s going on in the field, learn about various relevant topics, and travel to neat places like Cambridge. I don’t like repeating myself so go read the other blog post if you want to hear more!

1/7(11)/32, or, How I Got a Job

Apologies, this post was obviously intended to be published much earlier (been in post 8 months now) but has been languishing in my drafts folder…

I recently was appointed to a one-year post as a school library assistant (and half-time music support teaching assistant). This offer culminated six months of job hunting and, as the blog title states, 7 interviews (out of 11 shortlistings) and 32 job applications. For my thoughts mid-search see this previous post. As I reflect on this whole process, I thought I’d share on my blog, especially for those still looking for a job, and perhaps for my future self when I at some point am back on the job hunt…Apologies for a long read.

  • Because of my personal situation, I had the luxury of being able to focus on a specific field (as opposed to applying for any job just to pay the bills). This was a useful strategy for actually reaching my goal of a library job, since I could focus my time and effort on jobs that were actually relevant to what I want to do. And despite what the media says, there are a LOT of positions out there, and you can easily get overwhelmed if you’re not focussed.
  • That being said, it’s worth looking for jobs slightly outside your target area which might offer transferable skills. I applied for a few arts administration jobs since I have experience in that area and, while not ideal for library work, would still offer some relevant skills (didn’t get any of those jobs though!).
  • I was continuously tailoring and tweaking my CV, application forms and cover letters. In my ‘Jobs’ folder on my computer, I’ve got 10 different cover letters and 19 versions of my CV! The more research I did, the more ideas I got about how to improve these integral parts of the job hunt. For example, advice I incorporated included: letting my personality come through in a cover letter, adding month/year to work experience entries on my CV, totally redesigning my CV after seeing an example I thought was in a clearer, more pleasing layout.
  • I built up my skills, experience and network through voluntary work while I job-hunted. Again this is dependent on if you can take time not working. If that’s not an option, join a professional associations, follow library folk on Twitter or take a free online course such as a MOOC. You can attend events, and many (like library camps) are usually on Saturdays.
  • In the end this particular job was the right fit. I read that somewhere on a blog about getting academic posts, and it seems to be true in my case. It also is the sort of organisation that, dare I use a CV cliche, ‘thinks outside the box’. After realizing I’m a music specialist, they decided not to put those skills to waste and basically created a position for me, split between the library and music department. I also got invited for two other interviews after getting this offer, but in the end decided that this job would best build up both my library and music experience, and develop many of the skills I’d seen on job descriptions for higher level roles. Which leads to my next point…
  • Think for the future!  (i.e. either your next job, dream job or library school) and compile a skills “to do list” while you are immersed in job descriptions and from your interview feedback. I’ve compiled a list of Skills I Have and Skills I Need, and hopefully will be gaining some of the latter. Another tidbit, someone suggested a ‘skills I have but can’t prove’.

So that’s how I got my job! Thanks for reading!

Who was Mr Frobisher?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that digging around old documents can result in 1) deteriorating vision, 2) discovering lost Vivaldi manuscripts or, in my case, 3) finding interesting stories and getting a bit dusty.  A scrapbook I’ve been listing during my voluntary work with the West Yorkshire Archive Service has proven interesting material and piqued my scholarly curiosity.  You can read more about the particular item here, but I want to write today about a person whose name is emblazoned on many of the concert programmes and posters I have listed, yet remained elusive…

Who was Mr Frobisher?  Poster after poster lists his name, a silent reference to his musical skill and dedicated service:

‘Conductor, Mr. Frobisher’

‘Organ, Mr. Frobisher’

‘Leader and Conductor, Mr. Frobisher’

‘Mr. Frobisher will preside at the piano’

I began to wonder who exactly was this Mr. Frobisher?  Why did he crop up again and again?  And just exactly how many times did the poor man have to play Handel’s Messiah?

Joseph H. Frobisher was the organist of Halifax Parish Church, 1838-1862.[1]  I have attempted to trace him further, however it appears there was an entire Frobisher clan in the West Riding in the nineteenth century!  I would propose that the most likely candidate is one Joseph Henry Frabisher (a not insurmountable variation of the surname), christened 26 December 1813 in Halifax, son of Richard and Elizabeth Frabisher.[2] Since he must have been at least 20 years old upon taking up the church organist post, a christening date around 1818 makes sense.

He first turns up in the Halifax scrapbook at a benefit concert in 1834 and appears regularly thereafter in concert with various local choral societies and other groups.[3]  He gave two concerts in 1844 and 1845, not as a soloist but more as an organizer/conductor, judging from the programme for the second ‘dress concert’.  This included three orchestral overtures (Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1, 1st movement served as an overture) and instrumental and vocal solo music by, among others, Charles de Beriot, Shield, Mozart and Weber.  From the scrapbook, it seems that Frobisher led a portfolio-style career that may have been typical of a professional musician in provincial, nineteenth-century Yorkshire, though I will defer to my Victorian musicologist colleagues on this point.  Still Frobisher’s ‘steady job’ was at Halifax Parish Church, and he obviously was actively picking up freelance accompanying work with the various local choral societies, and occasionally staging a concert of his own.

An interesting performance practice point is the seemingly interchangeable use of the terms ‘leader’ and ‘conductor’ in the concert programmes.  Conductors, in the modern sense (directing the choir or orchestra from the front with a baton), did not emerge until the 1830s.  Previously the performers were led by the first violinist (now termed leader or concertmaster) or from the keyboard.[4]  It would seem that the usage we see here indicates that Mr. Frobisher led from the keyboard.  However based on the speed with which provincial Yorkshire performed newly composed repertoire, he may also have taken to the new trend of conducting from the front.[5]

Finally, in case you were wondering, the Messiah count stands at: 15.  The period covered by the scrapbook when Frobisher was active, 1834-1869, means that he was involved in a Messiah performance about every two years, usually around Christmas.

Some other Frobisher oratorio performance tallies for lagniappe (Louisiana term meaning something extra):

Other Handel oratorios = 44

Haydn The Creation = 12

Hadyn The Seasons = 7

Mendelssohn St. Paul = 10

Mendelssohn Elijah = 4

N.B. I’m no statistician, so my tally numbers are approximate and do not always indicate a performance of the complete work. If a work was part of a ‘mash-up’ concert (i.e. a concert combining songs from many works usually Handel oratorios) the entire programme was counted just once.


[1] Nicholas Temperley, ‘Chetham, John’,  Oxford Music OnlineOxford University Press <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/05544&gt; [28 Jun 2013].

[2] ‘Joseph Henry Frabisher, 26 Dec 1813’ in ‘England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975’, FamilySearch <https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/J3K9-WP5&gt; [28 Jun 2013].  University of Huddersfield also holds a collection of papers from the Frobisher family.

[3] GB-Calderdale, West Yorkshire Archive Service, WYC Misc 514/1, p. 9ff.

[4] Clive Brown, ‘Leader’, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/16178&gt; [20 Jul 2013]. Brown points out that in operatic performances before the mid-nineteenth century it was common for the keyboardist to direct the singers, whilst the leader looked after the orchestra. We await Peter Holman’s forthcoming book Before the baton: conducting and musical direction in Georgian Britain for further insight.

[5] The Halifax Orchestral Society, under Mr. Frobisher’s leadership, performed Mendelssohn’s oratorio St. Paul in May 1837 only one year after it premiered in Düsseldorf, and again in 1840 with some of the singers for whom Mendelssohn originially conceived the parts.