The importance of modern technology in academic music libraries is clear. The music recordings in their collection, which professors and students rely on, are increasingly being stored as digital reserves rather than records or CDs. But how does digital technology matter in performance libraries? Does it help those librarians serve their information-seeking community, too?
The answer can be found in Patrick Lo’s 2014 article An Interview with Matthew Naughtin, Music Librarian at the San Francisco Ballet. This interview is effectively a follow-up to Lo’s earlier interview with the Metropolitan Opera’s chief librarian Robert Sutherland, despite being published in a different journal. It covers much the same ground as the Sutherland interview, describing a performance librarian’s responsibilities, though it outlines several factors unique to ballet librarianship and foreign to opera companies. But it also discusses a factor not emphasized by Sutherland, but which is probably universal to all performance libraries today: the benefits of digitization.
One of a performance librarian’s main jobs is to preserve sheet music, proofread it, and edit it to make sure it’s completely error-free. This is obviously a difficult task to do by hand. But with the advent of music notation software, scores can now be computer-engraved into PDF files (Lo & Naughtin, 2014, p. 153). The editing work can now be done on computer, and multiple digital copies can be made of a single error-free score.
Performance librarians also need to distribute sheet music to every musician in the company, as well as to fellow music librarians with whom they collaborate. Traditional mail is slow and not always reliable as a distribution method. Though Naughtin still uses it when he needs to, he prefers sending PDF files by e-mail (Lo & Naughtin, 2014, p. 146), and I’m sure that many other librarians agree with him. He also enthusiastically praises the San Francisco Ballet IT Department’s new website (Lo & Naughtin, 2014, p. 154), which will let musicians upload not only sheet music PDFs, but MP3 audio files onto their iPhones and iPads, so they can practice their music with both visual and audio guidance.
It’s clear from this interview that digitization is bringing ease and innovation to every subset of music librarianship. I’m sure that within a few decades, or even years, few librarians will even remember a time when digital technology wasn’t essential to their work.
Lo, P. & Naughtin, M. (2014). A conversation with Matthew Naughtin, music librarian at the San Francisco Ballet. Music Reference Services Quarterly, 17(3), 142-168. doi: 10.1080/10588167.2014.932677