This is the first publication in book form to address the practice of music archives in the United States. The book is part of the Music Library Association's Basic Manual Series, which aims to “assist the librarian in dealing with various aspects of the organization, administration and use of a music library.”1 Lisa Hooper is the head music and media librarian at Tulane University in New Orleans and has published in music librarianship journals on issues pertaining to sound recording collections, audio course reserves, and document delivery services in music libraries. Donald C. Force is an assistant professor at the School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and has published on records management practices and litigation processes. He has also been involved in international research projects, including the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES) and Digital Records Forensics projects at the University of British Columbia.
The book was written “to assist librarians with the organization and care of archival music materials.” It is an ambitious project, intended to cover all possible aspects of the archival enterprise in 144 pages. The authors aim to serve the needs of music librarians and students, as well as archivists with no music background who are faced with working with music materials. The book is divided into eight chapters: “History and Development of Archives, Archival Practice, and Archival Theory”; “Acquisition and Accessioning”; “Appraisal”; “Arrangement”; “Description”; “Preservation”; “Digitization”; and “Funding.”
In the interest of focusing on my appraisal of this work, I have chosen not to expand upon each chapter as the content should be familiar to The American Archivist readership. For nonarchivists, each chapter provides a brief overview of the topic at hand and then delves into a discussion of best practices to achieve the desired result, be it creating a finding aid or removing a staple. The organization of the information makes the chapters easy to navigate, and the authors give advice and list potential steps to take in the course of the work that needs to be done. The book is successful in describing the broad range of activities an archivist must perform to preserve and provide access to our cultural heritage, and the reader should be impressed by the broad range of work that every collection or record group requires, even if one chooses to apply minimal processing standards.
The book doesn't hold up well as an introductory work that seeks to equip music librarians facing imminent archival acquisitions with a solid overview of basic archival concepts. The authors pick and choose what concepts to expand on and deliberately leave out such crucial matters as the meaning and implication of enduring value when discussing archival appraisal, or the importance of maintaining original order as a vital component of archival arrangement. More specifically, the authors suggest, “[i]f there is an apparent order supplied by the creator, consider documenting this order as evidence of the creator's practices. Once this is accomplished, it is time to set about arranging the materials in a logical order, providing the greatest level of physical and intellectual access to the collection” (p. 26). Ignoring respect for original order when arranging and describing a collection is a questionable move, if one's purpose is to provide an introduction to the most essential tenets of archival practice. Moreover, the authors backpedal on their advice toward the end of their discussion on arrangement by advising that “even though two adjacent papers in an original folder may not seem to have anything in common, there may be an existing relationship that only a researcher with extensive subject knowledge will recognize. If the relationship between documents is broken through arrangement, a researcher may never be able to make the connection” (p. 31). In addition, the book could have shone a light on a truly unresolved matter in archival practice: the need for meaningful and coherent description of music materials. Instead, the authors recommend that readers put their inner music librarians aside and not arrange music scores and manuscripts by genre or thematic catalog number (p. 29).
Archival appraisal is brought forward as a separate chapter, where the authors take an overly detailed approach to determining a collection's value. The discussion centers on weeding materials at or before the arrangement and description stages, advising examination of items and identification of duplicates, photocopies, published materials, information that needs to be redacted or deaccessioned (i.e., Social Security numbers, student records, etc.), and preservation concerns. All of these are valid steps that need to be taken during the arrangement stages, but it is also important to inform readers of the impact of archival appraisal on the historical record. The chapter needs at least a brief introduction to the concept of enduring value and the importance of recognizing the materials' evidential, informational, and intrinsic values. These documents were not created in a vacuum, and it is important to transmit this idea to whomever is relying on this manual for guidance in navigating the acquisition of a collection and preserving its content for future access.
The book is a useful tool for taking a novice archivist through the motions of the archival enterprise. The sections dedicated to the importance of securing a clear deed of gift from a donor, documenting collection information in pre-acquisition stages, and tips for packing fragile materials for transportation are clear and informative. The section devoted to reading room best practices is spot on, especially since it is located within the chapter on preservation, which is a very different approach to access than usually applied in the traditional academic music library. The book also has a list of suggested readings for those who want to delve deeper into archives management and preservation issues. These are important article and book-length works in the literature, but the authors missed works that address the specific access and preservation needs of music materials, especially works that bridge the practice gap between archives and librarianship.2
It is important to note that expanding on seemingly “obscure” archival practices will move the profession into the future. While not all archivists and librarians can engage in extensive professional development to meet every need of every collection, publications like this one open the door to more responsible stewardship of our cultural heritage.
Music Library Association, Basic Manual Series, musiclibraryassoc.org/?page=Basicmanualseries.
See, for example, Richard Smiraglia, Describing Music Materials: A Manual for Descriptive Cataloging/or Printed and Recorded Music, Music Videos, and Archival Music Collections for Use with AACR2 and APPM (Lake Crystal, Minn.: Soldier Creek Press, 1997); Heather MacNeil, “Subject Access to Archival Fonds: Balancing Provenance and Pertinence,” Fontes Artis Musicae 43, no. 3 (1996): 242–58; Adriana P. Cuervo and Eric Harbeson, “Not Just Sheet Music: Describing Print and Manuscript Music in Archives and Special Collections,” Archival Issues 33, no. 1 (2011): 41–56; Judith Brimmer, “Providing a National Resource: The Management of Music Manuscripts in the U.K.,” Journal of the Society of Archivists 26, no. 2 (2005): 216.