Keeping Time: An Introduction to Archival Best Practices for Music Librarians.
Librarians and archivists share many common values and responsibilities, but each profession is charged with managing collections with divergent requirements for acquisition, preservation, description, and use. And yet, library and archival collections are frequently unified by institutional missions, collection mandates, administrative structures, and physical spaces. This is particularly true when it comes to music libraries, which frequently include archival materials such as manuscript scores, noncommercial sound and video recordings, photographs, and similar. In Keeping Time, authors Lisa Hooper and Donald C. Force address the colliding worlds of music libraries and archives with a comprehensive introduction to archival best practices for music librarians. The manual is the ninth volume of the Music Library Association's Basic Manual Series, and the first full-length monograph for both authors. Hooper is the Head of the Music and Media Center in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University, and Force is Assistant Professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Force was involved with the International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems Project (InterPARES) at the University of British Columbia and has written about records management and electronic records, while Hooper has written on various topics in music archives and libraries and is a regular presenter at regional and national meetings of the Music Library Association (MLA).
Keeping Time is a modern and accessible introduction to archival best practices that uses practical examples and hypothetical situations to tailor the content for music librarians. The manual adopts the structure of many archives manuals and textbooks, with the content organized according to what archivists call the "core archival functions." After a historical introduction, the chapters flow through the steps an archivist would take with a new collection: acquisition and accessioning, arrangement, description, and preservation. The manual lacks a chapter on access services, typically considered a core archival function, but reading room best practices are addressed in the chapter on preservation. Chapters on digitization and funding expand on the core archival functions and should be of wider interest to music librarians. The manual is rounded out with a series of appendices, a glossary, a list of suggested readings, and a five-page index.
Hooper and Force begin with a very brief history of archives that serves its purpose well. The basic tenets of archives are easier to comprehend when they are given some historical context, and chapter one puts the core principles of archival science squarely in the context of the French Revolution. The chapter's brevity, however, results in the exclusion of some important details. The brief section on postmodernism in archives, for example, only makes vague references to Derrida's Archive Fever (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) and simply states that "archivists have become aware that their duties of appraisal, arrangement, description, and preservation play an intrinsic role in determining whose history is remembered and how it is written" (p. 6). The second chapter focuses on acquisitions and accessioning, core functions upon which all other archival activities are based. At the beginning of the chapter, Hooper and Force comment that these functions "mark the beginning of a collection's journey from an unprocessed collection in a private home or business to a fully processed, preserved, described, and accessible collection in a music library's archival holdings or special collections" (p. 7). Highlights from this chapter include an excellent list of questions to be asked when determining whether an archival collection should be acquired and a list of talking points for speaking to donors.
Chapter 3 introduces archival appraisal, considered by many archivists to be the most intellectually demanding archival function, and one that distinguishes archival work from other related disciplines. The chapter focuses on appraisals performed after acquisition. Pre-acquisition appraisal, which is actually part of the acquisition process and more generally related to the question of why an archival collection might be found in a music library, is not addressed. The authors provide some excellent guidance on how to become acquainted with an archival music collection, how to weed duplicate and non-archival materials, and how to identify preservation problems that are dealt with in chapter 6. The examples and hypothetical situations in this chapter are especially effective at explaining archival activities to music librarians.
The arrangement and description of archival music collections is addressed in chapters 4 and 5. Practicing archivists are likely to find these chapters to be the most lacking, but archival arrangement and description are difficult to explain concisely and the chapters do provide an accessible entry point into the subjects despite their shortcomings. The advice on arrangement distinguishes between the "intellectual arrangement" of a finding aid and the "physical arrangement" of a collection in archival storage, but it almost entirely overlooks one of the central principles of provenance: that archival material should be organized according to the arrangement imposed by the creator(s) of the materials. Known as "original order," this principle is largely a theoretical concept that is virtually impossible to apply in practice, but the preexisting organization of the collection has such an impact on arrangement and description that it should be at the top of the list of "common factors that facilitate intellectual accessibility" found on page 26. Instead, it is only hinted at when the authors write that "jumping in and immediately shuffling materials before fully understanding the collection risks breaking significant intellectual relationships between seemingly disparate documents" (p. 26). The chapter on description provides a concise and well-written introduction to the archival cataloging standard Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) and the structural XML data standard Encoded Archival Description (EAD). The sections of an EAD-compliant finding aid are presented in appendix 3 and links to several music-related finding aids are provided in appendix 4. At times, however, chapter 5 muddies the way in which the two standards intersect, something that could be easily rectified with a simple table to illustrate the relationship between the cataloging fields in DACS and the data elements in EAD XML. The chapter also provides little guidance on multilevel archival description, one of the most unique aspects of archival cataloging. Folder lists and inventories can possess the same data elements found in a "collection-level description," but at more granular levels of specificity.
The sixth chapter deals with preservation. This is the longest chapter in the manual and it covers everything from insects to rubber bands and other office supplies that can harm documents. The authors provide concise guidance on how to remove metal and plastic fasteners from archival collections, but they could do more to connect this task with appraisal and arrangement activities, which is typically when harmful objects are removed. The relationship between all of these activities is embodied in the helpful processing checklist found in appendix 2, where questions about appraisal, preservation, and arrangement are listed as a logical sequence of tasks to perform. The summary information on paper documents, photographs, sound recordings, and digital media is perhaps the most valuable contribution of the entire manual. The chapter also contains a good list of standard archival reading room procedures.
Hooper and Force depart from the sequence of core archival functions with introductions to digitization and funding. Digitization projects are broken down into components, each with its own summary of the most important considerations for a music librarian with little or no experience digitizing archival material. The discussion of funding focuses on external funds through granting agencies. Digitization projects are often funded in this manner, so the chapter on funding is, in many ways, a continuation of the previous chapter on digitization, but the authors make it very clear that any kind of special project could be funded through external grants. Readers seeking more guidance on fundraising should consult volume 7 of the MLA Basic Manual Series (Peter Munstedt, Money for the Asking: Fundraising in Music Libraries [Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2012]).
The seven appendices contain checklists and worksheets that are useful additions to the manual. The four-page glossary provides definitions of the most important terms and other terms are defined in the comprehensive glossary referenced in the Suggested Readings section, which is freely available online (Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (Archival Fundamentals Series, II) [Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005]). Most chapters have a corresponding assortment of suggested readings. The "Basic Introductory Texts" section in the "Suggested Readings" includes several excellent manuals on archival practice that deliberately introduce the content so as to be useful to anyone seeking information on basic archival concepts. The Australian Keeping Archives (ed. Jackie Bettington et al., 3d ed. [Canberra, Australia: Australian Society of Archivists, 2008]) and Laura Millar's Archives: Principles and Practices (New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2010) are the most noteworthy of these texts. Many more resources can be found in the notes for each chapter.
Although the manual at times provides international perspectives, Keeping Time focuses on American archival principles and practices. If the manual is indeed targeted toward "music libraries across North America," it does not do enough to differentiate between archival theory and practice in the United States and Canada. The authors suggest that "all North American archivists subscribe" to the code of ethics published by the Society for American Archivists (p. 6), but Canadian archivists are more likely to identify with the code of ethics published by the Association of Canadian Archivists. The emphasis on American practice is especially evident in the chapters on arrangement and description. Music librarians outside the United States will certainly benefit from reading this manual, but they should first acquaint themselves with archival theory and practice in their own regions.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 23, 2015|
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