Loeb Music Celebrates 50th Anniversary

 The cover of the program book for Loeb Music's 50th anniversary symposium.

September 29, 2006 - The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library celebrated its 50th anniversary September 15 by taking a fond look back and a determined look ahead as members of the Harvard music community came together for an afternoon symposium to hear speakers discuss "The Academic Music Research Library of the Twenty-First Century."

The event led off with a prelude performed by Carolann Buff (Staff Assistant/LDI Project Assistant at Loeb Music), Akiko Fujimoto, Mary Gerbi, Evan McCarthy, Matthew Paettie, Elliott Gyger, and Nicholas Vines. The singers, all Harvard faculty, staff, and students affiliated with the Music Department and library, performed a short piece titled Lamentatio discipuli perpetui that was written especially for the celebration by Lansing McLoskey, PhD '02, an assistant professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Following the performance, Kay Kaufman Shelemay, G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies, welcomed the audience, reminding them, "The music library is truly the heart of our music building. It is much more than extraordinary resources, encouraging each of us to perform."

The symposium then turned to the matter at hand, with perspectives from Virginia Danielson, Richard F. French Librarian of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library and Curator of the Archive of World Music; Christoph Wolff, Adams University Professor and Curator of the Isham Memorial Library; and Jean Morrow, Director of Libraries at the New England Conservatory of Music and Lecturer on Music Librarianship at Simmons College.

After briefly recounting the 50-year history of Loeb Music to the audience gathered in the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall, Danielson quickly drove home how much things have changed. "I have a couple of show and tells," she began, holding up what appeared to be a piece of glass.  "This lantern slide was used in this room before the music library was actually built. It was projected so students would see the score as the professor lectured. Hundreds were needed to talk about one piece—and they were heavy and breakable."

Next Danielson held up an iPod. "Today it's on a gadget like this that [Music Department Chair] Ingrid Monson keeps listening exercises for an entire semester's course." Such a technological advance speaks to the many challenges facing the 21st-century music library, since it affects every aspect: collections, digitization, staff, even what the interior space of a music library looks like. These are all questions still being pondered and for Danielson, "As steward of the music library, it's my most important project," she said.

Wolff took the stage next. "Looking at our library from a user's perspective, the past 50 years bridged two dramatically different ages," he began. "Fifty years ago the library was not so different from a medieval library." Today research needs change with every generation, said Wolff, and online resources are increasingly indispensable, but too many students do their research online and rely on Xeroxed scores. Wolff stressed that the library must remain central to the music department, as well as convenient and attractive to entice students. "The success of a research library is largely determined by its browsable collection," he said.  

Wolff reminded listeners that the library will face preservation issues, especially with books and scores printed in late 19th and 20th centuries, which are actually more vulnerable to degradation than those of earlier centuries. He also spoke to the importance of expanding Loeb Music's recordings collection and to its special collections.  Looking beyond the library, he noted that it has an obligation to contribute to digital initiatives and to take a more aggressive approach to public awareness, particularly through exhibitions.

Symposium speakers included Jean Morrow, Christoph Wolff, Nancy Cline, Virginia Danielson, and Robert Dennis.

"The future will be much larger than the past," said Wolff.  

Morrow, from the New England Conservatory (NEC), spoke more generally about 21st century challenges for music libraries, but not before acknowledging a close tie to Harvard. "When we speak to incoming students at NEC, we always end the conversation with the resources at Harvard. The staff are so helpful and knowledgeable, and our faculty and staff over here numerous times during the year."

Music libraries, Morrow noted, should make certain to retain a quiet listening space within the library and make staff as accessible as possible, especially with the prevalence of digital resources. Similarly, she noted the importance of library outreach to students through email, research guides, and blogs. "Librarians are vital partners with faculty," she said. "No doubt the global challenge in the 21st century is to find ways to manage collaboration and the variety of formats in which they occur."

Nancy Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, summed up the symposium.  "This celebration reminds us just how much contemporary research depends not only on what has been gathered in the past," she said, "but also on staying current and on the edge of new technologies."

The importance of library staff came up time and time again, and the event concluded with remarks from Recordings Librarian Robert Dennis, who recounted stories of staff and students as well as anecdotes about some of the library's more memorable events, jokes, and challenges through the years.

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