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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Tuned Up Tool for Music Scholars

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A screenshot showing the variety of subject tags used in the Online Resources for Music Scholars annotated bibliography. Users can sort the bibliography’s listings with a single click using the tags.


February 9, 2011 – For music scholars conducting research online, there is a dizzying array of resources that are literally at their fingertips. The challenge is in determining which to use. To help make sense of the flood of information, and assist scholars in identifying resources with the most extensive and academically-rigorous material, Loeb Music Library has revitalized an old tool.

The new Online Resources for Music Scholars is a searchable, sortable, annotated bibliography of more than 300 Web sites that have been evaluated for academic quality and the strength of their digital archival collections. Each annotation summarizes what kind of information can be found on a site – scores, biographies, digital audio, etc. – meaning researchers will know whether the site holds the material they need even before they visit it.

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In addition to using keywords to search the bibliography, scholars can use subject tags to sort the listings with a single click. Rather than scrolling through more than a dozen pages, a user can simply click on the “jazz” tag to see a list of all jazz-related sites.

The database is also compatible with the iSites platform, which hosts the course Web sites for Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The new guide can be customized based on preselected keywords or content tags and then embedded into a course site, giving students immediate access to the type of resources their instructor deems important.

“The ability to customize the view of the database is particularly useful if we want to give students a list of sites that are immediately relevant,” said Kerry Masteller, Reference and Digital Program Librarian at Loeb Music Library, who, along with Reference and Research Librarian Liza Vick, maintains the bibliography. “Students can explore those limited resources, but also have the ability to browse the full database for additional materials.”

Originally created as a static Web-based research guide, the explosion in the number of online music resources in recent years made the guide cumbersome to navigate and confusing for users. Masteller and Vick looked for a solution in the annotated bibliography tool designed by Senior Software Engineer Christopher Jeris, in collaboration with HCL Information Technology Services colleagues Mark Farrar, Zhenyu Zhao, Steven Ng and Julia Ashmun. Also taking part in the development was a working group that helped shape the design and interface of the original application: Jeris, Bassey Irele, Mary Beth Clack, Enrique Diaz, Michael Hemment and Sebastian Hierl.

“One weakness of the old guide was that you had to know what you needed before you could determine what resources you should use,” Masteller said. “With the new guide, users are able to discover resources in a much more intuitive way. This format makes it much easier for users to find the correct resource, and find it faster than ever before.”

In addition to making it easier for researchers to find the resources they need, the redesign has simplified the work of librarians who update and maintain the guide. Rather than listing sites which contained a variety of materials, such as scores, recordings and biographical information multiple times, librarians can now list each site just once, and use subject tags to identify the various resources it contains.

The Online Resources for Music Scholars is available for use by students and researchers anywhere in the world. It is discoverable on the Loeb Music Library homepage under Research Tools; along with two other annotated bibliographies, the African Video Collection and the Germanic Film Database, is discoverable via the Research Guides page of the HCL Web site; and through the E-Resources portal on the Harvard Libraries site.