Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Archives Tour: Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research

Columbia College’s Center for Black Music Research Center – Chicago, Illinois
July 27, 2012

Monica O’Connell is the executive director. Suzette works in the Blues Library and she is retiring in September. Janet is an archivist and she coordinated an HBCU survey under an NEH grant. Laura Lee Moses is a musician, composer, archivist and music librarian in the digital library program.

Talib Hakim and Glen Burley are two of the musicians featured in the collection. Music archivists have to find out if a given pieces is written for clarinet or piano, if it is published or not, or if the piece contains performance notes. They have legacy finding aids that were not produced with DACS. They also have an oral history project about Jazz in the United Kingdom. The collection includes materials as diverse as dance materials, Paul Robeson recordings, and pieces that are significant in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Caribbean. Edmund Thornton Jenkins Papers are housed here. Jenkins played jazz influenced orchestral music (Charles-tonia) and he was the first Black man to have played music overseas.

They employ open source software. Duke University uses Data Accessioner, the Center for Black Music Research copies that model with the free download. This library has also toyed with using Word Press as a content management system. The Center for Black Music Research uses an Omeka program on a Linux server for virtual exhibits. The staff employs usability surveys with teachers, students, conference participants, and faculty members. 

Columbia’s Black Music Research Center was started in 1983 by Sam Floyd. Floyd was an idea man. In 1990, they received a grant to start the library. They bought 500 LPs and 1000 books. In 1995, they added an education component, performances, conferences, research in the community and the international research fellowships. In between 1995 and 2005, they have had three series of Rockefeller Fellows. They also give five day travel fellowships and offer a membership program.

The Center for Black Music Research is faced with the challenge of showcasing their collection in the digital environment. They also have to show their relevance in the context of college admissions (enrollment, retention, etc.). They are no longer able to just collect and encourage research because it is important; they have to broaden their outreach and education programming. In the most recent battle for their existence they have been forced to come up with their own funding. This is a challenge faced by most collections that are culturally specific.

Best Practices
Suzette shared her collecting policies. Archivists should know what their communities want, know their potential donors and be patient with the process. She encouraged us to download forms from the SAA website. They have gift agreement and copy request forms. In some cases they have re-designed the forms to make it easier for the donors to understand. Researchers are advised that they must get permission from the owners to use the materials. The staff at the Center for Black Music Research realize that the compositions are the artists’ livelihood, and they need to protect themselves, so they leave copyright in the hands of the researcher.  Most of the approved uses of the materials in the collection are protected under section 107 (fair use) and section 108 (reproductions by libraries and archives) They also keep statistics (a paper trail) of who uses the center, and encourage researchers to check out scrapbooks, or correspondence in addition to the music materials.

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