IAML conference 2009 Amsterdam
Wednesday July 8 , 9.00-10.30 Bernard Haitink zaal , Royal Conservatory
Training for specialist and Non-specialists
Sheet music for dummies: short local instruction for non-music librarians in the Public
Library of Rotterdam.
Speaker: John Valk (Public Library Rotterdam).
Combining music librarianship courses for masters students with professional training at
the Media University in Stuttgart.
Speaker: Juergen Diet (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München).
Spreading the message: using distance-learning software to deliver courses in music
Speaker: John Wagstaff (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
Presented by the Commission on Service and Training.
Chair: Geoff Thomason (Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester).
The Rotterdam Central Public Library provides free and for the most part open access to a large collection
of sheet music, presented as an integrated part of the entire library collection. Opening hours are
extensive and skilled staff is retiring so there is a shortage of library staff with a music librarian background
capable of assisting clients in finding their way around the collection of sheet music. The management is
aware of this problem and in order to improve employees’ skills and knowledge, a program has been
started with the intention of linking music librarians to non music librarians. Part of this program is a short
course consisting of a presentation with images and sound, a reader and a handout. Daily routine in
dealing with customers’ questions will be the starting point for explaining musical features and the
meaning of specific terms which appear in the local music catalogue, how to search in the local catalogue
for scores. In order to be able to interpret clients’ questions, it is important to know how popular music is
made, learned and taught nowadays. Besides sheet music, other aspects will also be focused on such as
what sources and tools are used for making music, how the internet is used for finding midi files and how
programs like "band in a box" can be used for musical accompaniment purposes. Furthermore, attention
will be paid to the role of sheet music in making or studying music today and in the past. Explaining
musical theory will be put into the context of how sheet music is presented in the library and in the
Sheet music for dummies: short local instruction for non-music librarians in the Public Library of
What is it about I’m going to tell you coming half hour?
In essence it’s all about communication between librarian and client.
It’s about improving skills, knowledge in answering questions, helping and advising clients in finding their
way, in the collection of sheet music in the public central library of Rotterdam, some 60 miles away from
here. In a situation where there’s a growing shortage of library staff with a background as music librarian.
I want to start with some pictures to let you get a visual impression of the local situation.
Let me tell you something about how the local situation is forcing us to do something about the
competence of the librarian in sheet music matters:
The Rotterdam Central Public Library provides free and for the most part open access to a large collection
of sheet music, presented as an integrated part of the entire library collection, a matter of integrated
shelving. Opening hours are extensive. The library contains a large collection of sheet music, 50.000
editions , half classical half popular music, for all kinds of combinations of instruments, all degrees of
difficulty, and all kinds of arrangements. The loan figure is 36.000 a year.
The cd- department by the way is an independent organisation with a collection of 600.000 CDs and is
located on a separate floor in the central library.
Rotterdam itself is the second largest harbour in the world. In Rotterdam a conservatory is situated. It’s a
city where half of the population is of non-Dutch origin. Library visitors for the sheetmusic department are
either professionals or amateurs, teachers, ….famous on television, or just famous in the bathtub
Opening hours of the central library, where the sheetmusic department is situated, are extensive: every
day 10.00-20.00 sat 10.00-17.00 Sunday 13.-17.00
So the problem is that it is impossible for skilled staff to be available all the time. During these extensive
openings hours about 15 staff members give information to clients at the department, that contains the
collection of sheet music.
There’s a rather strict separation between back- and front office. Front office librarians are confronted
with members asking questions.
Only 2 -4 are more or less skilled as music librarian. The frontoffice librarian is expected to be able to work
in more than one department , give information not only about sheet music. So the librarian has to be
flexible in giving information, answering questions about several topics, such as art, literature, science etc.
Another aspect/problem is : Musicaly Skilled staff is leaving or retiring. Librarians are still needed for
answering questions from clients or to give them advice . So for assisting clients in finding their way
around the collection of sheet music the Library of Rotterdam is in a situation, where there is a shortage of
library staff with a background as music librarian. The management is aware of this problem. So what can
we do to improve skills and knowledge? What can we do in the short, what in the long term? From what
perspective can we instruct staff, with no or little musical background?
I am convinced, in the case of sheetmusic, important in the first place for library staff is:
To understand their customers, what are they looking for? The moment a client asks a question, to
estimate, in what case you have to go on asking for more details? And also what kind of details you have
to continue to ask for?
To improve skills and knowledge, to build up a frame of musical reference in the minds of the librarian a
program is started to link music librarians to non music librarians, on the floor and in letting librarians do
some small exercises from “real life cases” . (there is some expertise in the back office for more complex
A part of that program is a short course I developed ,that consists of a presentation with images and
sound, a reader and a handout. The part concerning ways of searching for music editions in the
catalogue and special websites was developed by Cora Mulder, who is sitting over there….
Some short remarks about music librarian courses in the Netherlands:
There’s a general tendency in public libraries, especially in the large ones in larger cities, in which
librarians are supposed to be more generalists than specialists, where specialism more or less has been
replaced by generalism.
In the past there existed/was a one year specialized course for becoming a music librarian. Nowadays
From time to time one can follow short courses about specific issues, for instance how to catalogue
scores, and there’s a general course of three days called “you can’t escape”. Coming Friday Ria
Warmerdam from the Dutch Library Service will give an overview of musical courses in the Netherlands in
Going back tot the local efforts in Rotterdam to improve music librarian skills and knowledge
The local course I developed consists, I mentioned before, of a presentation of about two hours with
images and sound, a reader for study and reference and a handout. In the reader you can find extensive
In the presentation part I tried to focus more difficult issues, difficult to understand, daily practice issues.
What are the main characteristics of this short local course?
I think the main characteristics are :
• the perspective of daily routine in dealing with customers’ questions as the starting point for
explaining musical features
• the emphasis on knowing how musicians nowadays make music or learn to play music,
what tools they use, especialy for popular music, besides sheet music to make music,
• finally this short course is not complete , it deals only very little with the working, the sound of
musical instruments, the characteristics of musical styles, popular and classical.
In the course I want to place emphasis on issues of the daily practice. Building up a frame of
musical reference in the minds of the librarian with no musical background is, I think, a matter of
the long term, it takes much more time to reach an adequate level. And as I mentioned before we
started a program linking expert to non expert librarians, training them on the floor, by letting them
carry out special orders/exercises, stimulating them to listen to and to read about musical topics.
Instead of explaining music theory, music notation, in the traditional way I choose daily routine in dealing
with customers’ questions as the starting point for explaining musical features and the meaning of specific
terms which appear in the local music catalogue, in particular the difficult to understand
Daily routine was also the starting point for explaining how to search in the local catalogue for scores
Let me show you some sheets of my presentation: For instance a catalogue card, with this image I try to
Why are some titles of compositions numbered, or why do they have a key indication? Well we know, to
distinguish works with common nouns such as sonata, symphonies, quartets, names that refer to
ensemble forms or musical forms.
What is the difference between C minor and C major? I show that by letting them hear a simple phrase
What is the meaning of the key addition to certain wind instruments, why do you only see it in
combination with names of wind instruments, like saxophone in E-flat ?
What in classical music is the meaning of the word Klavierauszug, vocal score?
And why players sometimes prefer certain editions like Urtext, what is the difference between Urtextedition
and other editions?
Why are there sometimes so many editions? What does the description “arrangement” mean ?. As an
example I show and also let hear versions of the Brazilian song One Note Samba .
Here can see only the melody line with lyrics and chords
Here we can see a version with an added intro and a piano part as accompaniment, I try to explain the
meaning of chords, how they can give color to a melody.
Here we can see a version in tablature notation and we can see and listen to a notated jazz improvisation
of saxophone player Stan Getz around the “one note samba melody”.
Sometimes members only want the lyrics, perhaps with chords for guitar or piano
In the case of singers it is important, when they ask for opera scores they usually want to sing with a piano
as accompaniment and not with a full orchestra. Small ensembles usually work with parts instead of a full
single score. I explain why especially singers prefer editions in a certain key, a certain pitch
I just showed some issues linked to daily practice . But in my presentation for the librarians I start by
explaining “what is music”, what the elements of music are, rhythm, melody, musical color, what the
influence can be, what is a musical sentence, in relation to a sentence in language.
Something about music notation:
What kinds of notations exist, and importantly, how are they represented in the collection of the
Rotterdam library , for instance tablature, and explaining that modern and classical music guitarists often
prefer tablature over modern notation.
Comprehending sheet music requires a certain form of literacy: the ability to read musical notation. A
librarian does not have to read scores in order to perform them. Yet they have in my opinion to understand
the elements of music notation, how scores are built up with each instrumental and vocal part in vertical
alignment. In that sense I give a rough explanation and let them hear how scores sound through musical
I also explain how the collection is built up, what kind of editions we have , vocal scores , study scores,
piano scores , lead sheets, and also important to beware of , what kind of editions we don’t have in our
collection, for instance instrument parts for symphonies, musicals, brass bands etc. In case the wanted
materials are not part of the collection, where, what libraries or websites our customers can turn to.
To understand and to interpret questions clients ask it is in my opinion important that the staff, working on
the floor, knows how members, in this case how musicians make music or how they learn to play an
instrument. They must also know the difference between making popular music and classical music not
only for professionals but also for your neighbour’s kid who wants to play in a band, or wants to rap.
In the case of rap, one needs to know we have DJ virtual music programs on DVD for making music
based on the combination of audio samples and virtual scratching. Or Band-in-a-Box, this
computerprogramm contains many prefab songs, or you just type in the chords (like C or Fm7b5), choose
a music style from the hundreds available, and click the [Play] button. Band-in-a-Box automatically
generates a full backing arrangement .
Further on I explain the role of sheet music in the daily practice of music making in the past and now,
what tools people are using now for making music. Scores are not always necessary to make music,
there are also oral traditions.
Besides sheet music, young people, also music teachers, are using midi files, as I said before, or DJ tools
for making music based on audio samples, rhythmic styles or just lyrics with chord symbols from internet
I try also to place the role of sheet music in a historical and practical perspective.
Why do we still have such an extended collection of piano scores from symphonies? What is the reason
for editing such scores? That is to realize that before the invention of the gramophone, playing music on
the piano was a common way to hear how symphonies sounded. One doesn’t normally find full Orchestras
in common households. Common households did not have full orchestras at their disposal. For composers
editing music as printed sheet music, selling scores was as profitable as music CDs were in the recent
Also important, I explain, is the difference between questions about CDs and scores. The entry of
interpreter is not always relevant for finding scores in the catalogue. I remember customers asking for
printed music of Astrud Gilberto, a famous Brazilian bossa nova singer . Scores under that name were
not available at that moment. Scores of the songs she sings can be found in bossa nova albums, in which
often only the name of the composer is mentioned.
Necessary in my point of view in the communication with clients is some basic knowledge about music,
music making, music instruments, music notation, styles, things that are hard to understand for a layman.
Aso an important part in instructing staff is teaching them how to find the right score in the local
Our local catalogue has extensive possibilities, tools in searching scores, sometimes more or less hidden
possibilities and restricted search features. My colleague Cora Mulder has made an extensive list of what
to think of , when and how to use wild carts, Boolean search methods
Until now I have mainly spoken of my presentation, where I focused on basic daily practice oriented or
difficult to understand elements.
More extended information is to be found in the reader. The reader also contains a hand out with short
lists of tips and tricks for librarians, concerning answering questions from clients.
I also mentioned some specific search engines, one developed by my colleague Pieter Dekker, called the
Nipper, based on the Google search engine, with a preselected set of about 1200 searchable musical
Time is flying, time for a short epilogue, a short summing- up:
When dealing with customers’ sheet music linked questions, librarians should know not only how the
collection is built up, or to know some music theory. Librarians also have to know how musicians make or
learn music, what resources musicians use nowadays. The librarian has to be aware that there is more
than the local collection, he has to be able to search for the things members ask for, not only in the local
catalogue but also on the internet. And it takes time for a non music librarian, I used the term dummy for
the title of this lecture, I hope my collaeges will forgive me. It takes time to build a frame of musical
reference. Furthermore, we only spoke of customers asking questions, but I am convinced knowing and
understand your customer also helps to do the right acquisitions, building up a more customer oriented
collection and more customer oriented web services. Thank you for your attention.