Announcing Archival Description of Notated Music and the Guidelines for Archival Description of Notated Music

In early October the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Music Library Association (MLA) co-published a new open-access ebook, Archival Description of Notated Music (ADNM), co-authored by the MLA Working Group for Archival Description of Music Materials, which I had the pleasure of co-chairing with Dr. John Bewley, a Rutgers alumnus and the retired associate librarian/archivist at the University at Buffalo Music Library.  Working Group members also included Sofía Becerra-Licha, lead archivist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Maristella Feustle, music special collections librarian at the University of North Texas; Vincent J. Novara, head of the Acquisitions and Processing Section in the Music Division at the Library of Congress; Matthew Snyder, archivist at the New York Public Library; and Karen Spicher, manuscript cataloger and processing archivist at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

ADNM provides guidance intended for a wide readership and is helpful for experienced archivists with limited knowledge of music, music librarians with limited knowledge of archival practice, students in MLIS and archival studies programs, and others with responsibility for archival collections with notated music. The book includes discussion of fundamental archival principles as applied to collections with notated music, recommendations for descriptive approaches based on the musical and non-musical content of a collection, a glossary, and an annotated resource list. In addition, included as an appendix are the Guidelines for Archival Description of Notated Music, which provide a standard for archival description of notated music and represent the first subject-specific supplement to Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). The Guidelines were endorsed by the SAA Council as an external standard at the end of 2019. Both the Guidelines and ADNM are available via MLA’s Humanities Commons repository. ADNM may also be downloaded free-of-charge from the SAA Bookstore.

The Working Group started the project in 2016, and none of us expected it to become a full-length book and professionally-endorsed standard, much less require four years and countless hours of meetings to complete. We took a collective approach to authorship: one or two group members drafted each section of the book, which we then revised and edited as a group. Although this approach was time-consuming, the final publications represent our consensus agreement on standardized archival practice and the full range of group members’ considerable expertise. We also solicited and incorporated feedback from colleagues in other music libraries and archives and collaborated closely with SAA’s Technical Subcommittee on DACS, which contributed to SAA’s endorsement of the Guidelines. This cross-organizational collaboration was essential to the successful outcome and will hopefully serve as a model for future DACS supplements.

Elizabeth Surles