MLA Conference Diary (Reflection on Challenges, Evolving Roles, and Community)

Posted on March 11, 2016 by

Cross-posted on the MLA Conference Diary (IAML website). The annual conference of the Music Library Association was held March 2-5, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Each year the MLA conference brings together people with a shared interest in music librarianship and music resources. While this interest may be directly linked to our professional roles and careers, we also represent a community of people who may have started out as musicians, archivists and librarians working with music-specific materials, but now represent roles in emerging or evolving areas, such as metadata, discovery services, digital preservation, or digital humanities. It is this sense of community that brings me (and others I know) to the MLA conference every year.

At this year’s conference, I especially enjoyed attending sessions that challenge how we think about our profession, organization and its membership, such as our opening plenary “Diversity in MLA”, in which panelists explored and discussed approaches for recruiting a diverse membership, as well as supporting librarians from underrepresented groups through programs, such as the ARL/MLA Diversity & Inclusion Initiative. There were many sessions on the program, which inspire and challenge us to continue learning, growing, and collaborating as a community, however I’ll only mention a few, including the plenary “Practical Application of Linked Data,” “Bridging Emerging and Established Approaches to Music Research” panel, and the “Approaches to Digital Scholarship: Hands-on Workshop Series”.

The session on linked data and series on digital scholarship are especially close to my own work at this point in my career and it is very inspiring to see the excitement shown by colleagues when discussing approaches, projects, topics and concepts that continue to challenge those in and outside our profession. It is through presentations on projects, such as Linked Jazz or the Hip Hop Collection, as well as through teaching practical applications of concepts, such as linked data, digital curation, or (meta)data visualization, in a hands-on learning environment, that we demonstrate the value for and actual application of these concepts and methods that may otherwise seem abstract to many. The session on emerging and established approaches to music research raised questions about how we teach students (future scholars/librarians) how to do research, as well as how to use digital tools and methods from areas such as digital humanities, in order to move their discipline forward. Questions were raised around what it means to be an expert in one’s field vs. someone who applies discipline-specific methodology or (digital) tools without fully understanding the underlying principles or theories, as well as whose perspective is valued and why?

Despite my own professional move outside of music librarianship, conversations and sessions on topics, such as the ones above, encourage and reaffirm my decision to continue participating in and attending the annual MLA conference; and I hope that they will likewise inspire library students, new professionals, and those outside the MLA whose interests, skills, and roles intersect with music in some way, but do not stop there.

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