Thursday, October 30, 2008

I feel like a librarian!

I created metadata today!

When I took Search and Discovery (my very first library and info science (LIS)) class last summer, the experienced students seemed to always be talking about "metadata" and arguing with each other about whether it was valuable or not. It sounded like a very complicated, very technical thing.

We've gotten enough LPs and their album covers digitized that I can start loading them into CONTENTdm, which is the software that organizes the Iowa Digital Library and displays it on the web.

Part of loading CONTENTdm is creating metadata.

I've been learning CONTENTdm and then going through the tedious process of getting all the rights and approvals set up to be able to use it. (Actually, *I* didn't have to do that, Keo did. But it took several days.)

Anyway, I loaded an album into CONTENTdm, and set up the metadata. It was fun!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Copyright, Revisited

At the start of the semester, it seemed so simple: we would send permission request letters to all the record companies, they would give up permission to post selections from the records on the internet, and we would post the music.

Of course, it was never that simple, because many of the record companies no longer exist.

And I was worried about rights to the compositions... did we need to get permission from the composers / publishers / copyright holders of the selections that were performed on the records, as well as from the record companies themselves? I brought it up. The answer (as I understood it) was "you're welcome to look into that, but we don't think it's a problem." I looked, but didn't find anything.

We sent letters out to as many of the record companies as I could find, and most of them replied giving us permission! Yes!

But now everybody's rethinking this. Perhaps we shouldn't put all the music out on the internet where anyone can hear it -- maybe that's not legal. Maybe we should limit access in some way -- allow only U of Iowa personnel to use the collection, perhaps, or allow it to be accessed only from workstations that are physically in the music library.

Or perhaps we should limit the amount of information that can be heard -- play only 30 seconds of a selection, perhaps. Or maybe putting disclaimers in the "Rights" field would be enough.

I'm thinking that we should treat different selections in different ways -- recordings for which we own the copyright, and maybe recordings that we have permission to post, can go on the internet with no restrictions, but everything else can have some sort of access restriction. And everything would get the disclaimer in the Rights field.

I don't know yet if that's physically possible -- whether ContentDM (the software that organizes the collection) will allow parts of it to be public, and parts to be private. We might need to make two different collections, like "Iowa Sounds - Public" and "Iowa Sounds - Limited Access", or something.

I've been researching these and related issues. My tentative conclusion is that we really need legal advice.

I also think that the Fair Use provisions of copyright law really ought to be expanded. But the session I went to on copyright issues at the ILA convention was given by a lawyer who says he expects the music industry lobbyists to keep hammering at Congress until fair use is eliminated.

I'm afraid he's right. And I really, really hope he's not.

Meanwhile, I think the idea of having all these Iowa-related recordings available on the library web site is very cool, and I hope the legal issues can get worked out so that it's allowed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ILA Conference

I spent Wednesday through Friday at the Iowa Library Association conference in Dubuque. It was lots of fun, and very worthwhile.

My favorite day was Wednesday, which was pre-conference workshops, the grand opening of the vendor exhibits area, and the president's reception.

I took the Book Repair workshop, and I loved it. We learned to:
* fix the spine of a book with loose hinges
* repair a torn page
* make a pocket to store inserts (such as maps) in the back of the book
* "tip in" an extra page, like an errata sheet, or a page that has fallen out of the book
* sew a pamphlet into a permanent binding
* replace a torn spine on a book

I really enjoyed the hands-on work. It felt more like scrapbooking and paper crafts than like library and information science. And even though I really like the challenge of digital library applications, actually handling and working with books made a nice change of pace.

But as much as I liked the hands-on work, I also liked the opportunity it gave to talk with people. Working side-by-side with someone allows conversations to grow in way that isn't as likely during lecture-type sessions or designated social time.

Most people in the workshop were either public librarians, or school librarians. Lots of chit-chat gave me a perspective that's different from the academic libraries that we tend to focus on in classes.

I talked with two different male teacher-librarians, one middle school and one high school, and they both told me how great working in school libraries is, and encouraged me to consider it when I graduate. Well, it's not my "plan A", but it's worth considering. And it was interesting hearing their perspectives.

But the most interesting person I talked to was a retired librarian from Mount Mercy. She heard me telling one of the teacher-librarians about being a digital library fellow, and wanted to know what that means. So I told her about Iowa Sounds. She thought it sounded like a great project.

And then she told me about how she and her husband recently digitized their personal LP collection. They used essentially the same set-up I'm working with -- turntable connected to computer with Audacity software -- and did exactly what I'm doing -- recording sides, splitting into tracks, then compressing to mp3 files.

And then, they transferred all their mp3 files to their iPods, so they can take all their music with them wherever they go. They play their iPods through their car stereo.

It was cool hearing about somebody who has actually done what I'm learning to do. It was helpful that she told me Audacity is a free download software -- it means I can plan on using it after I graduate from SLIS, no matter where I end up. And it was REALLY cool hearing a traditional-looking 70-something woman talk about listening to her music on her iPod!

Who says that digital is the province of the young?

It's late, and I need to head to bed. I'll write more about the conference another day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Splitting Tracks

As I posted at the end of September, I spent a lot of time in the Information Arcade, creating .WAV files for each full side of a stack of records.

Once that was done, I spent a couple of weeks working in the project room, splitting sides into tracks. This is more interesting than just recording... I have to think about the music, and figure out where one piece ends and another begins (that's not always as easy as it sounds). And it requires precision so that all the cuts are made cleanly.

I'm going to be gone for a few days to the ILA conference. Next week, I'll be getting started with some other phases of the project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How Quickly It Becomes Routine

I've spent the last week working in the Information Arcade, converting LPs into .WAV files. Which sounds impressive, but really, the computer does all the work. Once you have everything set up correctly (and that can be VERY challenging, and VERY annoying), it's mostly just a matter of putting the record on the turntable, turning it on, lowering the needle, and clicking the RECORD button on the computer. Then you listen through the headphones until it ends, press STOP on the computer, raise the needle and stop the turntable, save your recording, then flip the record over and do it again.

True, it's not just a normal save; you have to "export" the file in a particular format. And you have to make sure that all the options are set correctly. And sometimes an LP is scratched or warped or sticks, and you have to make a note of the problems and set the record aside to be checked by the preservation department.

But mostly you just listen to music while it records.

I'm becoming a fan of the Mirecourt Trio, which was a trio of violin, cello, and piano in residence at Iowa in the 1970s. I've listened to more "new music" (that is, experimental, avant-garde stuff) than I ever wanted to. And I've had fun listening to high school honors choirs and university choirs singing music that I sang when I was in high school and college. (So far, I haven't run across my particular choirs, but it could happen. I did participate in a few events here. I might find a performance I'm in some day.)

And I've had a lot of time to think. In some of my classes, we've been learning about an ongoing debate: is librarianship really a profession? There have been detractors over the ages who claim that library work is basically clerical. The librarians, of course, talk about all the specialized knowledge that is needed to do what we do.

Well, what I'm doing this week would be a vote for the "clerical" side. But setting up the systems to do what I'm doing, and processing and cataloging the resulting files, and designing what the result will look like... that takes higher-level thinking skills.

That's the problem with digital libraries: you can do all sorts of cool things with digital data, but first you have to have the data. And *somebody* has to input it!

It makes sense that professionals (or would-be professionals, like me) have to do some of the inputting, so that they'll know what's involved and be able to supervise the people who do it. But I'm glad I'm not destined to be creating .WAV files for the rest of my life!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


The last couple of weeks, I've started using a program called Audacity to convert analog recordings (like phonograph records) to digital.

I'm working with LPs made by School of Music students and faculty. I start out at the Information Arcade, where there is a computer with a turntable attached. I use Audacity on that workstation to record each side of the record as one large .WAV file. I also copy information from the record jacket about the tracks on each side.

Once I have several sides recorded, I move to a standard workstation that also has Audacity installed. There, I listen carefully to the recording and determine the exact points where each track begins and ends. This can be difficult -- some LPs include times on the record jackets but those aren't alway accurate. Some LPs include applause at the end of each selection, and that makes it easy. But others don't have applause, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between pauses between movements (which are generally within the same track) and silence between tracks. And a few recordings have had so much static that there is no identifiable silence between tracks. So I use the record jacket information in combination with what I hear to identify the tracks as best I can. When that's done, I copy each track to a new file, also in the .WAV format.

The purpose of this is preservation. .WAV is an audio file storage format that produces very high quality sound. It also takes up a lot of space -- too much space to be practical for use on the web. So the .WAV files will be like the "master copies" kept on file. We're saving them as both sides and tracks to make them as useable as possible for future researchers.

Later, I will convert the files to another format that is good for posting on the web and will meet the needs of general listeners.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Copyright Woes

Posting recordings on the web sounds like a wonderful idea. Gives students, music lovers, researchers, and anyone else who might be interested access to them. Provides publicity for the performers and record companies that made them. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?


Or at least, not so fast.

Copyright issues rear their ugly head.

The problem is, whoever produced and issued the recording holds the copyright to it. Under the fair use provision of copyright law, the library can circulate its physical copies of copyrighted recordings without getting additional permission from the copyright holders. But posting it on the web is a whole other issue. That's "broadcasting". And just like radio stations have to have permission to broadcast their recordings, we do to.

Many of the recordings were produced directly by the University, and those are no problem. "We" own the copyright to the recording and can do what we want with it.

But some of the recordings were made by outside recording companies. Some were actually issued by commercial record labels, like Columbia or Philips or Mercury. Others were done by small, independent labels, like TR Records from Des Moines, or ISQ Music from Cedar Rapids. Many of them were issued decades ago. There are lots from the sixties, and several from as far back as 1956.

We have to get permission from the recording companies to put their products on the web. That means finding contact names and addresses, so we can send letters requesting permission. Which seems like a simple task. And it is, for recordings produced in the last few years. But for older records, it gets complicated. Some of the companies have been merged or combined or bought out or otherwise changed their names -- sometimes two or three times.

Philips was absorbed into Decca, which became part of Universal Music Group, for instance.

Other companies, especially the smaller ones, have simply vanished without a trace.

So my first task is researching record companies, trying to collect enough information to be eble to send a permission letter.

It can be frustrating. After a week of work, I've got letters written covering 32 of the 70 recordings for which we need permission. It put all the skills I learned in the Search and Discover class I took last summer to the test. Many of the rest of them are probably "orphan records" for which no copyright holder can be found, so permission can't be granted. I'm not sure yet what happens to those records -- maybe we can post them after documenting a good-faith effort to get permission, or maybe we simply aren't allowed to post them at all. I'll keep you posted.

But before we declare anything an orphan, I've asked the music librarian if she can suggest any other sources to check. I'm hoping that, being current with the field, she "just knows" who now holds rights to some of the older companies' catalogs. Or maybe she knows of information sources that neither my project mentor nor I could find. Hopefully, we'll hear from her soon.