Academic journal article Notes

Whither Bibliographic Instruction for Musicians?

Academic journal article Notes

Whither Bibliographic Instruction for Musicians?

Article excerpt

The subject of bibliographic instruction for musicians has occasioned much reflection over the years, engendering a literature that I shall not try to summarize in this brief commentary. Presumptuously, perhaps, I hope simply to propose a way of reconceiving some of the issues, a path on which to proceed, and a framework within which to situate my appeal for new approaches. Let me first acknowledge the complication that no single notion of what constitutes bibliographic instruction prevails in music libraries, despite attempts to prescribe parameters having mainly to do with subject matter and the organization of its presentation. There may not even be a practical consensus regarding whatever categories of educational interaction may be discerned along the spectrum between reference work and classroom teaching. The phrase itself is a problem, nearly everyone concedes, extending, of course, beyond the domain of music librarians specifically: neither "bibliographic" nor "instruction" conveys very well what is intended - education in the use, interpretation, and evaluation of systems designed to gather and store information. And, indeed, beyond the domain of music librarians dissatisfaction would appear to be greater. Librarians serving general populations have been considerably more vocal than music librarians in proclaiming the need for approaches to bibliographic instruction that emphasize elements derived from, say, the psychological literature on learning theory, the critical thinking "movement" in undergraduate education, alternative modes of scholarly discourse, or perceived connections between cognitive style and cultural origins.(1) But the approach that interests me for the moment is one whose particular suitability to music librarians working with musicians has not been acknowledged thus far, namely, that which I shall describe as tending to hold the tutorial as ideal.

As many and varied the opportunities for individual interaction in the classroom, these pale in comparison to the potential for personal growth manifest in methods that educators in a variety of contexts derive from traditional apprenticeship learning.(2) Recognition of the superiority of focused, tutorial-like teaching lies at the heart of one-on-one reference service:(3) the relevant skills and strategies for learning are invoked at precisely the moment they are needed, not in some comparatively arbitrary setting.(4) Extrapolation from this kind of learning experience to individualized bibliographic instruction - variously and confusingly called "instruction," "counseling," "coaching," "advising," as if we were afraid to confront the implications of the word "teaching" - has attracted notice from time to time. Karen Becker, preparing for an initiative at Northern Illinois University, found descriptions of four individualized instruction programs (representing both large and small academic libraries) from the early 1980s,(5) judging them either too narrowly tailored for advanced students or too minimal in hands-on involvement.(6) Foremost among the difficulties of providing such individualized service are its time and labor requisites, and so Becker's own program was limited to first-year students in special curricular tracks. This is a constructive solution, one that hints at the advantages possessed by conservatory and small academic music libraries, where the principal populations may be comparatively easy to define; at the same time, larger (and allegedly more impersonal) institutions may better foster environments hospitable to experimentation. Indeed my own interest in the trend toward the tutorial ideal (if it may be so characterized) was hatched in response to published excerpts of an interview with a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Commenting on the explanatory power of CD-ROM visuals in undergraduate (and, later, secondary school) education, Charles McMahon told his interlocutor that "Usually it takes students several weeks to get the idea, but when they played the CD-ROM, their comprehension reached 100 per cent by the end of a single class session. …

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