Academic journal article Notes

MLA-L at Twenty

Academic journal article Notes

MLA-L at Twenty

Article excerpt


MLA-L, the electronic-mail distribution list for music librarians, is now twenty years old. Before the establishment of the list in 1989, professional communication among music librarians was paper based and slow. The growth of computer networks in the early 1980s led to the development of applications to promote group communication, including LISTSERV, an e-mail distribution application released in 1986. With the help of Mary Papakhian, a member of the information technology staff at Indiana University, Ralph Papakhian established MLA-L as the first distribution list on the university's LISTSERV server. Growth of the list was rapid: by the end of 1995, there were over 1,000 subscribers, and since then the number has slowly increased to over 1,100. The topics of discussion on MLA-L cover all aspects of the profession, and the archives of messages posted to the list provide a rich resource for the study of the history of music librarianship.


A quick glance through issues of the MLA Newsletter from the late 1980s gives a good picture of how music librarians shared information with each other in the years before the Web, when even e-mail was still a novelty. In those issues there was a regular column titled "Musical Queries," compiled by Karl Van Ausdahl. If you had a question you couldn't answer using the resources available in your library, you sent it to Van Ausdahl, and a few months later he published it in the column. Readers who could answer the question sent in replies, and Van Ausdahl published them in the next issue. In the March-April 1988 column, for example, we find:

  Query #2: Anna Seaborg (King County Library system, Seattle, WA) is
  looking for information on a French tango singer named Francis
  Cabrel. This singer was mentioned in the recent film "Broadcast
  News." (1)

Six months and two issues later, Van Ausdahl reports that Bonnie Jo Dopp had sent him copies of the French text of the song sung in the movie as well as publication information for the cassette it appeared on, but no reader had been able to supply biographical information on Cabrel. (2) In the following issue, though, the question is answered. We learn, thanks to Monique Lecavalier of the University of Montreal, that there is an entry for Cabrel in Pascal Sevran's Dictionnaire de la chanson francais (1988) and that the singer was born in Astaffort, France, in 1953. (3) The time that had elapsed between the posing and the answering of this question was nine months.

The end of the 1980s was a busy time for MLA and its members, and these issues of the newsletter include many brief announcements and requests as well as lengthy committee and chapter reports. There are announcements of future meetings, grant opportunities, and essay contests. Committee chairs ask colleagues to send copies of local copyright guidelines and collection-development policies so that they can be studied, analyzed, and reported on for the benefit of all. A librarian asks whether someone could supply a photocopy of a missing journal issue, while others offer runs of journals that are no longer needed. There are reports of newly acquired special collections, such as the Rudy Vallee Collection at the American Library of Radio and Television. The New England and California chapters announce the publication of guides to music collections in their regions. Ohio State University notes the arrival of a music librarian from China who will be completing an internship in the library. A few months after the 1988 annual meeting in Minneapolis, a lost-and-found column reports that "A silver-colored metal pin, about two inches in diameter and resembling a poppy, was found on the dance floor after the MLA banquet, Friday 12 February." (4)

By the early 1990s, most of these queries and announcements had disappeared from the pages of the MLA Newsletter and moved to a forum that had been announced by Ralph Papakhian in spring 1989:

  Indiana University is now hosting an electronic mail distribution
  service for the Music Library Association. … 
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