Prelude to a Digital Music Library at the Pennsylvania State University: Networking Audio for Academic Library Users

Article excerpt

The three significant factors in planning and implementing a digital music initiative are infrastructure, collections, and human resources, with a fourth factor; funding, affecting all decisions. By examining these issues it is possible to describe the Penn State experience in the initial stages of creating a digital music library and offer suggestions and experiences that may assist others in planning, developing, and evaluating a similar service. The benefits of digitizing the music collection include increased access and the potential for enhanced preservation. At Pennsylvania State University, collection decisions have been based on course-related needs.

Music audio materials (compact discs, long-playing records, and cassette tapes) are used by music faculty and students daily throughout the academic year for classroom teaching, study, and research. Students are assigned to listen to and study dozens of specific music works every semester to meet course objectives in music, and these recordings are traditionally placed on course reserve in the library by music faculty. Students must come to the library to listen one at a time to recordings housed physically in the library. Faculty must come to the library to borrow each recording they need to use in the classroom, and immediately return the recordings to the library so their students can study them. Additionally, faculty are limited to using classrooms equipped with playback equipment for sound recordings.

Providing access to these assigned music works over the Internet enables faculty to use the music during classroom teaching from any classroom with a computer and an Internet connection, and also to use the assigned music while working with students individually or in small groups in their offices. Students can study the assigned music from computer labs, dormitory rooms, and homes off campus, or at computers in the library. Most importantly, students and faculty are not limited to listening during regular library hours. Providing audio music information over computer networks also makes possible distance education courses in music that until now have been impractical.

Building a Digital Music Library

Our use of the term "digital music library" implies networked access to a digital music audio collection, with or without related visual images and text-based information, developed for and accessible to a defined user community from all desired end-user locations. While there are many issues involved with the creation of a digital music library, three emerge as both critical and comprehensive: infrastructure, collections, and staffing. Pervasive within all three categories is the question of funding. In this report we focus on these issues, using the format of a general discussion followed in each case by a description of our experience at Penn State University.

By examining these issues, we can describe the Penn State experience in the initial stages (the "prelude") of creating a digital music library and offer suggestions and experiences to assist others in planning, developing, and evaluating a similar service. Within the context of this examination, it is also possible to imagine new applications and future directions, thus balancing the practicality of today's implementation with the promise of tomorrow's potential.

A review of the literature, both print and Web-based, uncovered no published reports of similar projects other than Indiana University's VARIATIONS project (Dunn and Mayer 1999), though informal discussions with music librarians at several institutions indicated that similar projects are underway across the country.


At a minimum, the technological infrastructure of an online music library consists of servers, clients, network hardware and software, and some type of audio player. Client-server machines communicate with each other in a very specific way based on a query-answer model. …


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