Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Berklee College of Music Archives: Preserving the Past and Learning for the Future: When the History of the College Is Available for the Berklee Community, and the Broader Music and Educational Communities, Via the Archives, Berklee Will Be Able to Point to Its Past in Support of Its Present Role

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Berklee College of Music Archives: Preserving the Past and Learning for the Future: When the History of the College Is Available for the Berklee Community, and the Broader Music and Educational Communities, Via the Archives, Berklee Will Be Able to Point to Its Past in Support of Its Present Role

Article excerpt

What are those?".

I turned in my chair to see Sebastian, a student worker, asking about the copies of old Down Beat magazines that I, as the library assistant in charge of serials, was adding to our ever-growing collection.

"Can I have a look?" He picked up some of the issues I had already set aside and began flipping through the pages, examining the black-and-white photos and advertisements from the mid-1900s. I expected him to lose interest after an initial glance, but he continued to pore over the newsprint and exclaim at the magazines' historical value. He wished they could be used as primary source documents for his Africana Studies class, as the articles and illustrations would fit right into their class discussions.

Sebastian is not the first person to acknowledge the value of these archival materials. At Berklee College of Music's 50th-year anniversary mark, then-President Lee Eliot Berk commented on the importance of documenting and preserving Berklee's history in order to give the students, faculty, and staff of Berklee "a knowledge of their own legacy." Berk himself headed the creation of a book titled Berklee: The First Fifty Years (written by Ed Hazell) in the effort to preserve Berklee's history. The same imperative that motivated the publication of that volume drives the development of an archive, which Berk recognized when he confidently predicted that for Berklee, "an official archive will be established in the near future."

That was 17 years ago.

Making Preservation a Priority

It seems the future cannot come soon enough. Though the library has received support from the college administration for the creation of an archive, it has been difficult for the interest in preserving the college's history to compete with more urgent needs, such as being able to house the entire first-year class, keeping the recording facilities up-to-date for the students, and creating more universal design access at the college. The very nature and diversity of content and format of the materials in the archives also makes the task of creating an archive a uniquely challenging one.

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Berklee itself is an exceptional place, a contemporary music school of about 4,000 students. Located in Boston's Back Bay, it also has an international network of schools, a satellite office in Los Angeles, and just recently, masters programs in Valencia, Spain, as well as a healthy number of summer programs at the home base in Boston and an extremely successful online school. Founded in 1945 by Lawrence Berk as the Schillinger House, Berklee has undergone several significant changes as it has expanded beyond the original school's focus on jazz to now teach a variety of contemporary music genres and unique courses of study, such as its majors in Film Scoring and Electronic Production and Design. Materials that document these changes have been compiled over time; donated by alumni, faculty, or estates; found squirreled away in offices at the college; or, in the case of the recorded oral histories, created by the library itself.

As one of the foremost institutions involved in jazz and contemporary music education, Berklee's history is intertwined with legendary figures from America's popular music scene. Anyone who wants to research the history of jazz in the U.S. would benefit from access to the materials of Berklee's history, to view for themselves the photos of Duke Ellington and Lawrence Berk or to see Berk's handwritten notes on the Schillinger System that became the basis of Berklee's own educational approach. Greater access to these materials could generate interest in the school, provide documentation of its rightful place in the contemporary music world, and further its role as a leader.

At the moment, the majority of the treasured items that constitute Berklee's archives exist in three places--an offsite storage facility, another storage room within the staff area of the library, and virtually, on the website of the Stan Getz Library (the facility itself is named after the great jazz saxophonist). …

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