A Web Tutorial for Music Searching at Columbia University

by Kimmy Szeto

Created for Prof. Ping Li, Information Literacy Instruction for Adults
Course 790.3, Fall 2008
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Queens College, CUNY

Click here to view the tutorial video (requires Adobe Flash Player)
Right click here to download the stand-alone executable of the video
Click here to view the script

    The idea for this project grew out of observations of students' search behaviors for music scores. These students are enrolled in a vocal ensemble course at Columbia University, where I am the staff piano accompanist. There are two instructors and about fifteen students in the course. Students are periodically assigned new repertoire, and they are responsible for locating the scores and learning the songs before singing in class.

Needs Assessment

    The University has a dedicated music library with a collection equally strong in the classical, sacred, operatic and musical theater repertoire, in a mixture of open and close stacks. Roughly half of the musical scores collection is housed off site, and item requests are fulfilled within two business days. There are also four major specialized music retailers in the city within easy commute--Frank Music Company, The Juilliard School Bookstore and the Joseph Patelson Music House for all types of classical music, and the Colony Music Center for popular, Jazz and musical theater.
Student Survey
    Over the course of the Fall 2008 semester, I informally interviewed six of the fourteen students. The results are somewhat surprising. It does not occur to two students to use the library at all. Their principle sources are online book sellers (such as Amazon) and specialized online sheet music vendors (such as Sheet Music Plus), and they are reluctant to travel in person to the retailers. Two other students usually uses the University Library's online catalog for other types of books but do not know how to search for music scores with success. As a result, they mainly obtain music scores by browsing the shelves in the library, but neither understands the Dickinson Classification system used there and tends to spend a long time in the process. Of the six students, four of them know that some scores are stord off site and can be requested, but only one student regularly uses this service. In general, all six students are dissatisfied with the search process for musical scores but none has ever asked for a librarian's help.
Impact on Academic Performance
    Since students have only one to two weeks to learn the repertoire, their course performance can be greatly affected by the timeliness of obtaining the proper scores. The students need to develop confidence in their ability to use various information resources, particularly the library catalog and the library itself, to locate their assigned music, and to do so in an efficient manner.

Target Audience

    The present web tutorial is geared towards undergraduate college students who are experienced with the online catalog but needs more help with music searching, much like the students in the Vocal Ensemble class. The Columbia University Libraries OPAC is used for this particular tutorial.

Program Design

    Searching for vocal music is not simple. Individual songs are not always listed in the catalog because they tend to be part of a larger work or included in a collection or an anthology. Furthermore, vocal compositions are often transposed for various voice ranges. Command of the OPAC's search functionalities, some knowledge of music classification and cataloging, and sometimes creativity, are all necessary compents towards locating the right score.
    Learning how to search for every type of music is an enormous undertaking. Web tutorials in a series can each focus on single aspects such as Classical songs, operatic arias, choral music, the Dickinson Classification system, etc. There are many common core search techniques across these various categories, and each video will touch on these skills at least once. Watching additional video can reinforce these skills with gaining additional understanding in the particular specialized area. One five-minute tutorial is presented here, and it takes students through the process of locating a Classical song.
Goals and Objectives
    The learning goal of this tutorial is to introduce students to search techniques beyond the simple keyword search, and to encourage students to develop the habit of looking at actual physical items on the shelves after the catalog search. To achieve these goals, students will need to be able to use advanced search functions, interpret search results, locate items and use external information sources. Particular objectives include:

Program Delivery

Script Development
    The video will begin with the university's home page, and will take the user through the journey of locating the score for the song Gretch am Spinnrade by Franz Schubert, arranged for low voice. This song is chosen because it is well known, and the low voice arrangement is chosen because the song was originally composed for high voice and the extra obstacle of finding the arrangement necissitates going through all of the tutorial's objectives. It is also far too common for students to encounter difficulty locating scores for the appropriate voice range.
    Narratives in the video will be carried by text captions, without voice narration. A script is created for the video (see Appendix A). The script includes descriptions of each step taken, where one step is defined by a set of keystrokes or a single mouse click. Care is taken to ensure the script touches on all the learning objectives, including repeated suggestions to locate items on the library shelves.
Video Development
    The screen size needs to be determined before recording. To ensure maximum compatibility, the recording window will fit within a 640x480 screen. The script was read aloud during recording to attain the approximate pacing. Many extraneous frames were deleted from the resulting. In the editing process, mouse operations and typing are sped up, focus areas are highlighted, and captions are added. The over all pacing has been re-evaluated after adding the captions (it video has been sped up in general).
    A title page with title, author and date have been added for better identification as well as to aid cataloging, which, in the long run, will enhance searchability of the video. It seems to improve clarity to show the learning objectives in the beginning as well as at the end of the video, for which frames are added.
    For a video that encourages shelf browsing, there should be a short segment, or at least images, of going to the shelves and leafing through the actual scores. That would, however add complication to the project with video recording equipment and incorporating clips into a mostly screen capture video. Consultation with a graphic designer (or simply a more visually inclined person) can improve choice of colors and font for better visibility. The same can be said for the shape, size and placement of the caption boxes. There should also be a testing period that reaches a wide variety of potential users so that comments can be collected and improvements made before the official release.
© 2008, Kimmy Szeto