Volunteers wanted to describe Bodleian music scores online

3 May 2012

What's the score postcardMembers of the public are being asked to help describe 4,000 music pieces from the Bodleian Libraries’ collections, as part of a new project launched today.

What’s the score at the Bodleian? (www.whats-the-score.org) is the first crowd-sourcing project undertaken by the Bodleian Libraries. About 4,000 pieces of popular piano music from the mid-Victorian period have been digitized and made available online. The music was mostly produced for domestic entertainment, and many of these scores have illustrated or decorative covers and advertisements. The collection has never been included in the library’s catalogue, and its exact contents are therefore unknown.

By visiting the website, ‘citizen librarians’ can help with describing the scores and contributing to the creation of an online catalogue. It takes about 10 minutes to fill in the online form which constitutes the description of an item. No knowledge of reading music or playing an instrument is required to get involved. People just need to look at the images of the scores and write down the information they see. However, the project also encourages performances of this music and hopes to provide links to audio or video recordings.

Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘Making our collections accessible for the purposes of teaching, learning and research, both within and beyond Oxford, has become increasingly possible over recent decades due to the great strides we’ve seen in the creation of tools for retrieving and manipulating data.  We endeavour to apply these technologies to our music holdings as well, wherever possible. We hope that What’s the score at the Bodleian? will represent a way for people to help us to make the Bodleian’s music collections more accessible to the wide range of people who use them, or who would do if they knew they were there.’

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music at the Bodleian Libraries, said: ‘The Library has never turned away music of this type but it is interesting that this body of what might be termed ephemeral music was not considered worthy of being fully incorporated into the collections or catalogued at the time of receipt – or since. In making the scores available online, they will not only be accessible for academic study and research but will also be there to enjoy for anyone who is interested in various aspects of Victorian music, culture and society.’

The project was partially funded by Google and is developed in collaboration with Zooniverse who are world leaders in crowd-sourcing technology. 

About the Bodleian’s music collections

The Bodleian’s printed music collections comprise over half a million items, but only about 20% of these are represented in the online catalogue. For the most part, this large body of material is therefore difficult to explore and use, and some of it is largely unknown. The library is looking for ways to make this rich collection more easily discoverable. A recent study has shown that creating professional library-standard records for the items would be prohibitively expensive and would take years to accomplish. It would also only make information about the material available, while the scores themselves would remain on the shelves in the book stacks and be available only to those who can make the journey to Oxford. By digitising the scores and making these available online, the collection will be opened up and made available to anyone who has an internet connection and an interest in nineteenth-century music.

As part of their strategy to open up its collections, the Bodleian Library is also running another digitization project which aims to scan the index cards for its extensive catalogued printed music holdings, thus revealing the contents of the bulk of Bodleian’s printed music collections to the wider world for the first time.   

Instructions for participants to What’s the Score at the Bodleian project

To take part in the project, you need to register on your first visit to the site. Then you will be able to start exploring the images and adding information. Instructions for using the site, where to look for and record the information, are available on the Zooniverse site.

Digital versions of the scores are made available through the Zooniverse platform so that participants are able to look at the images and enter information about what they can see. The information can relate to the piece of music (title, composer, arranger etc.), the publication (publisher, place of publication etc.) or the illustrations that adorn many of the covers (type of cover, illustrator/artist etc.) – all of which can be determined simply by looking at the digital images of the scores. It is not necessary to be able to read music or play an instrument to take part, though there are some fields available for those who feel comfortable commenting on the musical notation (e.g.  key or tempo).

When the images have been described, the information will be collated and used to create a searchable catalogue of the scores through which users will be able to access the collection and view or download the scores.

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