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Book Reviews

Information Literacy in Music: An Instructor’s Companion. Beth Christensen, Erin Conor, and Marian Ritter, eds. Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., 2018. 254p. Paper, $125.00 (ISBN 978-0-89579-856-5).

Book cover for Information Literacy in Music

The topic of information literacy has become increasingly common in scholarship and discourse within the field of music librarianship, reflecting shifts in the library profession at large. Of course, music possesses unique challenges to information retrieval and literacy—challenges that are often not present in other disciplines—due to a long and complicated history of dissemination, publishing, and languages. These challenges are integral to access, discovery, and literacy, but they can be difficult to explain to patrons who do not possess formal backgrounds in music. Moreover, nonmusic specialists, such as librarians called upon to teach music instruction who have expertise outside of music, may grapple with the inherent obstacles present in music’s unique subject matter, formats, and printing practices. Many other texts discuss the topic of music information literacy at great length; however, there appears to be a shortage of practical sample lesson plans and concrete examples of assignments in the literature. Information Literacy in Music: An Instructor’s Companion fills this gap by creating a curated collection of proven assignments used in postsecondary courses from practitioners in the field related to many aspects of music scholarship. It is clear that this text not only deserves a place at the table with other volumes on this subject, but it will prove to be indispensable due to its wealth of prepackaged ready-to-go example assignments at all levels and subjects to a spectrum of stakeholders involved with planning, teaching, and creating music information literacy assignments from the novice to even the most seasoned music librarian.

Designed as “a quick reference offering immediate solutions to pressing pedagogical problems,” (xi) Information Literacy in Music is the thirty-fifth title in the Music Library Association Technical Reports Series published by A-R Editions. Other recent publications from this series include Jean Harden’s praised Music Description and Access: Solving the Puzzle of Cataloging (2018) with a four-year gap between the previous publication Careers in Music Librarianship III: Reality and Reinvention (2014). Edited by music librarians Beth Christensen (St. Olaf College), Erin Conor (University of Washington), and Marian Ritter (Western Washington University), assignments are compiled from more than 50 contributors ranging from music and performing arts librarians at conservatories, colleges, and universities to faculty members in music and other closely related disciplines. “Immediate solutions” indicates the editors’ commitment to providing clear examples of seasoned assignments, which could be easily implemented in either course assignments or one-time instruction sessions with few changes from their appearance in the text, supplemented by extensive background information contextualizing the assignment for the reader. Given its focus on providing assignments, it is not surprising that the introduction articulates the editors’ intent for the text not to be read cover to cover; rather, it is a reference guide of assignments that substantially cover almost all music research areas and subdisciplines with a variety of learning and teaching approaches. The distinction of “quick reference” is important, as the assignments may not make sense if the book is read sequentially. The reader may be surprised to read that the editors let the contributors choose whether to include the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education as part of their submissions. Although the text of the Framework is printed in full as an appendix, the Framework itself is mentioned inconsistently, with the hope that this volume will retain relevance to both music faculty and librarians regardless of information literacy standards in the future. This choice proved to be wise, as the book contains a wealth of viewpoints and approaches to the topic from both librarians and faculty members, which makes it a robust source for new ideas.

Due to the sheer breadth of assignments contained in the text—including the diversity of musical subspecialties covered, the teaching style of assignments, the range of information literacy outcomes, the variety of academic levels, and differing approaches to instruction—it is impossible to summarize the extent of the content adequately. For the curious reader, the book is organized into 13 chapters that run the gamut of musical study and scholarship with chapters covering such topics as Ethnomusicology, Jazz, Music Therapy, and Studying Music Abroad. Within each chapter, specific assignments related to the overall sub-subject appear. Examples include “Oboe and String Seminars,” “The Mozart Effect: Teaching Source Evaluation,” “Clinical Annotated Bibliography for Music Therapy,” and “Teaching British Musical Theatre in Japan.” While the reader will likely find many, if not all, of the assignments to be helpful as a starting point for further expansion or customization, there are assorted assignments that will prove to be suitable as is. The diversity of the assignments also translates too many types of course scenarios from one-shot instruction sessions to embedded librarianship as part of a class (“Music History and Repertory: Critical Research Fluency for Harvard Undergraduates, a Team Approach” in Chapter 7).

Assignments devoted to commonly requested music information literacy challenges likely be encountered by any librarian with music-related responsibilities will prove useful to both newer and experienced librarians. “Specialized Music Reference Tools: Thematic Catalogs, Composer Works Lists, and Collected Editions” by Misti Shaw (in Chapter 7) demonstrates an instruction session devoted to these critical musical sources fundamental to research within Western art music. In an instruction session for advanced undergraduate students, Shaw assigns pairs of students to research a piece by Mozart to locate details critical to discovery: musical work numbers, the location of the autograph score, and the location of its critical edition score in the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe. This assignment demonstrates concepts that music librarians regularly encounter and teach, and it serves as a reminder that the collection is appropriate for all levels of readers. Other examples of frequently encountered topics include teaching reliability, bias, and viewpoint of sources in popular music (“American Popular Music” by Verletta Kern in Chapter 11), compiling annotated bibliographies (“Annotated Bibliography in Support of a Music Therapy Theory of Intervention” by Kamile Geist and Carla Williams in Chapter 9), and the challenges of assessing the reliability of musical editions (“Evaluating Editions of Printed Music” by Sara Haefeli and Kristina Shanton in Chapter 7). While the text does not lack in diversity of musical topics presented, it does, however, disappoint in the balance of assignments related to non-Western classical music. For example, chapters on “Jazz,” “Music Business,” and “Music Education” each contain one assignment, while increasingly popular disciplines such as “Popular Music,” “Music Therapy,” and “Studying Music Abroad” contain two assignments each. Chapter 7, “Music History,” is the longest chapter in the book with eleven assignments. The rationale for this disproportion may be explained as music information literacy has historically occurred within courses in musicology. In this light, readers will be able to base subsequent assignments from the book’s examples, even if some sub-subjects lack more than one example.

Each assignment is presented in a consistent, standardized layout that includes an overview of the assignment within the context of the course, student learning outcomes, details regarding the assignment’s structure, classroom instruction methodology, and assessment suggestions for grading or expanding the assignment. It is clear the editors have provided not just a wealth of ready-to-go assignments; they have also supplied critical contextual details to help the reader determine how best to implement or change any given assignment to fit a specific class’s needs. The conclusion of each assignment contains full assignment materials reprinted from the original contributor (including the complete text of the assignment, worksheets, and rubrics).

To help the reader navigate this work, two tables of contents exist: the first categorizes assignments by learning outcomes; the second, by instruction scenarios. It seems that an additional table of contents grouped by academic level would be even more helpful to the user for quickly identifying the appropriateness of a prepackaged assignment; however, the assignments are easily customizable, and it would not be difficult for any librarian to tailor an assignment to a specific course level. A short glossary containing common musical terminology will prove to be helpful for those readers unfamiliar with musical sources. It is followed by a helpful bibliography of sources for further reading for readers desiring other sources on the topic. The index is also user friendly and informative.

All in all, the implications of Information Literacy in Music: An Instructor’s Companion are far reaching, depending on the end goal of the reader: the sample assignments can be used as is or as a starting point for discussion between librarians and faculty to spearhead the incorporation of music information literacy into their curriculum. However, the flexibility of the book makes it equally relevant to music faculty members who want to integrate a library assignment into a course, nonmusic specialist librarians who teach an instruction session on an unfamiliar musical concept, or even an experienced music librarian looking for new in-class activities to demonstrate complicated musical concepts.—Jared Andrew Rex, College of the Holy Cross

Copyright Jared Andrew Rex


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