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Alexander Street Strikes a Chord With Open Music Library
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Posted On March 7, 2017
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As part of Alexander Street’s Open Music Library (OML) initiative, music scholars, students, teachers, and librarians can work toward building what could become the world’s most comprehensive open network of digital resources for studying music—including peer-reviewed journal articles, books, music scores, and audio and video recordings. The network will use shared ontologies, linked open data, and principles of the semantic web to bring together a variety of digital collections of primary and secondary sources and create meaningful links among their contents. The OML’s ultimate goal is “to not only advance the state of the art in music knowledge discovery, but also increase opportunities for creative reuse and promote new possibilities for research and collaboration,” according to Alexander Street.

André Avorio, head of the OML, answered NewsBreaks’ questions about its creation and what it can offer researchers, libraries, and open network developers. His responses have been condensed and edited.

How did the idea for the OML come about?

Since the emergence of the OA movement, thousands of academic journals worldwide have adopted policies that embrace some or all of its components, increasing the amount of scholarly content openly accessible to everyone. Rather than holding on to their data and keeping them closed, researchers are deriving more value from online collaboration and access to much larger shared (often crowdsourced) datasets. Furthermore, alongside institutional repositories, a growing number of academics also choose to publish their work openly in their own blogs or using various online platforms.

With an ever-richer open web, students make use of free and openly available resources to learn and share, often bypassing the library’s catalog and relying on general search engines such as Google to find scholarly content.

In the discipline of music, the landscape is not different. The number of works in the public domain made available on the web grows as libraries and cultural heritage organizations around the world digitize their music collections. At the same time, contemporary composers and performers choose Creative Commons and other “open content” licenses when publishing their works online, encouraging reuse and adaptation of their digital content.

While open and collaborative practices of learning and increased accessibility are generally positive for music researchers and students, discoverability remains a challenge to the academic community. Moreover, for libraries and cultural heritage organizations, the mission of disseminating knowledge is only half complete if their content is not easily found and used.

How can researchers find content on the platform?

Apart from a powerful search engine that allows anyone to search across many different archives, journals, magazines, books, reading lists, people, scores, and videos, there are many other ways to discover content on the platform. In the OML, each learning object (such as a musical work, instrument, score, time period, composer, or performance) has a permanent, unique identifier, giving everyone a simple way to link their publications to related materials.

For example, tagging a journal article about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute with that musical work’s identifier links the article to the associated scores, video performances, and all the other articles that refer to The Magic Flute. That identifier gets more comprehensive over time as new content is added to the OML. One can also go to Mozart’s page on the platform to view the list of all of his scores or restrict the list to only his operas by clicking on the “operas” tag.

Open Music Library

Users with a free OML account can save their favorite items to a list and “follow” any of these learning objects to receive notifications when a relevant item is added—such as when a manuscript by Schubert is added to the index or a new issue of a journal is published.

What should researchers and libraries know before using it?

The mission of the OML is to create one space for scholars and students to find the most music resources available online. This can only be done by including both OA and for-fee resources in one platform—instead of perpetuating their segregation.

Alexander Street publishes several music databases that are available to libraries as an annual subscription or perpetual access license. A leading series is Music Online: Classical Scores Library, the largest database of in-copyright scores available online with more than 50,000 titles. On the Alexander Street platform, a user can study in-copyright scores alongside relevant licensed videos, audio recordings, and books—but it does not serve the scholar to omit openly available digital resources such as manuscripts, journal articles, or relevant performances on YouTube.

The OML indexes and provides free previews to all of the Alexander Street items, as well as a multitude of scholarly resources openly available on the web—from other publishers, cultural heritage archives, national libraries, universities’ collections, etc.

There is no other online product that allows a user to find, for example, the manuscript of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Serenade, Op. 24,” which was scanned by the Library of Congress and made available openly on its website, alongside a published in-copyright edition of the same work (for-fee), and an article written by Schoenberg and reprinted in a 2001 issue of American Music Teacher (the preprint is OA). All this in one platform, all interconnected.


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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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