I am excited to share with you that I have accepted a position at Frankfurt Public Library in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, as head of the Central Music Library! After six years in Qatar, it is time for me and my family to move on. The current plan is to relocate to Germany at the beginning of June, given that things have improved by that time. It is not easy to prepare for such a big change under the ongoing circumstances, but we will make the best of this situation!
I am thankful beyond words for the unforgettable experiences of these past years, all the wonderful people I have met during this time and the amazing opportunities of working in such a unique environment as Qatar National Library. At the same time, I am thrilled and looking forward to the time to come in my new role in Germany!
My deep dive into audiobooks in 2018 and newly found appreciation for this format has continued ever since. I am still listening to recorded books almost on a daily basis during my commute to work. Besides obvious benefits like the pleasure of reading, I can strongly recommend this as a daily routine, whether this is to get energized and sharpen your mind in the morning or to clear your head and relax after work. Below are the collected short reviews of all my “reads” in recent months in chronological order, most of which were already posted on social media throughout the year. As you can see, the list is heavy on fantasy novels. While I return to Neil Gaiman frequently, my highlights during the past year were two trilogies: I immensely enjoyed listening to His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I hope some of the titles below might inspire you to pick up an (audio)book, too, and immerse yourself in a great story!
“What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else’s experience of the story.”
Neil Gaiman, Introduction to “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances”
Robin’s Sloan style in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was sometimes a bit too casual for my taste, but I still very much liked the story, in particular for its bookish setting and the involvement of (digital) libraries as a major part of the plot. Ari Fliakos does a great job as the narrator of the audiobook.
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
If you like fantasy, try Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass,The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). I recently listened to all three audiobooks which are perfectly narrated by the author and a full cast. The fascinating story, its beautiful varying settings and characters kept me captivated for more than 30 hours!
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
The Magicians books (The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land) are a fascinating – and at times quite gritty – take on magic in a real world setting. The underlying story takes some time to unfold, but I absolutely enjoyed the trilogy from beginning to end. Mark Bramhall as the narrator is a perfect fit for the books. The TV series based on the novels is also worth watching!
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances – Neil Gaiman
I rarely read short stories, but will always make an exception for those of Neil Gaiman whose work I admire. The compiled stories in this collection all share Neil’s brilliant writing and are wonderfully inventive. Most of them include some kind of uncanny element, several times connected to an unexpected twist in the story. I enjoyed the entire collection, but if I had to pick one favorite, it would be “The Sleeper and the Spindle”. This story combines the classic fairytales of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, but does this in surprising ways by playing with the reader’s expectations and even introducing an element of horror.
What I love about Neil Gaiman apart from his fiction is how much he self-reflects on his profession, his work and those of the writers that have influenced him. He is sharing a lot of this in the introduction including background information to all stories appearing in the book (I recommend revisiting this part after you have finished the collection). As always, it is a pleasure to listen to him performing his own text.
Odd and the Frost Giants – Neil Gaiman
A charming little tale for readers of all ages of a young Viking boy encountering three prominent Norse gods in need of help. No previous knowledge is required to follow the story, but having recently listened to Neil’s take on Norse Mythology definitely added to my enjoyment of Odd and the Frost Giants.
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
The Testaments is a worthy sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale, providing more insights into life and power structures in Gilead. I really liked the dramaturgic development of the story that slowly weaves together three personal narratives into one overarching plot. This is transferred really well into the audiobook with three different narrators that fit perfectly in with their roles. I am really curious now to take a look at the TV series!
If you follow meonsocialmedia, you will notice my admiration for the architecture of my workplace. What I love about the Qatar National Library building: Even two years after moving in, I still discover stunning new perspectives almost on a daily basis depending on my location, angle of view and time of the day. To honor and illustrate this, here is a selection of my favorite pictures I have taken over the past year of the Library’s exterior and interior. I hope they will convey some of the fascinating aura that surrounds this place.
After visiting Leipzig last year, the international music librarian community gathered in Krakow, Poland, this July for the 2019 Annual Congress of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. Over the course of six days, the attendees could enjoy the usual mix of conference sessions, workshops, excursions, receptions and concerts, all set against the backdrop of the beautiful historic city of Krakow with its countless churches and the magnificent Wawel Castle. The conference was hosted by the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in Europe (founded in 1364), which provided its Auditorium Maximum as the main venue.
As every year, the conference program featured a multitude of topics and professional issues. In my case, public libraries, advocacy and digital scholarship emerged as three central themes. This resulted partly from the sessions I attended, but also from my involvement in two committees and the paper I presented this year.
Although I work at a national library, a lot of my tasks and projects can be categorized as public library work. This also inspired my paper “Practices and challenges of providing access to music instruments and recording equipment in public libraries: results of an international survey” which I presented in the public libraries session along with an interesting presentation by Marianna Zsoldos from Hungary about the use of music and rhythm video games in her library. Below is a full (re-)recording of my presentation:
Curious to find out more about the work of the Public Libraries Section, I attended their business meeting. There were only a handful of colleagues in the room which confirmed a general observation at IAML Congresses: Among its participants, colleagues from public libraries are a minority. There are many more attendees from university libraries, music conservatoires and other types of institutions. This shortage and the difficulties of public librarians to make it to the annual meetings due to a lack of funding were discussed during the section meeting. Some colleagues were also alarmed by losing staff and space in their music departments due to lack of understanding by their employers. All of this showed a clear need for more advocacy efforts (more on this below). On a more positive note, I was able to get more involved with the section as an elected officer of the group: The current secretary had to step down recently, so I was happy to volunteer for the position. I look forward to working with the group on tackling some of the mentioned issues and on developing an attractive conference program for next year.
Not only public music librarians can benefit from advocacy efforts, also colleagues in other library types are facing issues that need to be addressed. One example that came up during the Hot Topics Session was the the loss of music librarian positions in universities across different countries as a result of restructuring their organizational matrix. Another area of interest mentioned during the congress is the wording of job descriptions for music library positions. They need to be carefully composed including key competencies such as knowledge in music history or reading music notation. Otherwise, libraries might end up with unqualified candidates which, in certain scenarios, have to be hired because of obligations towards a workers union as explained by one colleague. IAML Congresses make for an ideal opportunity to learn about these and other experiences from the international community and to get a sense for the most pressing issues.
Within IAML, it is the Advocacy Committee that is responsible for the advocacy efforts of the association. During the congress week, the group met twice to discuss ongoing projects and brainstorm new ideas. The second meeting was held in conjunction with the committees on Outreach and Membership. Recent activities of the group include an application submitted to UNESCO for the establishment of an International Day of Music Libraries and Archives. Several committee members have been drafting position statements during the year focusing on the work of music librarians in academic libraries, public libraries, orchestra and broadcasting libraries and other types of institutions. In addition, a number of topic related statements (copyright, AV media) have been discussed. Once the statements are finalized, they will be made available through the IAML website and can be used as advocacy tools by IAML members. Apart from the statements, one of my main areas of work will be facilitating a series of four twitter chats that will take place until the IAML Congress 2020 next summer. The first two chats will look into 1. experiences of advocating for staff and space and 2. the IFLA 10-Minute Library Advocate series. The committee also discussed implications of the IAML Strategic Intentions 2019-2021 on the work of the group. Possible new projects that came up during the meetings include guidance for job descriptions and competencies and developing ways of promoting success stories.
Loukia Drosopoulou (The British Library, London) and Joanna Bullivant (University of Oxford) shared their experiences of setting up the British Library’s online exhibition “Discovering Music: early 20th century“. One of the great advantages over a traditional exhibition was to be able to provide additional information and context through a meaningful combination of text, picture and sound.
David Lewis and Kevin Page (University of Oxford) took this approach to the next level. In an exciting talk, they explained their MELD framework (Music Encoding and Linked Data) for building music related web interfaces. As a demonstration, they had created an enhanced version of the article “Delius in Performance” in the above mentioned online exhibition by introducing interactive and functional connections across different types of media, for example synchronizing a score and a recording. Their overall vision with this is to add new possibilities for driving the narrative of music research output.
André Avorio (Alexander Street) presented a newly created module of the Open Music Library that aggregates performance history data sets from a number of orchestras. The data can be analyzed by individual orchestra (showing the number of performances of certain composers) or by composer (showing the number of performances across all orchestras over time).
Joseph Hafner(McGill University, Montréal) gave an introduction to using Bookworm for Digital Humanities research in the HathiTrust Digital Library. Bookworm is an online tool for visualizing trends in language over time. Also see this LibGuide for more information.
One great side benefit of IAML conferences is that apart from evening receptions the program also includes several concerts over the course of the week. The organizing committee in Krakow put together a great series of concerts that featured a wide variety of music. Three very different, but equally stunning churches located in the Old Town built the perfect stage for each of the performances (as shown in the pictures below). We could listen to piano quintets by Schubert and Nowakowski in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, organ music from the 16th to the 18th century in St. Anne’s Collegiate Church and string orchestra repertoire from the 19th and 20th century in St. Catherine’s Church.
For their Wednesday excursion, participants could choose between two walking tours through Krakow, a visit to Rynek Underground and trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine or to Pieskowa Skała Castle. The Musical Krakow Walking Tour was the ideal chance during a packed conference week to explore Old Town Krakow and the Wawel Castle. Along the way, our guide introduced us to many of the more than 120 churches located in the city which is also called “Northern Rome” or the “second Rome” for this very reason. The musical part consisted of an organ recital in one of the churches and a number of musical anecdotes, such as the story behind the St. Mary’s trumpet call.
Overall, I really enjoyed this conference. There was a good balance between paper presentations and work meetings which let me take away useful impulses for my workplace, but also follow up on committee work. It was great to see some new additions to the program such as live-streaming of the plenary sessions and the introduction of the unconference format through #digitalIAML, both of which are worth further exploring in upcoming meetings. We had excellent catering this year which was fully included in the conference fee. Having all attendees in one central place for lunch and coffee breaks made networking and catching up with colleagues very easy. The concerts were another highlight of the conference week. I love the fact that IAML attendees can share their passion for music not only through discussing professional issues during the conference sessions, but also by experiencing live music performances as a group. I would not want to miss this part at any IAML Congress. Many thanks again to the organizers this year for doing a great job!
In the beginning of last year, I tried something new and started listening to audiobooks during my daily commute to work. What began as an experiment, soon became routine. Over the course of the year I finished fourteen titles of various genres and authors and the list still keeps growing since then. In this post, I would like to share a few takeaways from this experience, including recommendations on authors and titles I particularly enjoyed, reflections on the joy of listening to audiobooks, and finally some thoughts on why and when audiobooks might be worth looking into for you.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.
I had already suspected it from an earlier encounter with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but now I know for sure: Neil Gaiman belongs to my favorite authors. The past year gave me the opportunity to catch up with many of his works that had been on my reading wishlist for a long time. Most of his novels can be described as fantasy, often with a dark touch and set in a real-world scenario. They are fairytales for younger and older readers you can get lost in while following the main characters on their journey. Being a well-known advocate for libraries, books and the power of reading, Neil also infuses his stories with these themes every once in a while which adds to their appeal. Reading the books is already a pleasure in itself, but listening to the audiobooks read by the author makes them even more compelling, since he is a brilliant narrator, too. If you want to get started with Neil’s novels, I suggest The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The narrator’s voice can make a big difference.
You are going to spend several hours listening to the same person, so you have to be comfortable with the voice of the narrator. Luckily, most audiobook productions from major publishers collaborate with experienced narrators. Although I enjoyed all of the titles that I finished, there were a number of narrators that stood out: Neil Gaiman (most of his own work), Jesse Bernstein (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Rupert Degas (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) and Adjoah Andoh (The Power). The sound of their voices and their narration style got me hooked right from the first minutes. What also fascinates me about them and other professional narrators is with how much ease they can switch between male and female characters and impersonate different dialects. But even if you don’t feel an immediate connection to the narrator’s voice, it might be worth continuing with the audiobook. I had this experience with Khaled Hosseini narrating his novel The Kite Runner: By the time I had finished the audiobook, his voice and the way of pronouncing local names and places made perfect sense, but it took me a while to get used to it in the beginning.
It’s worth revisiting childhood classics.
Childhood classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Winnie-the-Pooh make for a perfect audible delight in between longer titles or if you are short on time. Most of them only last a few hours and, as a prime genre to be performed for an audience, benefit from great narrators (in this case Jim Dale and Peter Dennis). Being only familiar with movie adaptations and other manifestations based on the original works, I greatly enjoyed listening to them for the first time.
It is okay not to finish an audiobook.
What is true for print books, can certainly also be applied to audiobooks: There is no shame in not finishing an audiobook, if you are not enjoying it for whatever reason. The narrator’s voice is not working for you? The book is not living up to your expectations? There are plenty of other titles still waiting for you, so just move on.
If you are frequently consuming podcasts, try getting started with audiobooks.
Before my audiobook experiment, I was frequently listening to podcasts, specifically in long form with up to three hours per episode. I believe this made the transition to audiobooks quite easy, because I was already used to immerse myself into the spoken word over a longer time. If you don’t want to get right into a 10+ hour novel, a good starting point for audiobooks could be popular nonfiction titles. Not only do they tend to be shorter than fiction, their style and content might fall closer to many podcasts that are usually nonfiction. The only title I listened to in that category was a quick, but entertaining 3-hour production of The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking.
If you can’t make time for reading books, audiobooks might be the solution.
Having a one year old toddler at home at the time, another reason for me to turn to audiobooks was that I simply couldn’t make time anymore to read print books. Audiobooks gave me the opportunity to satisfy my reading cravings and, in fact, to explore many more titles than I had been able to read before in the same time. Of course, it is also a matter of priorities: I don’t spend much time anymore listening to podcasts or new album releases when I am in the car. But the enriching experience and joy of listening to the mentioned titles and narrators makes it worth all the while.
Libby is a great (free) tool for accessing audiobooks.
One of the biggest motivators for me to give audiobooks a try was the fact that I have access to hundreds of them for free through my local library and I don’t have to use any fee-based platforms. This gave me the chance to freely explore different authors and to move on with other titles in case I didn’t enjoy a particular one. I have accessed all of the audiobooks mentioned in this post through the Libby app from OverDrive which is used by many public libraries around the world. Setting up the app is very easy and the User Interface encourages you to browse through the available collection. You can change the preferences to exclude ebooks and only display audiobook content. Offline access, bookmarks, adjustable play speed, 15 second fast forward/rewind and a number of other functions all add to the ease-of-use of the app. Therefore, if you would like to get started with audiobooks, first get in touch with your local public library to see if they have access to OverDrive or similar platforms.
Librarianship is a truly global discipline with practitioners all over the world. Being aware of larger developments in the field and learning about libraries in other regions can broaden your own professional horizon and give you a fresh perspective on things. The new Open Access ebook “Librarians Around the World” helps gain this perspective. It includes contributions by 34 librarians from 19 countries spanning North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia/Oceania. Initiated by the New Professionals Section of the Library Association of Latvia, the project has been in the making since early 2017 and was finally published in December last year. Participants were asked to write about themselves, their libraries, library systems, education opportunities, library related organizations and other aspects of librarianship in their countries.
Together with three colleagues, I contributed a chapter about librarianship in Qatar. In four parts, we are discussing 1. LIS education in Qatar, 2. the establishment of the Library and Information Association in Qatar (LIA-Q), 3. the diversity of the librarian community and library users and 4. Maktaba, Qatar’s first private public children’s library. Below is the full text of our chapter. I hope you will get inspired by this and all the other contributions in the book!
My list of favorite albums of 2018 is much shorter than those in recent years. This is not so much because of a lack of good music being released, but because I spent most of my free time in the past 12 months listening to audiobooks instead (a post about this will hopefully follow soon). Whenever I decided to put on some music, however, there were mostly two albums that have been on repeat on my phone. As purely instrumental and videogame related soundtracks they might fly under your radar, so here is a little introduction to both of them that will hopefully get you interested.
Celeste Original Soundtrack (Lena Raine)
This portrait of Lena Raine provides a good characterization of the soundtrack to the videogame Celeste: “Raine’s music is brilliant and sweeping, with memorable melodies and diverse instrumentation that reflect its author’s far-flung musical influences—from house to vintage RPG soundtracks and classical music.” The album works totally well by itself, at the same time the music whets the appetite to play the game. I had similar experiences before with other videogame soundtracks such as Transistor, Shovel Knight or FTL that made me play the games (each of them highly recommended!). In return, playing through the games and their storylines usually added even more layers to the experience of listening to the music, so I am already looking forward to exploring Celeste soon. As a sample from the album I recommend “Resurrection” which perfectly shows the above mentioned variety of musical styles used by Lena Raine.
Zelda & Chill (Mikel & GameChops)
Even if you only have the slightest interest in videogames, you will most likely be familiar with the Zelda franchise and some of its iconic music. Combining those well-known melodies with laid-back lofi hip hop beats, as done by Mikel & GameChops on their album Zelda & Chill, turns out to be a perfect fit. My favorite track on the album is “Oath to Order” that originates from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.