African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920


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A great many people contributed in a wide variety of ways to the success of the African-American Sheet Music Digitizing Project at the Brown University Library. It may be well to start with the generations of librarians and scholars at Brown University Library who built this extraordinary collection of sheet music over the past century, most notably the late S. Foster Damon, Professor of English and Curator of the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays. Without their efforts and discernment, much of this collection of fragile and ephemeral materials (whose scholarly and cultural value was not apparent to many in an earlier time) would not have survived.

A debt is also owed to the catalogers whose work on the Sheet Music Collection paved the way for this project. Funded by a grant from Title 2-C of the Higher Education Act, Sarah Shaw and Lauralee Shiere completed a pilot project in the application of rare book conventions of description and access to Brown's collections of African-American related sheet music. The multiplicity of access points, and the painstaking accuracy of description, much valued by scholars and students over the past fifteen years, will greatly enhance and facilitate the use of this digital collection.

In the preparation and administration of the project, Merrily E. Taylor, Joukowsky Family University Librarian at Brown University, served as Principal Investigator, and Rosemary L. Cullen, Head Special Collections Librarian, and Mary-Jo Kline, Curator, Special Collections, oversaw the daily management of the project. Robin Rao, Senior Library Associate Specialist, was responsible for quality control of images, bibliographic records, project record keeping and workflow, and participated in the preparation of introductory materials. She was the key to the success of the entire project.

Howard Pasternack and Helen Schmierer of the Brown University Library Systems Office were energetic and thoughtful supporters of the project, whose technical expertise and advice were invaluable. Similarly, Elli Mylonas, of the Scholarly Technology Group, Computing and Information Services, Brown University, offered welcome perspectives and consultation. Norine Duncan, Art Slide Librarian, shared her experiences in an earlier digitizing effort, to this project's considerable benefit.

Dominique Coulombe, Head of the Catalog Department, devoted a great deal of time and effort towards the production of the bibliographic records for the project. She undertook staff training, devised and tested procedures, and arranged for the transfer of the records to the Library of Congress. Sarah Shaw, Music Cataloger, provided original cataloging for a number of titles not part of the original set that were considered particularly desirable for the project.

Ann Morgan Dodge, the Library's Conservator, performed repairs on fragile and damaged titles, and provided training to project staff in dry cleaning and handling processes. Carol Tatian, Music Librarian, consulted in the preparation of the discography and bibliography. Barbara Schulz, Library Business Manager, offered valuable advice in managing the accounting aspects of the project.

Samuel A. Streit, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, shared his considerable experience in the preparation of grant proposals and in general provided much-needed administrative support throughout the process. Don B. Wilmeth, Chair of the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance at Brown University (and a consultant to the American Memory Variety Stage project) offered advice and the perspectives of a scholar with a particular concern for the materials of popular entertainment. William J. Mahar, Professor of Humanities and Music at Pennsylvania State University reviewed introductory materials for the project.

The digitizing vendor for the project, ImageMakers, of Providence, Rhode Island, entered into the project with great enthusiasm, and took full part in developing the technical specifications. Throughout, ImageMakers' commitment to the scholarly uses of the project ensured that the final result would meet the high standards to which it aspired. In particular, Leslie Davis, Mary Hurwitz, and William Lundin spent many hours in consultation with project staff and with technical consultants at the Library of Congress.

Staff at the Library of Congress, most notably Barbara Paulson, program officer for the competition, and Caroline Arms and Carl Fleischhauer from the National Digital Library Program, answered innumerable questions (including those to which there were no answers) and were endlessly patient with the inevitable delays that attend the beginnings of new undertakings. Other staff at the Library of Congress helped put the final online presentation together. Dominique Pickett of the National Digital Library Program designed the graphic for the home page. In Information Technology Services, Lisa Fruth extended the capabilities of the bibliographic display program and she and David Woodward generated the page-turning and indexing configurations for this collection.

Finally, Brown University Library thanks Ameritech for its support of the American Memory program, and for the opportunity to present to the community of scholars and the American public some of its most valued and fragile research collections.