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MMD > Archives > November 2008 > 2008.11.08 > 02Prev  Next

Our Published Heritage
By Matthew Caulfield

Terry Smythe's posting to yesterday's MMDigest comes at an appropriate
time.  The Musical Box Society International (MBSI) has received a
generous gift of valuable historical literature from Q. David Bowers,
who donated it to the society in order to make it more widely used.
The gist comprises issues of the "Music Trade Review" (MTR) from 1880
to 1954, and issues of the "Presto," although I don't know the span of
years.  (Maybe Dave Bowers can tell us.)  I know how essential the MTR
is from working with the late Charles Davis Smith in researching data
for his 3-volume opus, "The Welte-Mignon: its Music and Musicians."

All issues of the MTR have now been scanned, although that meant
disbinding the volumes.  The loose pages are in storage in Valley Forge,
Pennsylvania, awaiting the society's decision on their disposition.
The scanned image files are huge and occupy 200 gigabytes or so on
a computer hard drive.  Scanning of the Presto was started, but that
project is in abeyance, I understand.

The problem is providing access to the material.  Most researchers
into mechanical music history do not have deep pockets, and are doing
their research as a labor of love.  They cannot afford to go to the
Library of Congress to consult first-hand the MTR (which are available
there for use, in spite of claims you hear from others about their
"fragile" condition), or to the New York Public Library to consult
their microfilm copy of the MTR.  Assuming that the MBSI makes the
originals at Valley Forge available for use, the average researcher
still can't afford the trip there or the days on location the work
might require.

The solution appears to me to be along the lines Terry Smythe
advocates: make the scanned version freely available -- online, if
space permits, or otherwise by means of disc copies.  The MBSI does
offer a search service whereby you can have topics searched on the
MBSI's master drive and the items you select copied onto CD's for
you, but at a cost of $25 per hour plus the cost of CD's and mailing.
Aside from the expense involved, this solution has one big flaw.  As
any researcher knows, you cannot use someone else's eyes to do your
research for you.  Good research demands direct access to sources.
Only you know what you are looking for or what you might find that
you never even looked for.

Interestingly, the last MBSI Trustees Meeting gave its approval to the
concept proposed by Trustee Bill Edgerton to "establish and operate the
finest mechanical music research library in the world."  The Bowers
gift would provide a nucleus for that much-needed library, and might
attract similar gifts from collectors and enthusiasts who, as age
advances, are wondering what to do with the papers they have gathered.

Richard J. Howe spent a lifetime buying paper relating to mechanical
music.  When it came time to find a permanent home for them, he chose
IPAM at the University of Maryland's College Park campus Libraries,
where (in my opinion, at least) researchers now encounter a bit of the
dog-in-the-manger attitude.

If Terry Smythe and even our own MMD can make information freely and
willingly available, can't all participants in this field do the same?

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

(Message sent Sat 8 Nov 2008, 15:19:24 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

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