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MusicAustralia: Australia's Music Online, in Time
One of the joys of the web is what can happen when library people get to follow their instincts and invent new ways of making their collections available online. It began with searchable databases and the ability to locate the book (or whatever) and maybe then rush off to the library to borrow it before someone else beat you to it. Now the searches offer more goodies.
For a number of years I have been using the National Library of Australia online facilities to discover the treasures in the oral history and folklore collections. From a place like Katoomba I have become quite conversant with strange numbers like TRC 2439/24 (part of the Norm O'Connor Collection of field recordings of Simon McDonald) and even ordered cassette copies of this material. You can try for yourself to see what is available at the Oral History section of the library at: http://www.nla.gov.au/oh/
This ability to do research with you web browser is destined to become even more rewarding with the National Library's new pilot website MusicAustralia at http://www.musicaustralia.org/. I was told about it by the library staff at the National Folk Festival (Easter 2005) and as soon as I got home I tried it out. I did some searching and found a book I'd read about for years but never sighted. Rebel Songs the "Song Book of the Australian Student Federation". To my surprise I discovered I could order a photocopy of it online. So I clicked the button, filled out all the details and ordered myself a copy "Photocopy @ $13.20 (GST inclusive) per 50 pages from a single item". As a longtime user of online second hand book shops I was expecting a parcel to arrive in the post. Instead I got an email a few days later inviting me to download the copy I had ordered. So my copy ended up on my hard disk as a high quality tiff file which I was able to print myself.
Having succeeded with print I wondered about the delivery of sound online. The blurb on the MusicAustralia page reads "Some of the music you can find in MusicAustralia is online - so you can read a score held by the National Library of Australia and listen to a sound recording delivered by the National Film and Sound Archive at the same time. Most music is not available online, but copies can often be borrowed or purchased through organisations contributing to MusicAustralia."
After a bit of searching I discovered "most music is not online" to be correct! However by doing a search for "sound online" I did find nearly 2000 sound files which seems to me to be a good start. So far the sounds are available via links to other oranisation's online music collections (including Australia Council, Screensound and other libraries). This means the sound file formats depend on whatever those organisations happen to have chosen. Some use WMA requiring Window Media Player on your computer, some use the more common MP3 format. After a search I found a recording of Alex Hood singing Botany Bay from Screensound's collection.
MusicAustralia is a pilot program but it looks like it's going to become a valuable addition to the online resources available to scholar and enthusiast alike.
Here is what Robyn Holmes, Curator of Music, National Library of Australia, wrote about the project:
MusicAustralia is more than a resource discovery service: it aims to provide seamless access to resources, services and information, and to encourage active participation. Our vision is that, when fully developed, users will be able to:
• search for music resources, heritage and contemporary, across multiple websites and databases from a range of collecting institutions and the music sector;
• access digitised and born digital Australian music in multiple formats;
• search across both the federated resource service and information directories to locate information about people, organisations, collections, events and services;
• access from a single interface services such as digital reference, interlibrary loan, ISMN, industry support, and interrogate musical data; and
• collect and archive, self-archive, exhibit, market, publish, communicate on-line.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory