Thursday, February 5, 2009

Yiddish Sheet Music - Brown University Library Center for Digital Initiatives

 In 1968, Brown University Library (BUL) acquired a collection of over 850 piano-vocal or instrumental pieces of sheet music from Menache Vaxer who was both a Yiddish writer and a Russian Hebraist.  These pieces dated from as early as the 1890s to as late as the 1940s.  After this acquisition, BUL went on  to both purchase and accept donations of additional examples of Yiddish sheet music.  As of today, their Yiddish sheet music collection numbers some 2,000 items.  

Not all of these items, however, are available in the Yiddish sheet music digital library.  Rather, BUL clearly states that only those items which are public domain may be found in the digital library.  For both any originals and any post-1923 objects, BUL requires an on-site visit.  Thus, their digitization selection process is rather straightforward:  digitize only those items which they have a virtually indisputable and secure right to digitize.  This selection process left Brown University with a total of 700 titles capable of being digitized.  At the current moment, 302 items have been digitized and made available on the digital library.

The digital library offers access to what could be considered as two different systems of metadata schema.  The first is discovered by choosing to view any record and then clicking 'View Description.'  This takes the user to a page where a thumbnail of the object and the object's primary title are displayed at the top.  Beneath this can be found the following metadata-esque criteria:  Other Titles, Publication/Creation, Creators and Contributors, Description, and Host Collection.  Every record this author accessed had corresponding information in each of these fields along with a unique and seemingly persistent identifier.  

The second system of metadata schema is a bit less obvious and is found by first accessing an item's record, clicking 'View Document Map,' and then clicking the link beneath the heading 'Metadata Record'.  If one manages to arrive here, then he/she will discover this digital library created by BUL follows and/or mixes both the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) and the Metadata Object Description Schema which are maintained by a department of the Library of Congress.  Each item accessed by this author was accompanied by a metadata record using these two schemas.

This author did not locate any information regarding the intimate details of BUL's digitization process.  However, some things are quite clear.  BUL appears to maintain a .TIFF archival standard for all digitized items as each item had a .TIFF record in its 'document map'.  These .TIFF files were not, of course, available to the public.  BUL also offers three types of .JPEG images:  thumbnails, low-resolution captures, and high-resolution captures.  The low-resolution captures do not offer zoom capability whereas the high-resolution captures offer a single level of zoom capability.  

Discerning the audience for this collection is a bit difficult.  Because these are all pieces of Yiddish sheet music, the possible intended audience could be musicians or vocalists looking to recapture the spirit of something from the past.  Or the intended audience could be anyone wanting or curious to study how Yiddish and/or German (this author was not quite sure which he was reading at times) was used in late 19th- and early 20th-century song.  Or perhaps the intended audience is individuals such as this author who may stumble across this digital library and find themselves fascinated by a series of notes they cannot hear and a series of words they cannot understand.

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