News of a potentially interesting archival item triggers an attack of insatiable curiosity. I must confess that the musicologist is somewhat more triggered than the custodian!
So, I have a few questions that need answered. Where and when was the original owner born? When did they leave Scotland? What did their Scottish ancestry/identity mean to them?
And most importantly, was ‘Scottish’ music a significant part of their repertoire?
As I mentioned in earlier posts, my librarianship is amply qualified, and embodies four decades of expertise, but musicology and research came first. The musicologist is buried beneath the outer librarian, and can’t help bubbling to the surface when an intriguing possibility presents itself!
If I can answer these initial questions satisfactorily, then I’ll want to explore further. I think you can guess what I need to do this morning!
AND LATER …
Well, the original owner called themselves Scottish. But they were born in England of a Scottish mother. Should I order their birth certificate? It’s not cheap, and could arrive too late to be useful. But … !
The government moved the goalposts – when I started work, I imagined I’d have retired by now. Instead, I’ve worked an extra five years, with one more to go. I shall hit 66 in summer 2024. I don’t want to retire entirely, but I must confess I’m utterly bored with cataloguing music! (Except when it turns out to be a weird little thing in a donation, perhaps shining a light on music education in earlier times, or repertoire changes, or the organisation behind its publication – or making me wonder about the original owner and how they used it … but then, that’s my researcher mentality kicking in, isn’t it?!)
Status Quo: Stability and Stagnation
Everyone knows I’m somewhat tired of being a librarian. Everyone knows that my heart has always been in research. Librarianship seemed a good idea when I embarked upon it, and it enabled me to continue working in music, which has always been my driving force. But the downside of stability – and I’d be the first to say that it has been welcome for me as a working mother – has been the feeling of stagnation. No challenges, no career advancement, no extra responsibility. Climbing the ladder? There was no ladder to climb, not even a wee kickstep! (I did the qualification, Chartership, Fellowship, Revalidation stuff. I even did a PhD and a PG Teaching Cert, but I never ascended a single rung of the ladder.)
In my research existence, I get a thrill out of writing an article or delivering a paper, of making a new discovery or sorting a whole load of facts into order so that they tell a story. I love putting words on a page, carefully rearranging them until they say exactly what I want them to say. I’m good at it. But as a librarian, I cannot say I’m thrilled to realise that I’ve now catalogued 1700 of a consignment of jazz CDs, mostly in the same half-dozen or so series of digital remasters. (I’d like to think they’ll get used, but even Canute had to realise that he couldn’t keep back the tide. CDs are old technology.)
The Paranoia of Age
But what really puzzles me is this: when it comes to the closing years of our careers, is it other people who perceive us as old? Is age something that other people observe in us? Do people regard us as old and outdated because they know we’re close to retirement age?
Or do we bring these perceptions upon ourselves because of our own attitudes to our ageing? Does my own perception of myself affect the way people perceive me? Do I inadvertently give the impression that I’m less capable? Do I merely fear that folk see me as old and outdated because Iknow I’m approaching retirement age? A fear in my own mind rather than a belief in theirs?
How many people of my age ask themselves questions like these, I wonder?
Am I seen as heading downhill to retirement? Increasingly irrelevant? Worthy only to be sidelined, like the wonky shopping-trolley that’s only useful if there’s nothing else available?
Is my knowledge considered out-of-date, or is it paranoia on my part, afraid that I might be considered out of date, no longer the first port-of-call for a reliable answer?
When I queue up for a coffee, I imagine that people around me, in their teens and early twenties, must see me as “old” like their own grandparents. And I shudder, because I probably look hopelessly old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. But is this my perception, or theirs? Maybe they don’t see me at all. Post-menopausal women are very conscious that in some people’s eyes, they’re simply past their sell-by date. I could spend a fortune colouring my hair, and try to dress more fashionably, but I’d still have the figure of a sedentary sexagenarian who doesn’t take much exercise and enjoys the odd bar of chocolate! (And have you noticed, every haircut leaves your hair seeming a little bit more grey than it was before?)
Similarly, I worry whether my hearing loss (and I’m only hard of hearing, not deaf) causes a problem to other people? Does it make me unapproachable and difficult to deal with? I’m fearful of that. Is it annoying to tell me things, because I might mis-hear and have to ask for them to be repeated? Or do I just not hear, meaning that I sometimes miss information through no fault but my own inadequate ears? Friends, if you thought the menopause was frightening, then believe me impending old age is even more so. I don’t want to be considered a liability, merely a passenger. And I know that I’m not one. But I torment myself with thoughts that I won’t really be missed, that my contribution is less vital than it used to be.
Gazing into the Future
I wonder if other people at this stage would agree with me that the pandemic has had the unfortunate effect of making us feel somewhat disconnected, like looking through a telescope from the wrong end and perceiving retirement not so much a long way off, as approaching all too quickly? The months of working at home have been like a foretaste of retirement, obviously not in the 9-5 itself (because I’ve been working hard), but in the homely lunch-at-home, cuppa-in-front-of-the telly lunchbreaks, the dashing to put laundry in before the day starts, hang it out at coffee-time, or start a casserole in the last ten minutes of my lunchbreak. All perfectly innocuous activities, and easily fitted into breaks. But I look ahead just over a year, and realise that I’ll have to find a way of structuring my days so that I do have projects and challenges to get on with.
Not for me the hours of daytime TV, endless detective stories and traffic cops programmes. No, thanks! Being in receipt of a pension need not mean abandoning all ambition and aspiration. I want my (hopeful) semi-retirement to be the start of a brand-new beginning as a scholar, not the coda at the end of a not-exactly sparkling librarianship career. If librarianship ever sparkles very much!
I’m fortunate that I do have my research – I’m finishing the first draft of my second book, and looking forward to a visiting fellowship in the Autumn. As I wrote in my fellowship application, I want to pivot my career from this point, so that I can devote myself entirely to being a researcher, and stop being a librarian, as soon as I hit 66. And I want to be an employed researcher. I admire people who carve a career as unattached, independent scholars, but I’d prefer to be attached if at all possible!
Realistically, I will probably always be remembered as the librarian who wanted to be a scholar. At least I have the consolation of knowing that – actually – I did manage to combine the two.
Vol. 11 No. 1 (2023): Special Issue on Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice
Special Issue of JPAAP exploring and addressing issues, dimensions and initiatives related to ensuring a greater gender parity and representation within academic institutions, academic and academic-related work, and related professional practices. Guest edited by Alexandra Walker and Keith Smyth. (Published:2023-02-22)
When I graduated with my PhD in 2009, there was a flurry of interest in me as a ‘mature’ postgraduate, and my ‘portfolio career’. There’s only one problem – it isn’t a portfolio career! I work in one place, full-time, on a full-time salary. I’m not self-employed, nor do I do a little bit of this and that for different employers. It’s correct that I spend 0.7 of my time as an academic librarian, and 0.3 of my time as a researcher. If I had any aspirations at the start of my librarianship career, it was to be a scholar librarian of some kind, and as you see, that IS where I’ve ended up. I don’t claim that it exactly reflects who I am now – in my head, I’m more scholar than librarian.
So, if I don’t consider myself a good example of a portfolio career, then here’s another conundrum: do I do interdisciplinary research? If at some times I’m writing about librarianship, and at other times I’m writing about nineteenth to twentieth-century music publishing, does that make my research interdisciplinary? I guess it probably does, even if the librarianship and the music publishing seldom meet! I’m often contemplating the social context of whatever I’m researching. And just occasionally – like my recent article about Clarinda Webster – I manage to mention librarianship, music publishing AND social history in one fell swoop.
At other times, my research finds its way into the librarianship quite naturally. This week, the RCS Library is having a series of events throwing a Spotlight on Diversity. I’ve written a short blogpost about Scottish Women Composers as one of my contributions. The names I’ve suggested are just a start – and I haven’t attempted to include every Scottish woman who wrote a tune, because I’m assuming our students are basically looking for recital repertoire. My research has led me to several more women who made their own unique contribution, but they’ll get a mention in the book I’m currently writing. Their pieces aren’t necessarily recital repertoire, or even easily sourced today.
When I’m sent an e-badge by my professional organisation, it would be churlish not to use it, wouldn’t it? But I wasn’t quite sure where to put it, so I’ll leave it here for now. I’m a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals; a music librarian; and a musicologist.
Librarian. Time mainly spent cataloguing and working on the library equality and diversity project. In connection with this, I’m commited to giving a talk next month, and to submitting a librarianship-related journal article arising from a talk I gave earlier this year.
Musicologist. [2nd] book proposal submitted. Already committed to producing two book chapters for essay collections being edited by other folk.
Librarian meets Musicologist. Article straddling both worlds, due out in the next month or so. Also giving a talk in Edinburgh in June, in my capacity as Honorary Wighton Librarian.
If only I had a garden big enough for a secluded Writing Shed!
Today, I was pleased to receive notification of the latest issue of Brio, the journal of my professional association. I’ve been a member of IAML(UK and Ireland) for – well, over 35 years now! The latest issue has my review of a book by a scholar whom I admire greatly – it was a privilege to review his book, and of course I am delighted to add the review copy to my own bookshelves as well! I’ve uploaded a copy of the review to our institutional repository – it’ll go live in the next few days – but for now, here’s the citation, and a direct link to my review:-
Brio vol.57 no.2, Autumn/Winter 2020, pp.74-76,
Review of:- James Porter, Beyond Fingal’s Cave: Ossian in the Musical Imagination (University of Rochester Press, 2019)
Someone on Twitter asked, ‘What have you achieved this year that you’re proud of?’
DISCLAIMER (also posted on my Teaching Artist blog). It troubles me slightly that earlier in the pandemic, reading other people’s updates about all their achievements just made me feel guilty. All I was doing was working from home and keeping everyone safely looked after. Nothing heroic, nothing remarkable. I’ll be honest, my kneejerk reaction to such postings was a combination of, “come on, guys, do you have to?” and “well, I can’t be seen to be slacking here!” But the truth of the matter is that no-one fully knows other peoples’ situations – how much they’re struggling, whether they have caring responsibilities, or indeed, what their work-life balance is – whether they’ve chosen it or found it forced upon them.
Comparisons are Futile
I suppose the moral is that it’s pointless to try to compare oneself with other people. I’ve been in Glasgow nearly 33 years, still on the same grade, despite having gained a doctorate, a teaching certificate, and two fellowships. Written a book, published a lot, given plenty of research papers. Still – in terms of time allocation – more of a librarian than a postdoc researcher.
“You’re a bloody librarian, woman!”
I was once told, “You’re a bloody librarian, woman!” In the west of Scotland, the “I kennt your faither” philosophy – not allowing someone to forget their place or where they came from – is still alive and well, and if I’m on the same grade, I’m forced to conclude that my value has not increased. It’s very depressing.
Failed in the Eyes of One who Climbs Ladders
A former colleague once said that if one wasn’t moving jobs and climbing the ladder, then one was a failure. This philosophy favours men and people without children. I do admire people with ambition. I also admire and envy people who are less ambitious, but who are content with where they’re at. As for me, I’m still struggling with thwarted ambition, three and a half years before retirement! I should very much like to have moved jobs and climbed the ladder – anyone who thinks I’m unambitious, really doesn’t know me. However, I’ve raised three sons (who have benefited enormously from the Scottish education system, which is why we didn’t want to leave Scotland!) and I got those extra qualifications whilst working full-time. (Apart from statutory maternity leaves, I’ve always worked full-time.) If I’m a failure for not getting promoted – guilty as charged – then I do have a few good excuses. And I did recently get a Special Note of Commendation from my CILIP researcher colleagues, which was heartening.
Coast Downhill? No Way!
During the Covid pandemic, I’ve pushed myself to achieve as much as I could, because I didn’t want to find myself sliding towards an unwanted, age-related slowing down. I am not yet of retirement age, and I can’t bear to think that inactivity might see me slipping out of the research scene before I’m ready. So this is posted in the spirit of demonstrating that I’m still here, still research-active, and not yet ready to be written off!
I broke my foot, baked banana bread, put on weight, and once my foot was better, I put myself on a diet and exercise regime to lose some pounds. I’ve made gallons of soup, and done 95% of the housework. (Two of the three of us are over sixty – and two are oblivious to housework or the absence of our weekly cleaner!)
But in terms of research? Working from home since March, I’ve benefited from a mostly peaceful dining room (albeit a thoroughfare to the kitchen), and gained my commuting time along with the new responsibility of cooking most weekday meals. The allocation of my time to library (70%) and research (30%) is unchanged. I’ve done my user education and made several training videos in my library role, and I love this side of it. But I fight a compulsion to answer library emails at any time of the day or night (even the day after Boxing Day) for fear of being considered unhelpful if I don’t – whilst research would swallow me up whole, without any resistance from me, if I didn’t occasionally get dragged away from it! I freely admit that I have absolutely NOT limited my research activities to ten hours a week. It makes me excellent value, but I’m reaching the point where I feel I cannot try much harder, and it won’t really make any difference to my career trajectory. If one can have a flat trajectory in the first place!
Quite apart from wanting to achieve “outputs”, I have tried to take the attititude that it is easier to attend a Zoom conference than to arrange for everything to run smoothly in my absence attending a “real” live event in a diffferent city.
So, how have I done this very weird year? I am not dissatisfied.
‘A Music Library for St Andrews: use of the University’s Copyright Music Collections, 1801-1849’, in Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society no.15 (2020), pp.13-33.
Romantic National Song Network blogpost, 9 Sept 2020, ‘Revisiting the Achievements of Song-Collector Alexander Campbell’
‘The sound of forgotten music: Karen McAulay uncovers some of the great female composers who have been lost from history’. The People’s Friend, Special Edition, 11 Sep 2020, 2 p. Dundee : D C Thomson.
‘Performative Silence in the Library’, Icepops Annual 2020: International Copyright Literacy Event with Playful Opportunities for Practitioners and Scholars, ed. Chris Morrison and Jane Secker, p. 32-33
This is a piece of news that I received via IAML (International Association of Music Libraries) and the MLA (the Music Library Association, an American organisation). Copying and pasting shamelessly, because this is news that’s bursting to get out, I offer you this exciting snippet:-
The Music Division of the Library of Congress has launched a new site with scans of approximately 2,000 books on music published before 1800. The scans were made from microfilmed versions of the books.