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  • A Basic Music Library: Essential Scores and Sound Recordings, 4th ed., Volume 1: Popular Music ed. by Edward Komara
  • Sandi-Jo Malmon, Colin Coleman, and Maristella Feustle
A Basic Music Library: Essential Scores and Sound Recordings, 4th ed., Volume 1: Popular Music. Edited by Edward Komara. Chicago: American Library Association, 2017. [vii, 359 p. ISBN 978-0-8389-1039-9. $258.00 (ALA Members, $232.20)]

The long-awaited fourth edition of A Basic Music Library (hereafter, BML4) is divided into three volumes, the first of which is concerned with popular music. In a general introduction, editor Daniel Boomhower describes the intended audience as “anyone, regardless of musical training or experience, who is seeking to develop music collections in libraries of all kinds”. While its previous editions offered guidance to “library selectors” without a music background, BML4 acknowledges a broader audience “with training in some musical tradition, but with unequal command of all styles of music” (pp. vii–viii). Indeed, even among experienced specialists, no individual’s selections would be as comprehensive as the eleven chapters collaboratively compiled in this volume. With the exception of the first chapter’s mention of “music of Colonial North America and the United States up to about 1900”, the North American emphasis of the volume is generally implicit. Four main issues arise for commentary below: currency, canonicity, collecting practices, and coverage.

As technology and the field of librarianship continue to evolve quickly, any printed manual faces an uphill struggle not to go out of date between development and publication. BML4 went into development after the publication of the prior edition in 1997, through approximately the end of the following decade. Readers who are concerned about the currency of a volume on popular music substantially compiled several years before will find it reassuring that the resource is not frozen in time circa 2010. Rather, section author Susannah Cleveland confirmed by e-mail in February of 2018 that it underwent two revisions, first in 2012, and more extensively in 2016. Therefore, selections as recent as 2015 are present.

Readers will likely realise from experience that one of the easiest ways to start an argument among subject experts is to compile a list of “important” or “essential” items in a musical genre. In addition, reasonable concerns exist about unwittingly establishing a canon by what BML4 includes or excludes. To maintain the focus of BML4 as a practical manual, associate editor Edward Komara addressed issues of canonicity preemptively in a 2007 article in Notes, “Culture Wars, Canonicity, and ‘A Basic Music Library’ ” (64, no. 2 [December 2007]: 232–247), which Boomhower also cites in his introduction. A section heading in the article sums up the intentions for BML4: “Basic is not canonic” (p. 246). That is, exclusion does not connote a judgment of value; BML4 provides a starting point rather than boundaries.

One issue in which the time lag may work somewhat against BML4 is not content, but rather the evolution of collecting practices since the volume was first under development. The vast majority of titles in BML4 are recommended as compact discs, an emphasis which may better reflect the reality of library collections ten to fifteen years ago than in the present day. Both systematically-collected data and anecdotal evidence point to a decline in the circulation of and acquisition of compact discs by libraries, as services such as Hoopla have gained ground in public libraries, and users favor other streaming sources. In addition, as time goes on, the compact discs’ long-term preservation issues have become less theoretical. Moreover, in any medium, compressed digital audio is always a compromise of quality versus accessibility. Ironically, one may reasonably wonder if a BML volume developed today might have a much more robust selection of LP records, as they continue to undergo a surprising resurgence.

In any case, the enduring value of the selections in BML4 lies in the overall comprehensiveness of each section with respect to which artists and titles are represented, and in the individual works to which they call attention, regardless [End Page 174] of format. The various sections may well be a useful benchmark for determining the completeness of a streaming database of...


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