Meet the Problem Solvers: Andrew Wilson, Access Services Librarian

What does an Access Services Librarian do?

Access Services is a very new subdiscipline of librarianship in that it has a label and a name now: it’s only in the last five years that it’s been a recognized specialty in the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin: the various ways that we get materials into people’s hands or into their computers or into their eyes or into their ears. It encompasses things like deep storage, resource sharing and circulation. We are often on the front line of managing student workers and we frequently play a big role in space, and space planning. It’s kind of a catch-all for things that always existed but never under the same umbrella. It’s quite a variety. I think that’s one of the things that’s attractive about the field: not only is there never a dull moment but you’re usually not stuck doing the same thing for any long period of time.

How long have you been in this position?

Since 2007, as far as the Loeb Music Library is concerned [Andrew’s position takes him to several libraries on the Harvard campus].

Have you always done this job at the Music Library or did you start in a different position?

It was called different things but I’ve always done the same job. I’ve considered myself really lucky to be able to do so because of the stability it’s brought to my family and financial life, but also because it’s really what I enjoy the most about librarianship. We have the most contact with patrons, We get to learn what our students are studying, we get to learn what our faculty are researching, we get to hear about new ways of distributing information. It’s a really dynamic field that is very focused on our users.

What’s your favorite thing about the Music Library?

Given that I’ve been a professional musician [double bass] for almost 35 years, I really enjoy being able to put my subject knowledge to work in my professional life.

What project are you most proud of that you’ve worked on in the Music Library?

One of the most significant things with which I’ve been involved in the Music Library was discovering a major mold outbreak in time to save the books. That happened in 2006. Somebody came up from the basement stacks and said “It smells kind of musty down there, you might want to take a look.” Before I knew it, we were hiring a company in Texas to hand-clean 10,000 books.

Otherwise, I’m just proud to be, for so many people, the face of the library: to be able to get to know our constituents so well that often people will ask for me by name. I’m very proud of that.

What do you love most about your work?

Again, it’s the human contact.

What aspects of pandemic librarianship do you think might endure?

Converting to all-electronic access for course reserves has been a major challenge but overall it’s been extremely successful and has been a big factor in driving the academic experience forward during these unusual circumstances.

Where do you find comfort in these strange times?

Well, certainly with my wife and son. We also succumbed to what must have been a federal law that was passed during the pandemic that all empty-nest American couples had to adopt a dog, so we’re enjoying that a great deal. I’ve joked for many years that I was a dog person trapped in a cat marriage. I was finally able to get my dog in December, and that’s been a lot of fun.

A chocolate lab puppy named Woody is looking up at the camera. There is snow on the ground.

Andrew Wilson’s puppy, Woody

Thank you, Andrew! This interview was conducted by Christina Linklater on March 17th, 2021. It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Puirt-à-Beul – Mouth-tunes: or Songs for Dancing

title page from songbook with title and author

Title page from Puirt-á-Beul-Mouth-Tunes.

Ninety years ago, in 1931, Puirt-a-beul – Mouth-tunes, or Songs for Dancing as Practised From A Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland was reprinted with “few minor corrections” from its 1901 first printing. The song book was “collected and arranged” by Keith Norman MacDonald, a medical doctor in Scotland with an interest in Highland music. MacDonald is chiefly remembered for three works: The Gesto Collection of Highland Music (1895); The MacDonald Bards from Mediaeval Times (1900) and Puirt-a-Beul – Mouth-tunes: or Songs for Dancing as Practised from a Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland (1901).

An advertisement for the puirt-à-beul collection states that the volume includes, “120 Tunes, and in many cases several sets of words are given all sung to the same tune.” Puirt-á-beul is the Scottish Gaelic for “tunes from a mouth.” Although often used for dancing without instruments, contemporary performance often includes instrumental accompaniment.

Advertisement for songbook, reads These ancient dancing songs, relics of a bygone age, have been floating about the Highlands of Scotland for many centuries, and were collected by Dr. Macdonald in a fragmentary form just as they were on the eve of dying out entirely.

Advertisement for Puirt-á-Beul-Mouth-Tunes.

One example of puirt-à-beul music is the tune Ruidhle Mo Neighean Dhonn, or The Brown Haired Lass/Maid. The tune and lyrics from MacDonald’s book is provided and can be followed with this 1952 reel-to-reel recording from the digital sound recording archive Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, a site that includes oral recordings made in Scotland and further afield, from the 1930s onward.

notation and lyrics to Ruidhle Mo Nighean Dhonn

Reel notation and lyrics to Ruidhle Mo Nighean Dhonn.

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