For the last in our Meet the Problem Solvers series, Kerry Masteller spoke with Christina Linklater about metadata, microforms and magic.
So, tell us a little bit about what you do, Christina.
In my role as Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library, I mostly manage the movement of special collections materials at the Music Library. I also co-administer our exhibition program with my colleague Patricia O’Brien, provide reference assistance to patrons and direct the United States RISM Office. That’s one half of my week. The rest of my week is spent as a music cataloger at Houghton Library.
What’s different about those two jobs?
Well, at Isham I’m in a public-facing role most of the time, ready to assist anyone who needs help with Isham’s materials specifically or special collections research generally. At Houghton I spend my entire day at a desk in the stacks, making records that then appear in HOLLIS.
What role do special collections play at the University?
I’ve seen students encounter Isham’s collections in the classroom, as well as for their research and to discover new repertoire. I also think that the presence of Isham is valuable for students as a place to meet visiting scholars, who find that it is simpler to travel to Isham with its 40,000 microforms than to visit multiple libraries. Bringing together researchers at different stages of their careers is something that special collections is uniquely suited to; while we exist at and for Harvard, a collection like Isham’s can’t help but attract a wide user community, and it’s really nice to witness those interactions.
What’s an Isham Memorial Library secret that more people should know?
That the lives and works lists of composers, particularly composers who are not white men, are much more complex, important interesting than most reference sources can tell you. For instance, Isham’s Joyce Mekeel collection was catalogued after the Grove article came out, and the finding aid says so much about Mekeel and her work that that writer simply couldn’t have known. Same with the collections of Fred Ho and Aziz El-Shawan: all stories can be enriched by looking at archival materials, but it’s especially striking in the stories of people like Mekeel and El-Shawan who published not at all or very little in their lifetimes, leaving these large bodies of manuscript scores that are just quietly waiting for you at Isham.
If we could magically go to a concert right now, what would we be hearing?
How magical is this performance? Like, can we bring people back from the dead?
It is as magical as you want it to be.
Right! Let’s go to Glenn Gould’s cottage on Lake Simcoe, then, where he’ll play the Goldberg Variations. First the drastic 1955 version, followed by the twilight 1981 version. We’ll sleep well after that.
This interview was conducted by Reference and Digital Program Librarian Kerry Masteller. It was condensed and edited by Christina Linklater for clarity.