Libraries: A Force for Change

​Panel discussion presentation

by Daniel J. Caron to the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres conference, Montréal, Quebec.

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Good morning.

I would like to thank the organizers of the conference for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to participate in today’s panel discussion.  Recently, I have had many opportunities to speak before various audiences concerning the changes that the digital landscape is bringing about in the core practices of memory institutions.

In short, what worked well during the period when information was encoded in an analogue format does not necessarily transfer into the digital domain.  In other words, the rules of the game have changed.  Those of you who are responsible for documenting the world of music have known this for a long time. I join the many observers who declare that the music industry is at the forefront of changes brought about by the evolution of information and communication technologies.

The music sector has become a benchmark for evaluating the importance of changes affecting existing business models. In addition, stakeholders in this sector have been able to take innovative measures to exploit the new possibilities offered by the digital ecosystem. In fact, most of those here today have experienced the profound changes in the way that music is recorded and distributed.

We have gone from vinyl records to cassettes, then compact disks before ending up at music libraries stored in the clouds, making it possible to broadcast music on multiple fixed or mobile devices. The music sector distinguishes itself by the facility with which consumers pass from existing platforms to more developed technologies.Musicians, producers and music publishers must therefore adapt to the rapid evolution of trends in the world of production and distribution.

The Internet recently triggered the most radical change.

Perhaps the most profound change came about as a result of file sharing networks.  For example, in eighteen months, Napster went from zero to fifty-two million users.  In the process, a significant change occurred in the packaging of music as users selected single songs rather than compilations.
Capitalizing on this change in consumption patterns, and the eventual effect of intellectual property rights litigation, Apple has gone on to become the world’s most profitable company.

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It markets both single songs and compilations through iTunes and sells the mobile devices through which the music is heard—the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.From the perspective of record companies, the use of the Internet as a principal means of distributing music brought drastic change for the industry.  Looking at the chart representing sales receipts globally by platform, we can see a steady rise in sales as consumers migrate from purchasing vinyl records to cassette tapes to the pinnacle of digitally encoded compact disks.

But as the popularity of the Internet grows, sales of recorded music begin to slow down.  This suggests that a major change is taking place in the music industry. Yet, looking at the next slide, the music market is booming.

There are greater content choices for consumers, more options for creators, and many more business opportunities.  For some record labels, revenues have decreased in the last decade.  However, more broadly, the music industry—encompassing independent labels, live performances, merchandise, music lessons, and the like—did extremely well.

Statistics from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry indicate that sales in the broader music industry, which include revenues from music in radio advertising, recorded music sales, musical instrument sales, live performance revenues, and music-playing devices, grew from $132 billion in 2005 to $168 billion in 2010.

Dramatic growth was seen in live music in particular. From 1999 to 2009, concert ticket sales in the United States tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion, vastly exceeding the growth of inflation and population.Indeed, it used to be straightforward to define and measure the industry as a whole—you just made a list of all the record labels and added up their revenues and profits. With changes to the consumption and creation of music, this sector is becoming more complex.

And building collections was also more straightforward, as libraries, including music libraries, were essentially tied to a traditional publishing model. Today, however, a growing share of musical output is being produced by companies or individuals with a much greater diversity of styles, quality, and business models.  In other words, we have seen a significant democratization of the production and distribution of music. Anybody, even I, can create music and publish it on the Internet.

Consequently, an institution like Library and Archives Canada, with its mandate to capture, preserve, and render accessible the documentary heritage of Canadian society, must recognize that if it is going to be truly representative, it must go beyond the traditional ways.

For example, we reviewed two possibilities of making the items in our analogue documentary holdings more accessible to the general public. The first, of course, consists of digitizing part of our analogue documentary holdings.  The Virtual Gramophone is a LAC multimedia website devoted to the beginning of sound recording in Canada. It provides an overview of the era of 78s. The database contains images and information on over 15,000 78-rpm and cylinder recordings marketed in Canada. It also contains information on foreign recordings featuring artists who are Canadian or who present Canadian compositions.

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We also collaborated with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to return Glenn Gould’s piano and famous chair to that institution.  This transfer is a good example of a LAC item that will be kept in a more appropriate location. Had the piano remained in LAC’s collection, it would never have been used probably. It can now be used occasionally and admired by people in a public place.

I am proud of these realizations. At the same time, I am aware that, in regard to logistics, both projects fall into the category of simple problems.  Not that they were easy to do. On the contrary, there was quite a bit of work required. But we didn’t have to deal with the dynamic complexity that is commonly referred to as a “wicked problem.”

Evidently, the question of how we can capture and preserve the digitally encoded music that is distributed on the Internet and comprises a component of Canada’s documentary heritage is a “wicked problem.”

There are many dynamics that come into play.  As technologies are more and more accessible to all and the size of networks grows exponentially, musicians operating from a do-it-yourself mindset can now create, arrange, edit, and market their works as never before. As a result, the volume, the variety of music, and the diversity of communication channels used have multiplied, making the comprehensive identification of Canadian content extremely difficult.  But, like other information resources available on the Internet, new music can have a very short shelf life.

That means we can’t wait twenty to thirty years before making decisions on capture and preservation.  Moreover, how should we treat the constant sampling, remixing, and repurposing that digitally encoded music offers?  For example, a recording might reach a certain level of success and then go viral as a result of being embedded in another piece of music or another medium like a commercial, video, or film.

And considering the tendency of people to post links to music on Facebook and on Twitter, should we not also be documenting the social contexts in which music is being transmitted?  We need not look any further than the phenomenal success of Justin Bieber who rose from amateur status, posting his videos on YouTube, to that of international celebrity.

With its relative ease of use, the Internet offers musicians incredible access to a worldwide audience in which notoriety can be gained over night. Certainly, if we are to capture and preserve our emerging digital musical heritage, we will need to be much more proactive than in the past, moving the first interventions for preservation purposes toward the moment of creation.  And to enable future generations to make sense of what it is we have decided to bring to their attention, we will also need to take a whole-of-society approach with regard to the breadth of the performances and the contexts in which music is being made.  Given the complexity of the task, a silo approach is not up to the challenge. 

Recently, we have seen institutions embarking on new collaborative projects.For example, the National Music Centre in Calgary is working with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to collect and exhibit the Canadian Music Hall of Fame Collection.

More and more, continued and deliberate collaboration is called for and I firmly believe that Library and Archives Canada can be counted on to be a valuable partner in any joint efforts to bring more of Canada’s musical heritage to Canadians.

Thank you.

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