Library

Music Online Databases Expand Access to Recordings and Scores

[caption id="attachment_275630" align="aligncenter" width="248"]Echoes of Love Around the World album cover Echoes of Love Around the World. Recorded January 1, 2019. ARC, 2019, Streaming Audio.[/caption]

The Music Online database has long provided access to streaming recordings, scores, and scholarly information from the Jazz Library, Smithsonian Global Sound, Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, and Classical Scores collections. New content has recently been added to this repertoire. You may search each database separately or across the entire Music Online platform.

American Music is a history database that has songs by and about Native Americans, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included are the songs of the Civil Rights movement, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests, and more.

Classical Music Library includes more than 76,000 albums from the Medieval period through current times. This database is an excellent complement to the library's Naxos and Database of Recorded American Music collections.

Classical Scores Library now contains Volumes 2-4, in addition to Volume 1. These scores provide a reliable and authoritative source for scores of the classical canon, as well as a resource for the discovery of lesser-known contemporary works. It includes full, study, piano, and vocal scores.

Contemporary World Music delivers the sounds of all regions from every continent. The database contains important genres such as reggae, worldbeat, neo-traditional world fusion, Balkanic jazz, African film, Bollywood, Arab swing and jazz, and other genres such as traditional music like Indian classical, fado, flamenco, klezmer, zydeco, gospel, gagaku, and more.

Popular Music Library contains a wide range of popular music from around the world, including hundreds of thousands of tracks from major genres in pop music, including alternative, country, electronic, hip-hop, metal, punk, new age, R&B, reggae, rock, soundtracks, and many more.

For more information about other library streaming media collections, check out the Streaming Media guide.

 

Recording At Home Part 2 Workshop Addendum

This workshop, presented on Wednesday, September 23rd, was the second workshop in a series focused on recording high-quality audio in your own home. Besides providing the basic information about the hardware and software required for recording audio, the motivation behind this workshop was to provide an effective framework for building one's toolkit of audio recording equipment, with financial responsibility in mind.

Those who record their projects at home are most likely doing so out of necessity rather than choice. This is because recording in an untreated home is always less preferable to recording in a professional studio, even if for no other reason than concerns for acoustic quality. This also means that finances are very likely a concern when choosing what resources to buy/use for recording an audio project. The first thing one should consider when deciding which pieces of audio equipment (hardware or software) to invest in is the needs of the artist creating the project (or your own needs, if you are the artist). This will help determine which parts of a recording setup are most important to you, and therefore which pieces to invest the most money into.

For example, if you plan to do a lot of recording with vocals or acoustic instruments, it would be most wise to spend less (or no) money on things like a premium DAW (digital audio workstation) or third-party plugins. These software elements of a recording setup have no effect on the inherent quality of the audio that is being recorded. This would allow you to invest more of your budget into a high quality microphone and preamp combo, to ensure the captured audio is as clean as it can be. However, if you make most of your music using samples, electronic instruments, or recorded sounds to be edited, then the previously suggested scenario doesn't make much sense for you. Instead, you would likely be much happier with a simple and inexpensive USB microphone, which eliminates the need for a preamp. This would allow you to instead invest into a premium DAW like Ableton, along with some third-party samplers, sample packs, MIDI peripherals, or other virtual add-ons to expand your electronic music toolkit.

Hopefully, this workshop as given those who are recording at home a more clear picture of which pieces of equipment are most important for their needs. This should help achieve high quality and also minimal cost for recording audio, regardless of the format or intended outcome.

Check here for info on future workshops:

Digital Media Toolkit: Workshops

Using Functional Specification as a Tool for Project Communication

Digital projects involve complex collaborative networks, and they are at their strongest when they draw on the many different kinds of expertise that their participants have to share. At the same time, it can be challenging to draw together all of those different contributions of information, requirements, needs, and ideas in a single place. How do we bridge the differences in technical, cultural, and disciplinary knowledge within these teams, and create shared documentation that can evolve effectively during the project's full life cycle?

In the past few months, the Digital Scholarship Group has been experimenting with adapting the functional specification—a writing genre that originated in software application and system development—to serve as a tool for project communication. As part of the Northeastern University Library's recent LibCon event (a departmental sharing of projects and ideas among colleagues), members of the DSG presented a panel session that explored various aspects of this work from different perspectives. This post draws on those presentations to give an overview of the features, challenges, and possibilities of functional specifications in a digital humanities applied research group.

The genre of the "functional specification" in its original context covers several different types of terrain. As Senior DSG Developer Rob Chavez and Associate Director for Systems Patrick Murray-John described it, it captures important contextual information about the purpose and objectives of the project, the features and functions of the tool being developed (from the perspective of specific users and their needs), and the actors and entities (e.g. users, roles, and data) that are involved.

Functional specification definition flow chart

There are numerous benefits from gathering this level of detailed information at the inception of a project. At the level of practical planning, it provides concrete information that in turn makes it easier to develop design specifications, technical specifications, development plans, and tests to determine when a project has been successfully completed: if the functional specification describes a search function that returns results ranked by relevance, we know we're not done until that is working. Perhaps equally important for the DSG, the process of creating a functional specification fosters participatory collaboration among the project's constituents and prompts deep thinking about what the project is really seeking to accomplish, and helps the project agree on what it really needs before putting effort into building a working version. It also pulls together information that may be helpful for other purposes (such as grant-writing or publicity).

The functional specification also sits within a wider network of tools. Patrick Murray-John showed how the written document provides detail on specific features (such as searching, or viewing a map, or uploading a new file) which then gets translated into specific programming or design tasks which are stored in project management tools such as an issue tracker. While the functional specification provides a road map, the issue tracker provides a view of progress being made and enables the daily coordination of tasks and effort that are so necessary within a collaborative team. When a given feature is prototyped and eventually completed, the functional specification can then be used again as a confirmation that the real needs of the project have been met, and it can also serve as a place to record unfinished work that may have been out of scope—which in turn might feed into a future phase of the project's development, or support future fund-raising efforts.

Functional specifications, in their original context in the software development industry, typically operate within a fairly uniform technical team with a lot of shared skills and knowledge. As a result, the common practices and familiar features of this genre mostly focus on its practical and technical aspects: a data inventory, user stories, use cases, preconditions, the logical flow of operations from step to step within a given functional context. For the DSG, experimentation with functional specifications has focused on building out the genre in a few different directions. First, as DSG Director Julia Flanders described through the example of the Digital Archive of American Indian Languages Preservation and Perseverance (DAILP) project, the functional specification can function more effectively as a bridge between different parts of the project team if it includes deeper contextual information: not only user stories, but also detailed information about the motivations and investments of specific user communities, which in turn help the team understand how the project's data is shaped and why. In the case of the DAILP, understanding the differing needs of language learners, academic researchers, and language experts within the Cherokee tribes is crucial to technical design and decision-making at every level. As the DSG develops templates and guidance for project teams in writing functional specifications, we are putting greater emphasis on those topics and urging projects to use the functional specification as a prompt for early conversation. The DSG has also been experimenting with involving project teams more fully with creating the functional specification itself, rather than treating it as a purely technical genre. DSG Associate Director Amanda Rust discussed her work with the project team for the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) to develop detailed accounts of the project's working processes and research, a process that has empowered the group to imagine the functional possibilities more concretely, and intensified their sense of involvement and investment in the development process.

As Senior Digital Library Developer David Cliff pointed out in his contribution to the panel, one of the important roles of the functional specification is to bring clarity and consensus about project scope, and to avoid miscommunication or the dreaded "scope creep" that can occur when functional requirements aren't clearly laid out at the outset. At the same time, as he and others noted, research projects like these are by their nature prone to change as they explore new possibilities. And similarly the DSG, as an applied research group, is always venturing into unfamiliar territory where precise time estimates are difficult.

10-panel description of the design process.

The functional specification must therefore tread carefully between attempting to pin things down too closely or prematurely, on the one hand, and leaving things so underspecified that a project is never done, on the other. Iteration plays an important role here: sometimes a project team needs to see a prototype of a search results display before they can imagine the full set of facets and options that will make it truly useful. To be most useful, the functional specification needs to be able to establish achievable interim goals while also keeping track of the project's largest vision. It is thus always a living and evolving document, and as one audience member pointed out in the panel discussion, it needs to make that evolution possible.

The Digital Scholarship Group has thus far developed three draft functional specifications and a draft template which also documents our emerging practices in this area. In the coming year, there are several areas where further research and experimentation will be needed. First, we want to create a fuller template and more detailed documentation of how and when different parts of the functional specification are most useful, situationally. Second, we want to continue to experiment with involving project teams in the authoring process. Third, we need to develop effective means for translating specific functions from the specification into concrete development tasks (to be tracked via GitHub). And finally, we need to tackle the question of versioning, and create transparent mechanisms for allowing the specification to evolve without losing its documentary value or creating confusion.

Using PIVOT to Find Funding and Publishing Homes for Your Research

When it comes to finding research funding and publishing opportunities, PIVOT is a valuable resource to make the search a little easier. Interdisciplinary and current, PIVOT provides a variety of ways to access information about grants and calls for papers, and to identify potential research collaborators. The red bar at the top of the page allows users to search by Profiles of successfully funded research; browse and keyword search functions for publishing opportunities is under Papers Invited; and the Awards link provides details about awarded grants, researchers, and sponsors.

[caption id="attachment_275530" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The main page of the PIVOT database guides users on how to search for the latest funding and publishing opportunities for researchers.[/caption]

For new users to PIVOT, a good place to start would be to check out the menu options under Funding Discovery.

The tabs to the right of Funding Discovery allow you to search by text, sponsor, or keyword, and the latter provides a broad alphabetical listing of research topics.

For those that would rather see available resources in their particular research interest and check other related research subjects, users can explore an interactive feature that displays the scope of all available funding within the database. Click on the Funding Discovery link, then Take a Tour and browse by keyword to see how much money is available by research topic.

[caption id="attachment_275531" align="aligncenter" width="300"] This interactive tool breaks down how much funding is available for various fields or topics.[/caption]

As always, if you have any questions about using PIVOT, or any other library resources, contact your subject librarian.

Affordable course materials: reducing costs and promoting student success

We all remember textbooks. Memories of those big chunky books organized into chapters and sections, with tons of figures and charts explaining everything there is to know about a discipline. We stayed glued to them throughout each semester for the assigned activities and exercises they included. We studied them front-to-back for midterms and final exams.

From Anthropology to Zoology, textbooks are still used heavily. They are written by experts, reviewed by experts, and published by reputable academic publishers and other media companies—they are reliable. The problem is that prices have risen sharply, students in turn are paying more and must often turn to alternatives or choose different paths in the curriculum if none can be found.

Multiple studies have broken down the rise in the price of textbooks. A study concluded early in the last decade showed that between 2002 and 2012 the price of textbooks increased 82%. Another looked at 2006-2016 and found an 88% increase. More studies are underway. As the price of textbooks rises students are spending more; in the 2018-2019 academic year, students spent over $1200 a year on average on course materials, mostly textbooks.

When students can’t afford new textbooks, they have no alternatives but to pool funds to share books, rent, or purchase used copies, or use a copy on reserve at the library. Sometimes the only option is to purchase a new copy of a required textbook when the book includes accompanying online content in the form of activities, quizzes, or other coursework—a used or shared copy is of no use. Given these factors, in various surveys students have reported making decisions on which courses to enroll in based on what the required textbook(s) will cost.

It is no wonder there is a growing movement to utilize free/open educational content, and Northeastern University Library is on the front lines. Working with faculty and partners across the institution, librarians are helping faculty discover, evaluate, and integrate freely available textbooks and other Open Educational Resources (OERs), many of which are authored and reviewed by experts. In the case of Biology, multiple faculty members discontinued use of costly textbooks in favor of freely accessible, open texts: students enrolled in various Biology courses have saved over 100K since the summer of 2018. In related work, librarians are working to ensure faculty know how to maximize use of library-subscribed content such as online journal articles and e-books through dynamic reading-list creation tools and other services.

The library is actively presenting, creating partnerships, and raising awareness about the issues students face, and the options faculty have for finding and integrating alternatives and utilizing existing library content. Savings will continue to grow as the library works with more departments. The library is proud to be a part of this important movement.

For more information, visit the Affordable Course Materials guide.