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BC Library Conference 2020

T17 - Lessons from SIMSSA: Reuse and access in a large-scale music search project.

Thursday, April 16, 2020 at 3:15 PM–4:00 PM Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Meeting Room #2
Session Description

SIMSSA (Single Interface for Music Score Searching and Analysis) is a seven-year federal partnership grant between McGill University and several libraries and universities worldwide, focused on making digitized sheet music collections more approachable. This requires developing optical music recognition (OMR) technology to convert images of sheet music into a machine-readable format, enabling full-“text” search for music. This means we can play back scores automatically and search for tunes and chord progressions. Computer-aided music research also becomes possible: scholars can quantify differences between similar composers, study stylistic change over time, or determine who may have composed a piece with unknown attribution. However, there are implications beyond music for anyone working with digital collections. Digitization and encoding let us shape what is available – will we reproduce the “canon” as we found it, or find ways to improve? (Kijas 2018). We may want to “digitize it all” but resources are finite. Reuse should be a primary concern, not an afterthought; then we can avoid redoing the classics over and over. While it’s crucial to recognize that not everything should be digitized (Robertson, 2016), and that sometimes justice demands restrictions on access (Christen, 2017), public domain sheet music does not typically fall into these categories. Therefore we aim to build a culture where reuse and accessibility are the default, including creative commons and free software licenses, open access repositories and journals, and workshops and other forms of dissemination. However, we also want to contribute back to common resources. For example, we may discover or have access to metadata that is missing from entries in RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales) – working with them, we can fill these gaps. Strategies like this mean that someday, someone who’s never heard of SIMSSA can still benefit from our work, long after the grant has ended.


Emily Hopkins, McGill University

Emily Hopkins is a Project Manager in the McGill Music Technology department since 2015. Alongside administrative work, she has contributed to various research projects, most recently sharing work on the SIMSSA Database at the Digital Libraries for Musicology conference in Delft (2019). Previously, she earned a Master’s in musicology at McGill (MA 2015), and studied oboe at UBC (B. Mus. 2011). Emily has also worked for The Banff Centre and the Vancouver Bach Children’s Chorus and Youth Choirs, and taught at the Saint James Music Academy (Vancouver). She will receive her MLIS from the University of Alberta in Spring 2020.