Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

iTunes for librarians: Getting set up and importing music

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

One thing I do like is an organised physical music collection and a nicely organised digital music collection – albums in order, all with cover art etc). Strangely enough, the way I organise my physical and digital collections is different. Over the next couple of posts I’m going to discuss some tips you can use to assist in organising your iTunes library and describe how I arrange mine. If we treat this like any digitisation project we might undertake at work, we’ll end up with a future proofed, fully organised and catalogued music collection. Even though the world is moving to a streaming business model, I like owning the things I love and having something physical, so these tutorials will be based around starting off with a physical CD.

Getting music into your library

Working in a collecting institution it goes without saying that some of the workflows that happen in the workplace have flowed through to my personal processes. In the digital world, you always want to work off a master file that is the highest quality available. So for iTunes, this means ingesting any music in the highest possible quality – for iTunes this means using the Apple Lossless Encoder. Unlike the default AAC encoder, this compresses the file, but in a lossless manner, so when it’s decompressed during playback, it’s identical to the original. To my ears, I honestly can’t tell the difference between an Apple Lossless file & a 256kbps AAC compressed file but storage is cheap these days so it’s easy to do it correctly right from the very start. All I know is there’s no way I want to go back & copy all my CD’s all over again in sometime in the future when the next major file format comes into play.

So why go with Apple Lossless rather than something like an accepted standard like WAV (or even FLAC)? We’re talking iTunes here & that means everything becomes so much easier doing things the Apple way. FLAC files don’t play nicely with iTunes and a few tricks I’ll show you in a later lesson will only work with Apple Lossless (or AAC) files. The Apple Lossless encoder is open source, so hopefully it won’t become an obsolete format (there’ll at least be tools to convert it to another lossless format).

iTunes import settings dialog box

Getting the initial metadata right

When importing a CD, iTunes will automatically pull down metadata from Gracenote. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it’s not so great, so it’s worth taking a couple of minutes to get it right. I always go through and check the metadata for each track as well as the overall album metadata.

Once you are happy with both your settings and that the correct metadata is going to be assigned, go ahead and import your music.

Over the next series of tutorials, we’ll look at fine tuning the associated metadata to give us a highly organised library.

Forte: the National Library of Australia’s sheet music collection iPad app

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

A man walks into a reading room, hands over his iPad and says “Hi, my name is Jake and I’ve built this”…

Forte iPad

Let’s go back in time

In March 2011 the National Library placed a dataset of our sheet music collection up at This was to be used as one of the datasets for the LibraryHack competition. The dataset contained around 11,000 items from our sheet music collection, all the metadata, all the details about every page within each piece of sheet music and most importantly references to each image of the digitised page. This was a bit of a handcrafted dataset. Our regular API’s, like the Trove API, will only return information for the “top level” of the item, not the lower level details of every page.

We didn’t quite know what would happen with the dataset & how it would end up being used in the competition. Unfortunately it didn’t really get used in a major way in any of the entries and the dataset sat there gathering electronic dust.

Nearly 12 months later, totally out of the blue, someone walked into the reading rooms at the library, approached the person on the desk (who, as luck would have it was Sarah who was the project manager for our iPhone catalogue app), introduced themselves and said “Hi, my name is Jake & I’ve built this” & showed off what was the first prototype of what went on to become Forte.

At the time Jake was looking for a large dataset to help him solve a problem he was working on. He found our sheet music collection & built a proof of concept that helped him to solve his problem. Jake spent a lot of time at the Library working (and using our free wi-fi) and never realised that we had such an interesting collection. In approaching the library he wanted to find out what we thought. He had taken it as far as he could, but wanted some advice on how to take it further.

Over time, the Library worked with Jake to fine tune the app. The app initially started as an A-Z list of 11,000 items. We broke it up into decade by decade & attempted to show how many items were contained within each decade.  We also added a feature to be able to limit it to display who were the active composers within each time period. One thing we decided quite early on in the discussions was that there was to be no search. This was to be a discovery tool that displayed everything. We wanted people to explore.

The final app really has kept the core of Jake’s initial idea. It was refreshing to see someone outside the Library who was unfamiliar with the collection, navigate it & pull out the meaning of what was important and didn’t have preconceived ideas of how a collection had to be accessed. Likewise it was great being able to work with Jake & get the benefits of how he had approached similar problems within other non-library projects.

In keeping with the initial goals of making the data openly available, the Library has released the source code to the app under an open source license. Others can build upon what we have done.


To me there were three really important lessons to come out of this:

  1. Make your data available.
  2. Don’t expect things to happen immediately
  3. If you can, guide the developer to help them fine tune their product & give them insight into the intricacies of the data.

It was one of those perfect examples of everything falling into place with the right people being in the right place at the right time.

Forte is available now at the AppStore. I’m really excited about the story of how the app came into existence, our team that worked alongside Jake to take his idea & build something that I’m really proud of.  I hope you enjoy discovering our collections.

A Frasier moment

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

This morning I lined up to get a couple of tickets to the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s upcoming performance of Vivalidi’s Four Seasons.  What I didn’t know was that this morning tickets went on sale for the rugby league grand final.  You could image the dirty looks I got from the people in the line when I got to the front of the line and asked for classical concert tickets instead of the highly prized limited tickets!

I’m sure I’ll get just as much enjoyment out of my once in a lifetime concert as they will out of their once in a lifetime football game. 

Have I turned into Frasier Crane?