Reflections of a GSLA

Submitted by shawreb on
Tegan Niziol, Graduate Student Library Assistant

I have worked as a graduate student library assistant (GSLA) at the University of Toronto Music Library for the past five years. I entered the position as a second-year master’s student, and now I am closing the chapter on this remarkable stage in my academic career as I enter the homestretch of my PhD degree in musicology. My time as a GSLA has been a period of tremendous personal and professional growth, and I would highly recommend the position to anyone interested in honing their existing music and research skills or equipping themselves with new transferrable tools that could lead to future career opportunities in libraries and beyond. In this blog post, I discuss several of the projects I worked on during my tenure at the Music Library, describing the different parts of each task and reflecting on the skills I gained along the way.

I spent my first year working on an ambitious cataloguing project, the goal of which was to create digital catalogue records for the Music Library’s extensive LP record collection. Before initiating the project, the LPs were catalogued on physical index cards – a form of library catalogue I had never actually used myself! This project was my first extended engagement with LP records. Under the expert guidance of James Mason (Metadata & Digital Initiatives Librarian), I learned about all the important forms of metadata associated with LPs, and how to build and edit MARC records, and I spent many hours inspecting the physical items themselves and admiring the fascinating album artwork.

A second large-scale project I worked on during my GSLA career involved expanding the Faculty Events database to include concerts from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. This process involved digitizing recordings from reel-to-reel tapes (I did not do this part), creating a database of program information for each of the individual concerts (I did do this, with the help of a very useful computer program developed by James), separating audio files of full-length concerts into individual tracks (I did this as well), and matching program information to the music (this was my favourite part!). Ensuring that each concert piece was matched with the correct program and title proved to be a fun game of “name-that-tune.” Working on this project just so happened to coincide with my doctoral comprehensive exams, during which I was tested on my ability to identify random musical works. Confirming the identity of countless pieces of music from the Faculty Events recordings was an excellent way to study!
When I was working onsite at the Music Library before the pandemic, I was also tasked with processing the new serials. This process involved adding the new issues to the online catalogue record, stamping and bar-coding new issues, and then placing them on display in the Music Library. This task certainly kept me apprised of the latest developments in music research.

One of my favourite GSLA tasks was helping patrons find books and research both in person and virtually. I loved interacting with students, faculty, and other library users, hearing about their interests and research projects, and the satisfaction of finding the perfect item for someone after a long search! This part of my job was an excellent opportunity to meet different people and stimulate myself to think about research topics far outside my own area of musical expertise. 

Working remotely for the Music Library for the past year has obviously been very different and I have had the opportunity to learn new skills that will be incredibly valuable no matter where the next part of my career takes me. At the beginning of the pandemic, Tim Neufeldt (Instructional Librarian) and I worked diligently together to turn his typical in-person library workshops into library instructional videos. We both became accomplished amateur video producers throughout the process!

Finally, across the past year, I have also had the opportunity to contribute to the Music Library’s action plan to support BIPOC music studies. With Tim’s invaluable support and guidance, I developed a library research guide intended to assist students find music and research by and about BIPOC musicians. Tim and I also presented at two music library conferences about supporting BIPOC music studies, and we are currently submitting an article about our work for publication.

I am so incredibly grateful for my time as an employee of the University of Toronto Music Library. I owe a great deal of thanks to my co-workers who facilitated my learning in the position. I had the absolute pleasure of working alongside a group of dedicated, hardworking, friendly, and supportive colleagues. I owe a special thanks to my immediate supervisors, Tim and James, who were excellent teachers and mentors, and our Head Librarian Jan Guise, who has been our rock during the uncertainties of the pandemic. The opportunities afforded to me as a GSLA to contribute to the UofT music community were incredibly rewarding. Even as I strived to assist library patrons in their musical pursuits through all my GSLA duties, I truly believe I gained more than I gave.