Book review

Music, Culture and the Library: An Analysis of Discourses In her latest book Sanna Talja looks at different library discourses, how these have changed over time, not least in post-industrial, post-modern society and in what way these discourses affect libraries, their choice of materials and their self-perception.Talja begins by giving a short introduction to the concept of discourse, underlining the fact that discourse analysis is not about finding accurate definitions of ‘the truth’ or a single reality, but instead seeks to uncover reality from the viewpoint of the person delivering the text. This introduction to discourse takes its inspiration from,among others, the works of French historian Michael Foucault and the British cultural researcher Stuart Hall. Talja emphasizes that her analysis of library discourses takes in the broader picture, placing the idea of the library in a wider historical and social context, for, as she notes, “production of meanings does not happen autonomously in any field of social action”.Talja studies the music repertoire from three different viewpoints –

  1. The common culture repertoire
  2. The consumer culture repertoire and
  3. The mosaic culture repertoire.

The common culture repertoire refers to an official institutionalised understanding of music, rooted as it is in the idea of the nation state where the music repertoire represents the best that the nation has produced. In this scenario music libraries (and libraries in general) serve an educational purpose in line with the perception of libraries as products of the enlightenment in particular and modernity in general. In the consumer culture repertoire music is seen as a product of the market where pop music (i.e. music that is not serious) is seen to have a dominant position within the musical field. In this setting music and art in general have been turned from cultural goods into consumer goods. Here the emphasis is no longer on educational goals but on surface and symbolic p roduction, which again is contrasted with ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ music which is created in various subcultures and forms a peripheral contrast to the mainstream centre. Finally the mosaic culture repertoire, which like the consumer repertoire is also a p roduct of postmodernity, focuses on institutional practices and the power relations of the various positions of those who define the cultural field of music. In this last repertoire Talja states that “the problem of cultural democracy is an ethical one” underlining the fact that the selection of materials has become a question of diversity and plurality.

Talja’s methodology is both theoretical and empirical. The author has conducted a number of interviews with music library users at Helsinki City Library’s main library in Pasila and the Töölö branch library, and quotes from these interviews are used extensively throughout the text to illustrate theoretical viewpoints and opinions. An interesting conclusion from the book is that the way library users define and talk about selection principles does not differ dramatically from the way library selection policy has been formulated over the years,leading one to infer that there exists a fairly clear consensus about the role of libraries in society today.While a rather superficial look at the three cultural repertoires might point in totally different directions,it can be concluded that they exist in the same contradictory space and can be used in different situations. Talja comments on the fact that the common cultural repertoire is often used in attempts to secure better financial support for libraries, the consumer culture repertoire is used to defend the library’s choice of materials for minority audiences while the mosaic culture repertoire is used in broader discussions of citizens’ cultural interests.

In conclusion. This is a well-written and interesting book which looks at the role libraries have to play in offering materials (and in this particular case music) to users and how this selection of materials invites different discourses from academics, musicians, library professionals and library users. While the issues discussed in the book are complex, the publication should appeal to both librarians and cultural researchers.

Andrew Cranfield deputy library director Slagelse County Library Music, Culture and the Library: An Analysis of Discourses By Sanna Talja. The Scarecrow Press. 2001. 239pp. Nyhavn 31E • DK 1051 Copenhagen K • Denmark • splq AT bs.dk

Deputy library director, Slagelse County Library.
Music, Culture and the Library: An Analysis of Discourses By Sanna Talja. The Scarecrow Press. 2001. 239pp.