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Boston Symphony Orchestra celebrates musical history with CONTENTdm

Since 2008, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has used CONTENTdm to share and manage its rich digital collections. The Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives houses printed programs, press clippings, posters, photographs, administrative files, and an extensive collection of audio and visual materials such as recordings of rehearsals and concerts, radio broadcast tapes of concerts, television programs featuring BSO or Pops performances, and commercially released recordings. The BSO’s diverse digital collections are organized by material type such as image, programs, and audio. BSO staff selected CONTENTdm to optimize content visibility, especially since digital collections can be discovered and accessed through WorldCat.

The BSO was one of the early adopters of CONTENTdm’s new responsive website. Sarah Donovan, the BSO’s Associate Archivist for Digital Assets, said that they are pleased with the new interface, adding that their collections display very well within the responsive website. They have scanned PDFs of symphony performance program books, which load quickly in the new interface. Bridget Carr, Director of Archives and Digital Collections added that they particularly appreciate the way their CONTENTdm site adapts well to all devices.

The Tanglewood Music Center Audio Collection is the BSO’s most recent digital collection project, a streaming audio collection in CONTENTdm. This project was funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Grammy Foundation. It involves the preservation reformatting of audio files, creation of streaming MP3s, creation of metadata, and linking the streaming audio files to HENRY (the BSO's performance history search engine). The audio can be accessed either via HENRY or via collections.bso.org. 

Sarah shared that the BSO is very happy with how the audio files work within CONTENTdm. They developed a workflow in which end users create a WorldCat user ID and then submit a Google form with this ID in order to request access to the collection. Then, the BSO adds the WorldCat user ID to the CONTENTdm collection profile, turning the end user into an approved user. Once external users have been approved, they can log in via their WorldCat user name and password. This workflow was created to mirror the in-person reading room experience. Sarah added that they valued the ability to customize the CONTENTdm website text to replace the default text with a list of instructions outlining how to create an account via WorldCat.

The BSO also uses CONTENTdm’s Google Analytics integration to track audio play so staff can create quarterly reports to submit to performing rights organizations. The set-up and workflow for this audio collection has been an experiment, and they have enjoyed learning about their users. The BSO anticipates using the analytics from this collection to help bolster future grant applications.

The BSO Photos collection is very popular with the BSO’s users, and it showcases photos of conductors, musicians, and guest soloists. These photos date to 1881 when the BSO was founded. The Program collection is also quite popular, and it is linked to HENRY. This collection contains concert programs relating to BSO performances at Symphony Hall from 1881–2011, BSO trip performances from 1889–1975, and BSO Tanglewood performances from 1946–2010. To learn about performances and view the program notes, users can search for materials in HENRY and then access them in CONTENTdm. Programs can also be downloaded and shared.

Up next for the BSO Archives: staff would like to work on a grant for scanning concert reviews that date back to 1889 and link them to their performance history as well. The BSO Archives looks forward to using CONTENTdm to continue to share their many treasures relating to symphony performances.

Formal portrait of Karl Muck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the stage of Symphony Hall

Formal portrait of Karl Muck and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the stage of Symphony Hall