News and notes from your librarian: recreational media edition

 by Scott Martin, Biological Sciences Librarian, University of Michigan Library

The calendar tells me it’s September, and therefore that classes are starting, but it’s hard to tell from the makeshift workstation at my kitchen table. I love the quiet out here in the woods, but I also miss experiencing the excitement of a new semester in person. (And I am seriouslyjonesing for a pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffin from Bert’s Cafe in Shapiro!) While we’re not back to a pre-pandemic level of on-site service, the Library is expanding our offerings to meet the needs of the hybrid-instruction Fall semester, including contactless pickup of print materials; check out our Access During COVID-19 page for the full details.

Even though I’m not on campus this semester, I amresuming my weekly office hours: you can drop in via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday from 2-3 PM. (A U-M login is required, to cut down on Zoombombing.) I like to treat these sessions less as academic consultations and more as AMAs, so feel free to bring questions about Ann Arbor tattoo shops or SF/F lit as well as your library research needs! If you’d prefer a more formal consultation, you can also schedule a 1:1 Zoom call with me, or get in touch via email.

Speaking of genre literature: did you know that the U-M Library has a selection of recreational reading, including audiobooks, available online? You can take a look at the full list of sources using our guide to online recreational reading.Today I’d like to draw your attention to a new resource in that area: Overdrive. You may already be familiar with Overdrive though your local public library; if so, you can add the U-M collection as a new library to your existing account. If you’re new to Overdrive, we’ve got directions on how to get started.

I have access to Overdrive through both U-M and my local public library, and I’m finding that it’s worth having both linked to my account. The current U-M offerings are far smaller in number than the Chelsea Library’s, but I prefer the smaller lists for title browsing – it’s easier to look at a list of 150 titles than 2500. (Especially when Overdrive makes craptastic list-bloating moves like tagging all of the Rick Riordan novels as “mythology.” Oy.) There are also (currently!) many fewer users in the U-M collection, so it’s more likely that the item you want will be available for checkout right now. (For those using multiple libraries in Overdrive, here’s something I learned the hard way: if you add an item to your bookshelf in the Libby app, it only adds the listing from the library that you’re currently searching; if there’s an available copy at a differentlibrary that you can access, Libby won’t make that connection for you.)

While I like to lose myself in a good novel, my recreational medium of choice is music. If you’re feeling stuck with the same songs on rotation and want to break out to something new, here are some music-finding strategies I use:

Follow artists you like on social media. Musicians obviously use social media to advertise their own releases, but quite a few also highlight releases from friends or collaborators, or just things that they’re currently listening to, which can be useful in both identifying similar artists and in breaking into new territory, depending on how eclectic their listening habits are. This occasionally backfires, though: I was surprised to discover that I have irreconcilable political differences with a particular artist, and ended up dropping them from my feed for the sake of my blood pressure. If you don’t use social media, or don’t want artists’ self-promos cluttering up your feed, you can get some of the same effect by occasionally Googling for new interviews; use the date features in the Tools to limit results to the past year or two.

Cultivate media sources. Good music journalism can bring artists to your attention that you might otherwise have missed, or convince you to go back to an album that you’d previously dismissed. I’ve identified a few sources over the years that work for me, partly from artists’ posts on social media, but also from Googling for interviews or reviews of artists or albums that interest me and then checking out the sites that publish them. For general musical journalism, I usually resort to Pitchfork and The Quietus; I get metal coverage from Invisible Oranges, and electronic music from Resident Advisor. Bandcamp Daily only covers music that’s published on their platform, but that’s a pretty broad range, and they produce a great mix of “best of [genre] this month” articles as well as artist, genre/subgenre, and regional scene overviews that can expand your horizons in unexpected ways.

Use platform recommender tools. I assume that the majority of readers use one or more music streaming services (I use Spotify, but only sporadically, for reasons I’ll get into momentarily). Have you looked at the “related artists” feature on whatever platform you’re using? If you’re having trouble identifying a genre label for a specific artist or group of artists that you like, this can be a big help in finding related music. If you don’t stream music, you can get a similar effect by looking at the Amazon page for specific albums to see what else people who viewed or purchased that album were checking out.

Bookmark for later. Sometimes – maybe often! – you can’t or don’t want to check out that artist or album immediately. Make use of whatever “follow,” “favorite,” or playlist features are available on your preferred music platform to keep tabs on things that you want to revisit later. Or go old-school and make a spreadsheet, or keep a running list on your phone. Whatever works for you!

Finally, an admonition: buy music. Streaming-service plays are practically worthless for many artists as significant sources of income, and the pandemic has choked off most of their reliable live-performance revenue generators. If you want to keep getting new music from your favorite artists in the future, pay them now. Bandcamp is emerging as a best-of-breed platform for digital sales, especially since they’re waiving their cut of the proceeds on Bandcamp Fridays for the rest of the year, but purchases from Apple or Amazon work too. If you want to keep streaming for convenience, that’s fine – no one said you had to downloadthose MP3s you just bought! Alternatively, buy merch, or contribute to an artist’s Patreon if they have one. This admonition applies to music journalism as well – distribution may be radically cheaper than the days when everyone bought Rolling Stone or The Source at the newsstand, but writers and editors still put in the same hours, and they still need to eat. If your favorite outlets have subscription plans, use them.

That’s all for now! Join us next time, when hopefully I can get Sharon the shark to share their favorite playlists….