The Bodleian Library is the main research library at the University of Oxford. It is also one of the oldest libraries in the world, dating back to the 14th century. But the staff of the Bodleian operates very much in the 21st century, using the latest technology to solve their unique problems.

A few years ago, the library acquired a set of 4,000 popular piano pieces from the mid-Victorian period. There’s very little information available on these pieces, so Bodleian staff decided to use crowdsourcing to collect information on this corpus of music. Through a Google Focused Award, they have digitized and made the entire set of music available online.

By visiting the What’s-the-Score website, which opened yesterday, ‘citizen librarians’ can help by describing the scores and contributing to the creation of an online catalogue. They can also include links to audio or video recordings. This is the first time the Bodleian has used this approach to collect catalog information. Typically, a large group of researchers are required to find this information.

Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music at the Bodleian Libraries, commented: ‘In making the scores available online, they will not only be accessible for academic study and research but will also be there to enjoy for anyone who is interested in various aspects of Victorian music, culture and society.’

The Bodleian Library is one of dozens of recipients of Google Focused Awards. These awards are for research in areas of study that are of key interest to Google as well as the research community. These unrestricted gifts are for two to three years, and the recipients have the advantage of access to Google tools, technologies, and expertise. The Bodleian’s experiment in crowdsourcing to build up data on a specialized collection is timely and interesting, given the number of such collections becoming available on the web.