WU Libraries Staff Spotlight: Karen Olson

The Spotlight is an occasional feature that will profile a Libraries staff member.

olson_karen[1]Karen Olson began work as technical services assistant at the Gaylord Music Library in August 2015. She oversees digitization activities, serials management, and the processing of print materials. She also coordinates contributions to the Libraries’ online sheet music archives. Karen holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Valparaiso University and a master of music degree from Western Michigan University. Currently a PhD candidate in historical musicology at Washington University, she plans to complete her dissertation in December 2016.

What’s the best part of your job?

Working with the sheet music. Every now and then I come across something hilarious or appalling. I think my favorite find so far is “The Bible I’ve Always Read Is Good Enough for Me, or, Grandma’s Opinion of the Revised Edition.” You see something like that, and you laugh and ask, “Why would anyone write this?” And then you realize that’s a legitimate historical question: why did someone write this?

You’re working on a PhD in historical musicology. What’s your dissertation topic?

My sub-discipline is ecomusicology, which is not, I repeat, NOT about whale song (at least, not in my case.) I’m writing about British environmental politics and the music of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The chapter I’m working on now looks at the kinds of human-nature relationships idealized in Davies’s pastoral music, and how those relationships intersect with contemporary changes in British agri-environmental policy. I’ve also got chapters on Davies’s antinuclear music and his Antarctic symphony.

What are you reading now?

Many, many books about British environmental policy. I sometimes wonder what the good people of ILL think of all the non-music books I tell them to ship over to Gaylord! The most recent book I read for fun was Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have no free time (see question 2). I actually gave my Netflix password to a friend and told her to change it and not tell me what it was until I’m done with the diss! But when I pretend to have free time, I play the organ and make quilts.


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