Managing Your Library with Airtable

Managing a large library of physical copies of music seems an impossible task at times. When working for a professional orchestra, it seems that the music is never ending, plus so much music is flowing in and out due to performances, loans, and directors wanting to review it. I could never keep track of where music was.

All of the music is stored in boxes that are labeled with numbers. Multiple pieces will fit in each box, and I have about 120 boxes right now. Previously, there was an Excel document that listed each piece, the composer, and what box it was stored in. There was a print out in a binder with one copy sorted by piece and one copy sorted by composer. It was a nightmare to find anything quickly, when some of the pieces go by multiple different names, have multiple composers, arrangers, etc. Plus, when music wasn’t in its box, I had no idea where it was.

I have a previous post that explains how I was starting to implement QR codes and an Apple Note to track when music was being checked out. However, this wasn’t anywhere near enough power for what I was trying to do. Since I was already using Airtable to manage the youth orchestra, it seemed logical to attempt to use this for the library, as well.

I started with a simple table in Airtable that listed the piece, composer, arranger, box, and notes on each piece. However, I kept expanding my records to make things easier to track, sort, and find. Here are some of the things I do with this Airtable:

– Airtable will create a printout (using the Page Designer block) that places all of the information I have about it on a page that I keep with the music. This saves time when other orchestras are borrowing our music. The piece arrives with a list of all parts that should be included, notes on the common cuts we use, and the terms of renting our music.

– I have a “In Use” table that groups the locations of different music. If 10 pieces are in the musician’s folders, I’ll put each piece in with the location “Folders.” This table will show those 10 pieces grouped together, and a linked record will appear next to the piece in the original table. Then, if I’m looking for a piece, I can quickly see if it’s currently somewhere other than its box.

To make this faster to use, I continued with my implementation of QR codes. The print out sheet that stays with each piece of music has its QR code in the top right hand corner. If I scan this on my phone with a Shortcut, I can type in where I’m sending that music, and it will check the piece out of the library.

– I have a category with the options of “Yes” and “No” to quickly tell me if a piece is appropriate for the youth orchestra or not. This makes picking music so much faster.

– When I loan out music, I like to have a sheet that lists all the parts that are included with each piece of music. Then, other orchestras can quickly check to make sure they are returning everything to me and aren’t missing something. Previously, this was a handwritten sheet. However, now I have a table to put this in, keep track of when I last updated this, and will place it on the printout. No more redoing the entire sheet with minor changes! Plus it looks much more professional.

– There is a field to put in associated themes, so I can quickly pull a list of all the Christmas or patriotic music in the library.

– I keep track of which pieces we perform on each concert. I have a separate table for this, where I’ll put the date of the concert, what the theme is, and link the pieces that we played. Then, when I pull a piece, I can quickly see that we just performed it, and maybe we should reconsider.

– There is one last table for keeping track of rental music. This has fields for where we rented from, information about the piece, and when we plan to perform it. Using this, I can keep track of what music I’m expecting to arrive, what I need to return, and what is still sitting in the office. Plus, I can pull records for where we rented music from if we want to use it again. I have different views for “Records,” “Ready to Return,” and “In Office.”

Implementing all of this additional tracking takes time. I have not yet typed in what parts are included with each piece of music, and not all of the pieces have QR codes yet. The way I’m doing it, is each time I pull a piece of music, I fill out anything missing on it in Airtable. This is already saving me time, and I expect for it to save significantly more once I have the whole base up to date.