Specializations

Music Librarianship

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sarah Alexander.

I recently went to the Music Library Association Conference in San Jose, California where I spent five days talking about music and books. And books about music. And organizing the music that is printed in books. While I was there, I spent a lot of time talking to other students in pursuit of music library careers. In light of that experience, I’d like to write about forging a path through library school for the budding music librarian.

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What do music librarians do?

Mostly we think of music librarians working in universities and colleges doing reference/liaison/instruction work or making the square pegs of music materials fit into the round holes of MARC records, but there are other options as well. Music librarians work in archives and in public libraries. They work in radio and television shows and in music publishing companies. They also work for professional ensembles, preparing scores and parts for the musicians to play from. Ensemble librarians are required to have a unique skill set. They must know about different editions of the selected works, physically correct mistakes in the parts by the publishers, mark bowings and notes from the conductor and ensure everything is ready for every rehearsal and performance.

That sounds good, what next?

In order to pursue a career as a music librarian you absolutely must have:

  • Substantial undergraduate coursework in music. Most job postings require a Bachelor’s degree in music (BA, BFA or BM), and those who don’t require it will definitely prefer it to a minor or lesser coursework.
  • A Master’s degree in Library/Information Science from an ALA accredited library school.

It is also extremely helpful if you have:

  • A graduate degree in music. Many universities prefer a Masters in Music History and Literature or Musicology, although Music Education is also desirable.
  • Foreign language skills, especially German.
  • Coursework or equivalent in music librarianship specifically – more on this below.
  • Background in other fine arts areas such as dance and theater. It is not uncommon for branch libraries to contain material for music with dance and/or theater and/or art.

So, where should I go to school?

If you haven’t yet started a library program and you are physically and financially able, consider looking for a program that offers training specifically in music librarianship.

Indiana University offers a specialization in music librarianship. University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan offer a concentration in music librarianship. In these programs students take several courses in music librarianship and complete an internship in the field. A few schools offer a dual program in Library Science and Music. These students do coursework in both degrees concurrently. In addition to these options, several other schools offer one or two courses in music librarianship you can elect to take.

My program doesn’t have a course in music librarianship!

Chill out—mine doesn’t either. The key is to be proactive. Here are my suggestions:

  • Develop a relationship with your music librarian. Introduce yourself. Tell them you are interested in pursuing music librarianship. This was the most important thing I did in my program because it led to all the other things. Most music librarians are very nice people who were once in your position. They want to help you out. On a professional level it means they’ll have things to say when you ask them for a recommendation. On a personal level it means they may become a mentor and someone you can hang out with at conferences.
  • Work in a music library. The most likely option here is the music library at your school. Get a student position working reference/circulation/whatever you can. Do as many different things as they’ll let you. Ask if you can help process new music. Ask if there are any special projects you can work on. Volunteer to help with introductory sessions and tours of the library to new music students. Even the more mundane tasks will teach you a lot if you pay attention.
  • If your program will let you, and your music librarian is willing – arrange an Independent Study. Last semester I did an Independent Study with Ruthann McTyre at the University of Iowa and it was the best thing ever. We covered a bit of everything and I can’t even tell you how much I learned. I made LibGuides for the music library webpage, evaluated music research textbooks and spent a part of the library budget on new acquisitions. An independent study will also give you the chance to explore issues specific to music libraries.
  • Make your other coursework fit your needs. Write your papers about topics in music librarianship to show you are critically thinking about important issues. I did my Database Systems project with the School of Music Performance Recordings and it ended up becoming a funded project that I’ve been working on throughout my second year of library school.
  • Do a summer internship or something similar. I can’t recommend this enough. Last summer I was an intern at Interlochen Center for the Arts and it was fantastic. I got great experience, made great friends and developed great contacts. It also meant when I attended the MLA conferences this year I had people to talk to and go out to dinner with. It can be a financial sacrifice, but it’s well worth it.
  • Get Involved. Join “big MLA” (the national association) and your regional chapter. Join the Music Library Student Group. Subscribe to the listserv. Follow music librarians on twitter. Go to your regional MLA meeting. If at all possible, I also highly recommend going to the Big MLA conference (I wrote about my experience here). There is a travel grant for students you can apply for that covers most of the cost. Some hiring institutions will do interviews at the conference, and you may just end up chatting with someone who’ll have a job open next year.
  • The Music Library Association website is the best place to start. It has a very comprehensive job list and many other resources for librarians and aspiring librarians. MLA also runs a resume/cover letter service where you can send your stuff to a librarian with a lot of hiring experience and they’ll give you feedback.
  • The MLA listserv is very active and very useful. This is where you find out information about registering for conferences and what’s new in the music world.
  • The Music Library Student Group is a great community for aspiring music librarians. I highly recommend getting involved.

Resources

  • The Music Library Association website is the best place to start. It has a very comprehensive job list and many other resources for librarians and aspiring librarians. MLA also runs a resume/cover letter service where you can send your stuff to a librarian with a lot of hiring experience and they’ll give you feedback.
  • The MLA listserv is very active and very useful. This is where you find out information about registering for conferences and what’s new in the music world.
  • The Music Library Student Group is a great community for aspiring music librarians. I highly recommend getting involved.

Sarah Alexander is a second year graduate student at the School of Library and Information Science at University of Iowa. She currently works at the Rita Benton Music Library, and on a School of Music project to digitize the student and faculty performance recordings. Prior to her return to school for her MLIS she worked as a middle school music teacher in the Washington D.C. area. She blogs about queer things, music and libraries (not necessarily in that order) at www.lezbrarian.com, tweets @lez_brarian, and maintains an eportfolio at www.sarahbalexander.com. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she enjoys running, coffee and all things nerdy.

7 thoughts on “Music Librarianship

  1. great post, thanks! Could you offer some suggestions for course enrollment options for someone interested in music librarianship? I am completing my first year in library school, and it feels like there a number of different ways a can frame my degree. Would you suggest coursework in digital records, special collections, more on databases?

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  2. That is a great question. I think a lot of it depends on what you are interested in. One of the great things about music librarianship is that you get to do a lot of different things. I would advise diverse courses that you find interesting and can connect to music librarianship in some way. I didn’t specialize (or have to) in any one area and I think having my fingers in a lot of pies is helpful. I would have liked to take a special collections course since we do often work hands on with rare items. I think computer skills are a must, definitely multimedia skills that many older librarians haven’t had the time to develop. A lot of talk at MLA was about using Youtube tutorials and multi/social media for outreach. As young librarians we have an edge here so I’d capitalize on that. But as for advanced computer classes, though my database course launched a whole cool professional project for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be called on to actually write PHP from scratch.

    The other thing about music librarianship is that there is likely only one at a university so you’ll be dealing with budget and management more than many other positions. Music librarians deal a lot with copyright, so courses that deal with copyright, policy and that sort of thing are helpful. You’ll be doing acquisition, so a collection management class is good. And every single music librarian I have talked to has said to take cataloging. Even if you never plan on being a music cataloger (and I certainly don’t) they all say that a basic understanding of cataloging is crucial because music is so often that one exception to cataloging rules. Of course all this advice comes with the caveat that the professor can make or break the class ;)

    So basically follow your instincts and your interests! Hope this was helpful :)

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  3. A great post, Sarah! Another option for those without a music librarianship course at their school is to take a WISE course. Many library schools are members of the WISE (Web-based Information Science Education) consortium, and if you go to a WISE school you can take classes online from other WISE schools. I think UW-Milwaukee normally offers a music cataloging course, and UIUC offers a music librarianship & bibliography course. More info here: http://www.wiseeducation.org.

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  4. Pingback: Queers and Teens and Music oh My! - Lezbrarian.com

  5. Reblogged this on A Clockwork Luka and commented:
    Excellent! Nice timing for this article considering I’m meeting with Western’s music librarian on Friday to discuss my options for education and careers!

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  6. Pingback: 5 Things Thursday: Spring Cleaning, DAM Findability, Crowdsourcing | MOD LIBRARIAN

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