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Becoming a Music Librarian

Ever since I’ve been at this job, I’ve been the Music liaison. And up until this point, the (very few… as in, three) instruction sessions I’ve done have been focused on literature about music. So up until this point, I’ve been able to teach myself most of what I needed to know. This isn’t to say I’ve done a stellar job, or anything, but I haven’t out-right failed, either. Well, for the last year I’ve been meaning to move this along a little so that I could begin to actually serve my Music faculty and students rather than catch up all the time. And I had the added impetus of a new kind of instruction session coming up… the kind that moves beyond music criticism and into the realm of the music itself.

So today I spent some time at St. Olaf in their music library. That’s right, an entire library devoted to music and research about music, complete with a real live music librarian. This librarian generously took time out of her morning to begin at the beginning with me. Who knew that the LC M classification was so very logical? M100s are solo instruments, M200s are for two instruments… and so on. I also learned about editions (authorized and otherwise), about how to identify quality recordings, and about thematic catalogs. I’ve never been so jazzed about the prospect of developing some actual expertise in this area! (The only thing is, I think I’d have to learn German if I really wanted to become an expert. All of the most authoritative sources seem to be in German.)

When I got back to my own library, I immediately had to run downstairs to our music section and see which of the sources I’d learned about we actually had in our collection. And to my delight, I could finally recognize types of sources on the shelves just by walking past them! For me, this is the experience I can only hope to give my students when they come to see me. Walls and walls of books and a maze of online sources suddenly differentiate themselves into a structure and an order. They all fall into place.

Of course, I’ve just started to scratch the surface of music librarianship, but I feel like I’ve been handed the key to a whole new world. And it’s a beautiful world.

Published inLibraries and Librarians


  1. Julian Julian

    Yeah… that whole learning German thing would separate me from going to grad school for musicology. Music librarian jobs are so (seemingly) scarce, having at least one graduate degree in music is pretty much a requirement. Doesn’t mean that you can’t provide great reference service for the discipline, though. :)

    In undergrad, my advisor (with whom I took four music history courses) was very involved in his classes using the library, and very connected to the library in general. He maintained the music department’s collection of recordings himself (as opposed to this collection belonging to the library). Talk about quality recordings… It was great having such excellent classic recordings on vinyl. (Seriously… those recordings were not worth trying to replace in CD form.)

  2. Iris Iris

    Yes, I’ll never be a “music librarian.” But I sure hope to be a decent music liaison. :)

    As usual with all my liaison areas but one (English, where I actually *do* have training, but where I do very little instruction that draws on that training), I wish I could take class after class to get myself up to speed with their methodologies and values. So little time… so much to learn. But I’ll just continue doing the best that I can (and call on the St. Olaf music librarian often — I’m so lucky she’s just across the river).

  3. Kirsten Kirsten

    Actually, German isn’t all that difficult as languages go. It’s very logical–if you can do English grammar, you can learn German. And because English and German are so closely related, the vocab isn’t too bad, either.

    Not that I remember much after twelve years of disuse.

  4. Iris Iris

    “As languages go”… hee hee. Yeah. I know. But after slaving through 6 years of French and 4 years of Latin, I know that while I love languages, I’m not good at them. Still, I’ve already added it to my list of Languages I Wish I Knew (Japanese is first on that list… and considerably more difficult).

  5. LeAnn LeAnn

    You are so cool. I love the fact that you actually went over to St. Olaf so you could get better at your job!

    And, you’re right about German music sources. We have a music library here and there are so many things in German. I don’t read or speak it either, so when I’m helping a patron from a different state looking for a hard-to-find score of some old Christian song, many times we have it but it’s in German so it takes a bit to get to it. Luckily I have found things, but you’re right, it’s difficult! I guess we need to get some German language skills! My dad speaks German, I should talk to him. :)

  6. Iris Iris

    LOL. Between any other two schools it might seem strange to take that kind of field trip. But we’re so close, and we spend so much time meeting each other anyway, it wasn’t any stranger than setting up a meeting with somebody in another department at Carleton’s library. So… I’m not a hero. :)

  7. Alison Alison

    I know this post is quite old, but I appreciate it all the same. I am in library grad school, I have an undergrad in music and I really, really want to be a music librarian. Any new tips for 2009?

  8. Iris Iris

    Hi Alison. :-)

    New tips? Hmmm… I'm not sure. I keep updating their research guide with most of the stuff I learn. (This link might disappear later this summer as we migrate to LibGuides, btw.) I guess one thing that comes up often is that students don't know that some great criticism is worked into scholarly biographies, so pointing them towards these biographies (and showing them how to use the index) has become a favorite pass-time of mine. Also, WorldCat is a great place to find album numbers. Who knew?

    My biggest piece of advice, though, is to find a music librarian who doesn't mind if you ask questions. I'm lucky in that St. Olaf's music librarian is right here in my town, so I can easily pump her for information and insight whenever I need to.

  9. Alexis Alexis

    I myself am a music librarian and i have taught much of the system to myself right now i am re-cataloging my schools band music library because no one kept it up to date i have found many interesting things. Also recently its the end of the year so people are turning in music i try to get them to turn in music once a semester but as always the percussionists never listen so i get piles of music that i have already shelved and then have to take down and put the parts in!!! Its so frustrating they don’t listen to directions and i wonder is it just a percussionist thing cause everyone else gives me their music. We are in college these kids frustrate me!!! Lol this year is my senior year of undergrand and German isn’t that hard to learn i have been studying it for the past year and have learned alot.

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