Qualifications of a Music Librarian: A Report from the Committee on Professional Education of the Music Library Association

October 1, 1975

The committee on professional education has spent its recent efforts in asking what is meant by the term, "qualified music librarian." The result is the statement below. There are three groups which should find such a statement useful. First are administrators who ask, "If we have a qualified music librarian on our staff, what can and should we expect him/her to do?" Second and no less important are prospective music librarians who ask, "Am I qualified to do the work I want to do? What should I try to learn?" Third are educators who ask, "What kind of material should be covered by students who are considering music librarianship?" Inevitably a statement such as ours, as it may come to be acknowledged, will tend to become something of a standard. Since the statement has been developed with considerable help from the members of the Music Library Association at its national meetings, the present attitudes of active music librarians are being reflected. It should also be noted that the statement is concerned with minimum qualifications, such as are to be expected of a beginning music librarian in any kind of work (reference, cataloguing, acquisitions), in any kind of library (public, academic, conservatory, or other).




  A. Reference Books on Music. The qualified music librarian should know:
    1. The basic non-music reference books which have information of help to the user of the music library (cf. III.A.1-2).
    2. The diverse types of musical reference books, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, library catalogues, as well as some forms which are distinct to music, i.e., thematic indexes.
    3. Knowledge, terminology, and the bibliographical approach and strategies, which are required to work with these books.


  B. Books about Music in General (i.e., the "Literature of Music"). Nine specific areas may be identified: Music history (in general, by period, by topic, and by nationality); Biography (general, analytical, historical, and documentary); Theory and composition; Musical forms; Musical instruments; Pedagogy, vocal and instrumental; Music education; Ethnomusicology; and various special topics. In each of these areas, the qualified music librarian should know:
    1. The standard works, including their unique features, their merits relative to other works on the same subject, the type and qualities of informational sources in each work, such as bibliographies, tables, etc.
    2. How to accommodate new works as they appear, i.e., how to find them in the standard lists and reviewing media, and how to use the techniques for evaluation (cf. II.B.2).


  C. "Musical Editions" (i.e., scores, performance parts, etc.) The heart of any music library is its collection of printed music; and without a thorough knowledge of this material a librarian is only a custodian. The qualified music librarian should know:
    1. The different kinds of musical editions, and the historical and practical reasons why each exists in the distinctive and peculiar forms it does.
    2. The experience of using musical editions—preferably as many different kinds of them as possible—as a performer, as a means of knowing some of the nuances of the recreative event as it is affected by the musical editions (cf. III.B.1-2, III.C, III.D.1).
    3. The basic bibliographical sources which are used with musical editions of different kinds, and for purposes of providing different means of access (i.e., whether by composer, title, medium, or other).
    4. The processes of acquisition, including the suppliers of current and antiquarian editions (cf. II.B.1-2).
    5. Cataloguing and classification of musical editions (cf. II.C).
    6. The special problems of binding, circulation, and storage of musical editions.
    7. Legal aspects, i.e., copyright of musical editions, performance rights, restrictions on copying, etc.


  D. Sound Recordings. Although recordings are an important part of almost every music library, very little training is offered in this field. Nevertheless, the qualified music librarian should know:
    1. The role of recorded sound in the context of the library and of the community.
    2. The basic bibliographical sources for use with recordings, i.e., discographies, trade lists, periodicals, etc.
    3. Means of acquisition, including suppliers of current and rare materials, publishers subscriptions, etc. (cf. II.B).
    4. The peculiarities of cataloguing of sound recordings (cf. II.C).
    5. Collection maintenance, i.e., binding, circulation, storage, environmental control and durability.
    6. Technical aspects, i.e., sound components and systems and their maintenance (cf. II.A.6).
    7. Legal aspects, i.e., copyright of sound recordings, performance rights, restrictions on copying, etc.



  A. Service to Readers. The qualified music librarian should be able to:
    1. Understand the vocabulary of all kinds of musicians.
    2. Use general and music reference books (cf. I.A, III.A.1-2).
    3. Keep abreast of current developments, locally, nationally, and internationally (cf. III.D.2).
    4. Interpret the peculiar makeup and special practices of music industries to the user.
    5. Use the catalogue effectively as a reference source, and instruct library patrons in its use (cf. II.C.2).
    6. Organize and manage a music circulation system, and operate and supervise use of sound reproduction equipment (cf. I.D.6).


  B. Selection and Acquisitions. The qualified music librarian should be able to:
    1. Develop and implement a selection policy uniquely appropriate for the particular library in question (cf. II.A, III).
    2. Use the current and retrospective bibliographical resources needed for selection and acquisition work, including those national and trade bibliographies which include musical materials (books on music, musical editions, and sound recordings); publishers', dealers', distributors', and antiquarian catalogues; and reviewing media (cf. I.A, I.B, I.C.1-4, I.D.2-3).
    3. Prepare orders, estimate costs, and select the dealers with whom orders should be placed (cf. I.C.4, I.D.3).


  C. Cataloguing and Classification (cf. I.C.5, I.D.4). Since the catalogue is the major key to the music library's collection, the qualified music librarian should be able to:
    1. Work with the major tools of music cataloguing and classification.
    2. Know the peculiar capacities and limitations of the music catalogue, and when to turn first to other bibliographical sources.
    3. Formulate uniform titles and music subject headings and in general apply the principles of descriptive and subject cataloguing to music, on the basis of a thorough understanding of the theory involved, and an ability to reason from it.
    4. Arrange entries on the basis of the standard filing rules.
    5. Develop policies and systems for "cross-referencing."
    6. Use all three of the major music classification systems (Dewey, LC, Dickinson), and select the appropriate one for a newly formed music library, on the basis of its particular advantages.
    7. Train, revise, and work with other cataloguers whose competence may lie outside the area of music.


  D. Administration (cf. III.A.3). The music librarian should be able to:
    1. Deal with the music publishing and recording industries, on the basis of knowledge of their technologies.
    2. Apply business and management practices, through an awareness of management theory, personnel management, human relations, labor relations, and public relations; employ accounting procedures; and prepare and use statistics.
    3. Accommodate computer technology, programming, and other aspects of information science, as they may prove to be appropriate and advantageous to the music library.



  A. The Operation and Resources of the General Library. Since most music libraries are hierarchic units of a general library, it is necessary for the music librarian to understand the program of the general library. Even those music libraries which are administratively autonomous or part of a music institution will need to depend extensively on the resources of a nearby general library. Therefore, the music librarian should:
    1. Be able to use the reference sources of the general library (especially that which is designed to serve for purposes of research), and be able to direct users of the music library to these resources. The music librarian should be aware of the special collections of the general library, as well as of its total bibliographical and personnel resources (cf. I.A.1).
    2. Know the bibliographies of related subject disciplines, as well as national and trade bibliographies and reviewing media (especially in acquisitions), dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographical sources of all kinds, special bibliographies, indexes, and abstracting services.
    3. Understand the administrative structures of the general library, as concerns such matters as personnel, management, budget, buildings and equipment, as well as such specialized services as Inter-Library Loan.


  B. Basic Musicianship. A knowledge of basic musicianship builds confidence between the librarian and the user. The music librarian should:
    1. On looking at a work of music, be able to identify the key, meter, medium, period, style, and form.
    2. On listening to a work of music, be able to identify the medium, period, style, and form.
    3. Have experience in singing or in playing a musical instrument (cf. I.C.2).


  C. Music History. Music history is a seminal area in the education of a music librarian, and an extensive knowledge in this field is automatically concurrent with a knowledge of the materials of a music library. Consequently, the music librarian should:
    1. For purposes of breadth, have taken at least one course devoted to a chronological survey of music history (N.B.: Not a general music literature or music appreciation course). This course should preferably be one designed for music majors and taken before formal training in librarianship.
    2. For purposes of depth, have taken at least one period course (i.e., "Music of the Romantic Era") or one genre course (i.e., "The Symphony"), in which directed research is required (i.e., in the form of a term paper).
    3. A graduate music bibliography course, taught by a qualified music librarian or by an experienced musicologist, can provide valuable background, some or much of which is not covered in most courses in music librarianship, specifically in matters of historiography, analytical techniques, periods and their approximate dates, names of composers, performers, theorists, and historians, and terminology. Such a course, however, should not ordinarily be seen as providing any extensive training in music librarianship, such as would be devoted mostly to topics such as those outlined in sections I. and II. above.


  D. Popular Music, Current Tastes, Ethnomusicology. In the interests of providing services to the broadest possible community of users of a music library, the music librarian should:
    1. Be responsive to music of various cultures and social groups, the librarian's own personal tastes notwithstanding, and see that music of other cultures, ethnic groups, and social levels is well represented in the collection.
    2. Be able to assist readers who are interested in music other than that of the Western European art music tradition. This requires a knowledge of the special evaluative bibliographies and discographies for such material, as well as the name lists and the biographies of active musicians; the publishers who work with such music; the work of archival and documentation projects; and familiarity with those journals in such fields as sociology, anthropology, or folklore which are likely to consider matters not found in the more orthodox music periodical literature.
    3. Be particularly aware of the music of various minority groups in the local community.

  For purposes of advising a person who is preparing for a career in music librarianship, the Committee believes the following statements to be appropriate:


  A. A strong background in music is essential. The B.A. in Music supported by competence in performance would appear to be slightly preferable to the B.Mus., because of the wider background in liberal arts which it implies. The master's degree in musicology, which is particularly desirable, is now held by many persons upon entering the music library profession. Many extremely competent music librarians, however, do not hold such degrees.
  B. Although many leading music librarians today do not hold this degree, a master's degree in library science from an A.L.A.-accredited library school is now required for many positions.
  C. In addition, courses in music librarianship, now offered by many library schools, are highly desirable, since there is in fact very little or no specific attention given over to any of the above qualifications in the curricula of most music and library science programs.
  D. Previous work experience, in-service training, and formal internships in a music library in particular, are extremely valuable. At the very least, a person entering a career of music librarianship should be expected to have spent a great deal of time as a reader using the music collection of a library, or otherwise handling the materials such as are found in a music library.
  E. A familiarity with foreign languages, especially German, Italian, French, and Latin, is extremely useful.
  F. A music librarian should be expected to know and participate in the work of specialized professional organizations such as the Music Library Association, as a manifestation of a career commitment and as a means of continuing education.
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