The Music Library Association—Things You May Not Know

Founded in 1931, the Music Library Association (MLA) was established to support music librarians and the specific challenges they face. Membership includes musicians, scholars, educators, industry professionals, and a preponderance of librarians, some of whom are also actively performing, teaching or researching music. Many MLA members work within a music library—in a large research institution, public and academic library, broadcast or mass media library, publishing house, or a score library attached to a performing organization.


The Music Library Association has had its share of music scholars and classical performers, but popular entertainers Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy were also among the organization’s ranks (thanks to the good work of early MLA

Membership Chair, George Schneider, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Although the membership has not typically been star-studded, MLA’s members are varied and colorful. 


The first president of MLA, Otto Kinkeldey (1878-1966), set a high standard for immersion into dual worlds of libraries and music scholarship, serving as Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library and afterwards holding the first Chair in Musicology in the United States, established for him at Cornell University in 1930. Today, academic music librarians frequently are responsible for instruction within the music department they serve, and it is often expected that they teach the research methods classes required of incoming graduate assistants. One finds music librarians engaged in their own research as well, and these same individuals are frequently pursuing music performance. It may be a music librarian who provides music for a Sunday religious service, holds a chair in an area symphony orchestra, participates in the regional choral society, or teaches piano, violin, or voice.

When the Music Library Association was formed more than seventy years ago, it was with an eye toward tackling current problems. At the time there was the need for indexes, cataloging standards, music bibliography and cooperative
collection development. Four booklets entitled Code for Cataloging Music, published by the MLA as early as 1941-1942, were the bases for the music section of Rules for Descriptive Cataloging issued by the Library of Congress in 1947 and adopted by MLA in 1949. The same year the American Library Association (ALA) and MLA joined in publishing revised rules for author and title entries. In 1958, a Joint Committee of MLA and ALA issued Code for Cataloging Music and Phonorecords. For years a committee of MLA followed copyright legislation as it made its way through committees and into bill form. In 1954, an MLA Committee on Thematic Indexes prepared A Check-list of Thematic Catalogues. In addition, the
Association has weighed in on matters of import, such as buildings and equipment for the music library and qualifications and training for the music librarian.

Today, to see the many directions the MLA reaches, one need only go to  On the website is an invaluable link to "Copyright and Fair Use" information. Other categories covered include "Digital Reserve, "Educational Photocopying, "Fair Use in the Electronic Age," "Library Reserves," and "Off-Air Recordings" —as well as a collection of FAQs that encompasses the issues that seem to be on the minds of educators and librarians


The Association's concern for the up-and-coming generation is readily apparent as one examines the web site further. There is a link to a directory of library schools with offerings in music librarianship, and another link takes you to the MLA's own Placement Service. By selecting the "Awards and Grants" link, the reader learns that among the Association awards available is the Kevin Freeman Travel Grant, designed to assist graduate students in library science or those new to the profession who wish to attend the annual conference. The Gerboth Award assists new Music Librarians with research expense.

MLA sponsors several series publications: a Basic Manual Series, an Index and Bibliography Series, and Technical Reports. Under the category of periodicals, MLA boasts the Music Cataloging Bulletin, Newsletter, and Notes – a refereed
journal, which includes scholarly articles and reviews of books, scores, sound recordings, and digital media. The JSTOR online collection now includes a digitized version of Notes—the entire run minus the current five years—valueadded
to the favorite journal of many a music librarian. Last but certainly not least is the Association's MLA-L, the listserv which never fails to enlighten and entertain and, from time to time, saves the professional life of every music librarian.

Within the MLA, in addition to several standing committees, special committees and roundtables, there are joint committees with other professional societies (the American Musicological Society, the Music Publishers' Association, the Major Orchestra Librarians' Association, the University of Maryland and RILM (a compiler and editor of 2500 citations per year). MLA's management is handled by the staff of A-R Editions, a publisher responsible for many excellent publications of music scholarship.

To cite the good deeds of MLA (and there is no doubt that many have been omitted from this list) tends to convey that the organization countenances weighty scholarship and matters of library management and nothing more. In truth, the MLA and its eleven regional chapters are made up of friendly, dynamic and exciting people. There is a longstanding tradition of sharing knowledge and of outreach to comrades, well exemplified by MLA-L. The Association's annual winter conference provides a wonderful reunion for those who have been communicating for months via e-mail. It feeds the souls of a group of several hundred who share the same professional love of libraries, music, and learning.


Through the years MLA conferences have been held in cities across the country and consistently offer rich presentations treating an astonishing array of music and library topics - along with a complement of remarkable music performances. A stellar example was the 2004 conference in Arlington, Virginia, which opened with a prelude offered by The President's Own United States Marine Band Brass Quintet and the Presentation of the Colors by the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard. The Quintet offered a concert and an accompanying exhibit for the MLA in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Following the culminating banquet, the membership was treated to the sounds of MLA's own Big Band, followed by Armand Ntep & The Afro-Jazz Explosion. The dance floor was packed because "MLAers" are anything but sideliners.

Memphis is the designated site for the 75th Anniversary festivities of MLA in 2006. It promises to be a memorable occasion. If you plan to attend an MLA conference (and we hope you will), prepare to have a great experience....and don't forget your dancing shoes!

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Last modified on Wednesday, 08/05/2013

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