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What Does a Music Librarian Do?

Music librarians have in-depth knowledge of music history.
A music librarian might purchase sheet music for the students at a conservatory.
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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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Music librarians might be said to systematize their passion for music. Beyond this basic generalization, however, the duties of a music librarian can vary greatly, and are dictated by the type of institution at which the librarian works. Some of the most common employers of music librarians include public and academic libraries, and, to a lesser degree, music publishers, music conservatories, and media outlets like television or radio stations.

A music librarian at a public or academic library might dedicate a great deal of his or her time to organizing the institution's music collection, which can include items like books, manuscripts, and audio and video recordings. Additionally he or she might seek new materials to enhance existing collections, and assist library patrons in searching and using the collection's materials effectively. In the case of academic institutions in particular, a music librarian might teach classes or seminars on subjects like music cataloging or manuscript preservation, and might also carry out and publish original research within the field of music.

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Music librarianship is by no means limited to traditional library settings, however. Publishers of music sometimes employ music librarians to edit materials for publication and to catalog archival material. A music librarian at a conservatory might be responsible for purchasing or renting sheet music required for student performances. Radio and television stations often rely on a music librarian to build a collection of music which can be used to enhance programming, and producers might work in coordination with their station librarian to select music appropriate to their programming needs. Depending on the nature of the station, the resident music librarian might also be asked to source recorded performances for broadcast in their entirety.

Obviously, this type of librarianship requires in-depth knowledge about the field of music. Thus, many music librarians have bachelor's degrees in areas like musicology, supplemented by coursework in other areas of the humanities, allowing them to understand the ways in which music fits into the wider context of the arts. Often they have firsthand experience as musical performers. Increasingly, libraries hire only candidates with advanced qualifications; as such, many music librarians also have Master of Library Science degrees.

The Music Library Association (MLA) was founded in 1931 to provide career information and support to music librarians. In addition, the MLA organizes various workshops that enable music librarians to interface with peers from other institutions. People seeking information on music librarian training and employment opportunities can contact the MLA for assistance.

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I loved the music librarians at my school. While some were not so helpful, there were a couple who really seemed to know everything in their collection and could help me to find whatever I needed Very knowledgeable people, like many other librarians I've known.

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