A music librarian is a librarian with specialized education and training in music. In order to become a music librarian, a broad musical background is necessary, as is aptitude, training, knowledge and education in both music and librarianship.
Music librarians need a Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree with specialized education in music librarianship. Once properly educated, music librarians may find work in academic libraries, public libraries, at radio and television stations, with music publishers and dealers, with bands and orchestras, and within music archives — just to name a few of the many and varied employment settings available to them.
Becoming a music librarian is also a great choice for professional musicians who want to work part-time in performing music and have a stable, full-time career that is financially lucrative as a music librarian. If you want to learn more about the exciting field of music librarianship that blends music with library education and knowledge, read on.
Education for Music Librarianship
If you want to become a music librarian, you should first get an undergraduate degree with substantial coursework in music included in your studies. You must then earn your MLS or MLIS with a specialized concentration in music librarianship. The Music Library Association (MLA) maintains a directory of colleges and universities that offer programs in music librarianship here. Programs are available online, on-campus and in hybrid formats. You can search for programs with a music librarianship concentration, those offering a dual degree in librarianship and music, and those offering distance learning options.
The ALA’s searchable directory will also allow you to search for ALA-accredited MLS or MLIS programs with concentrations in music librarianship. You can access that directory here.
Courses that you will likely take in a MLS program in music librarianship include:
- Introduction to Music Librarianship- This course introduces students to the concept of music librarianship, combining what you have learned in other MLS/MLIS courses with the specialization in music.
- Introduction to Music Cataloging- This course gives students with basic cataloging knowledge some practical experience in cataloging music, building from the fundamentals into more advanced topics.
- Introduction to Music Collection Development- Students learn the basics of music genres and terminology in this course, as they relate to developing a collection of music.
- Music History and Literature – This course traces the development of styles and genres of music and examines how they relate to developments in arts, history and society.
Some MLS programs in music librarianship will also offer practical fieldwork in a music library, while others will give students more generalized library experience in an internship.
Music Librarian Job Description
All music librarian positions will differ, of course, in their responsibilities, based upon the setting of the job. A job description for a music librarian should be based upon the “Core Competencies for Music Librarians and Music Library Professionals,” a report prepared by a task force of the MLA in 2019. They include:
- Music subject expertise through formal study
- Knowledge of music distribution
- Knowledge of material ownership and licensing
- Knowledge of legal research in music materials
- Knowledge of selection of materials for music collection development
- Collection assessment knowledge
- Knowledge of collection maintenance
- Ability to manage and lead
- Good communication skills
- Project management skills
- Team building skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Strategic planning skills
- Advocacy and marketing skills
- Supervision knowledge
- Research support
- Instructional skills
- Knowledge of curricular assessment and design
- Knowledge of evaluation and synthesis of information
- Music and performing arts outreach knowledge
- Knowledge of metadata and cataloging
- Knowledge of acquisitions and bindery
- Access service skills
- Technology skills
- Knowledge of archival standards and practices
According to the MLA, some of the main duties of a music librarian are:
- Teaching patrons research skills
- Answering questions from patrons, faculty, staff
- Assisting others with research
- Cataloging books, musical scores, and recordings
- Selecting materials
- Digitizing print and media formats
- Increasing the visibility of the music library
- Helping to preserve physical music library materials
Jobs for Music Librarians
According to the University of North Texas, which runs a music librarianship MLS program, the average salary for music librarians nationwide varies from $40,000 to $89,000 annually. As mentioned earlier, some music librarians also work part-time as performing musicians on the side, for extra income and as a creative outlet.
Not all jobs for music librarians will be advertised in a straightforward way. For those with education in music librarianship, the following job openings were recently listed on the MLA’s jobs website:
- Performing Arts Curator, University of California Los Angeles- Los Angeles, CA – manage, develop, and assist with making primary documents and history available. Also works as liaison to colleagues in the Los Angeles arts world, including television, theater, music, cultures and dance.
- Music Librarian, District of Columbia Public Library-Washington, DC—responsible for music-focused collections, including circulation, reference and digital materials. Also offer engaging music programing and services and facilitate music-related initiatives in the public library system.
- Music Cataloger, Indiana University Bloomington – Bloomington, IN – catalog music and materials based on current structure and information, using bibliographic records. Updating and maintaining catalogs and databases. Revising catalogs as needed. Assist faculty and students as well as other library patrons.
- Project Archivist, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University – Newark, NJ – Arrangement, description, preservation rehousing, finding aid creation, storing and moving collection of jazz heritage material in university library.
- Systems & Technology Librarian, AMDA College of the Performing Arts – Los Angeles, CA – helping to foster a technologically advanced environment for the AMDA libraries, problem solving, improving existing processes, helping others learn technology skills.
Organizations of Interest to Music Librarians
Professional music librarians, as well as students of music librarianship, will take particular interest in the following organizations:
Music Library Association (MLA) – The Music Library Association is the main professional organization for music librarianship in the U.S. Founded in 1931 and based in Middleton, WI, today it has an international membership of musicians, librarians, scholars, educators, and members of the music and book trades.
Major Orchestra Librarians Association (MOLA)- Founded in 1983 and based in Philadelphia, PA, MOLA was designed to enhance communication between professional performance librarians, as well as educate and assist them in providing service to the organizations for which they work.
International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML)- This international association of music librarians promotes the activities of music libraries worldwide, supporting and facilitation projects in music bibliography, music documentation and music library and information science.
Nordisk Orkesterbiblioteksunion (NOBU)- Founded in 2000, this is an association of sheet music libraries at Nordic and Baltic professional orchestras, operas and music universities and conservatories that offer music education.