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Training to Become an Orchestra Librarian

0 Karen Schnackenberg
sibley_music_library Editor's Abstract

In September 2007, the Virtual Discussion Panel featured librarians from four orchestras in the US and Canada. One of the topics covered in those discussions was what sort of training is needed to become an orchestra librarian. Karen Schnackenburg, head librarian of the Dallas Symphony, and a past president of MOLA (Major Orchestra Librarians Association), expands on that topic in the following article.

Yvonne Caruthers

If someone wants to become an orchestra librarian, s/he need to take as many advanced music courses as possible:theory, history, orchestration, composition, musicology, conducting, applied lessons, and ensembles and, in my opinion, s/he needs to get a great deal of orchestral experience – playing, marking parts, doing the library tasks.Working knowledge of German, Italian and French is important, so s/he should take some language courses; obviously s/he will need strong computer skills, both Word and Excel fluency, as well as working knowledge of music engraving software.Of course, it won’t do a person any good to take all of those classes aiming for an orchestra librarian position if s/he is not very organized, extremely detail-oriented, and has good people skills.

I think it’s the word “librarian” that sometimes confuses people.When we hear that word, we think, perhaps, of the local public library – a book library – or maybe an academic research library…places where people can study and from which they borrow materials.Even when we talk about music libraries, it’s easy to misunderstand the role of the orchestra or performance library/librarian.When we go to the music library in college, we go where there are books, scores, and recordings to study and do research.When we go to the performance library, we go to a place that is essentially “live” – just like the music on stage – where everything is about the parts and scores being prepared for the live performance. There are obviously some areas that overlap with research music libraries, in that orchestra libraries do acquire, house, catalogue, and maintain the organization’s collection of music and research materials, and provide vast amounts of data to their larger organization; some have archives, some loan parts, scores, and recordings, and some have an area where people can come to listen to recordings and study scores.But the performance library is, in the end, about music preparation.

And so the training, in the end, is about the music.While some of my esteemed colleagues have Library Science degrees – especially those who work in academic settings and research libraries where an MLS is a must – that curriculum is not the main background required for an orchestra librarian.Once an aspiring orchestra librarian gets his/her formal education in music, s/he must then begin to practice the techniques necessary to function in a high-intensity, deadline-driven, fast-paced performance environment.The best way to do that is to begin to learn these skills at the educational level of performance ensembles, and then work closely with a professional orchestra librarian as an intern or apprentice in on-the-job training.

Although a few attempts have been made over the past 30 years to bring a formalized orchestra librarian curriculum to institutions of higher learning, it has never quite succeeded.I like to think that is because one cannot truly separate the necessary musical training from that of any other professional musician.A librarian needs the whole deal.

The MOLA website (www.mola-inc.org) has two very good brochures that provide more specifics on this whole question: What is MOLA? A Guide to the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (on the home page, click About Us) and The Orchestra Librarian:A Career Introduction (on the home page, click Resources and look under MOLA Publications).

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