Job: Music Librarian
The role: Music librarians curate, organize and archive information and resources related to all forms of music. They are responsible for managing collections and organizing them into catalogues and databases, as well as managing the physical library space and its resources.
“Music librarianship is about providing a conduit to music information for performers in all genres of music, but also for musicologists, music historians, and anybody who’s interested in research into the performance and history of music as an art form,” explains Houman Behzadi, the president of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres.
Mr. Behzadi, who also serves as the head librarian for the Marvin Duchow Music Library at McGill University, says public libraries, educational institutions, conservatories, and federal agencies like Library and Archives Canada are the primary employers of music librarians. Many are also employed by ensembles and orchestras, as well as media organizations like the CBC.
“Music dealers and publishers also benefit from the expertise of music librarians, so there are many venues for people who have this combination of music subject expertise and library science education,” he says.
Mr. Behzadi adds that music librarians were once wholly focused on music, but are now often expected to offer expertise in related areas as well. “Be prepared to work with different subject areas either related to music or in arts, literature, social sciences even, because pure music librarian jobs are increasingly rare,” he says.
Salary: According to the Canadian Association of Research Libraries 2018-19 salary report, the average annual salary for all librarians in Canada is $104,861.
“It depends on the province or the type of institution you work for, be it a university or a public institution, but it’s fair to say a starting salary these days would be between $60,000 and $70,000 per year,” says Mr. Behzadi. “As they advance in their careers, anywhere between seven to 15 years, we can expect salaries of anywhere between $95,000 and $105,000.”
Mr. Behzadi adds that music librarians with more than a couple decades of experience typically earn between $100,000 and $120,000 annually, depending on their location and employer. For example, those employed by public libraries and government intuitions often have union-mandated salary caps.
Education: Employers typically require a master’s in library sciences from an American Library Association accredited institution, as well as some form of music education.
“An undergraduate degree is well received, but many people in this field have a master’s degree in music, and some even have PhDs,” says Mr. Behzadi. “It is not unheard of for an individual that does not have [a formal educational] music background, but has a lot of knowledge about music through sel- learning or being a musician, to end up working for music libraries, but if I were to hire a music librarian I would look for somebody with formal education in music.”
Job prospects: Mr. Behzadi says that traditional music librarian positions are increasingly rare, but there are often plenty of opportunities for those that offer a broader range of expertise.
“It’s not every day that you see a posting for a pure music librarian job,” he says. “In both public and academic spheres, librarians are now responsible for more than just music as their subject [of expertise].”
Challenges: Music librarians are frequently challenged by budgetary restrictions, as they often compete for resources with other departments within their institution or organization.
“Getting the right amount of funding to respond to the collection and patron’s needs continues to be a challenge for all libraries,” says Mr. Behzadi. “Support for arts and music has always been challenging, but its increasingly challenging these days as our institutions face financial difficulties.”
Why they do it: Music librarians are often motivated by a passion for music, not only as an art form but also its contribution to history, culture and emotional wellbeing.
“Many individuals who are now working as music librarians were extremely passionate about music, they studied music, and they chose this path because they really truly believe in the importance of music information and what it does for society,” says Mr. Behzadi.
Misconceptions: Some question the need for music libraries in an age of streaming services, but there’s a lot more to music than what’s available on iTunes and Spotify.
“Many, many, many music recordings from the past have absolutely not found their way onto digital formats,” says Mr. Behzadi. “By their nature, these [streaming] companies have a very Western bias to the content they curate, but music is global, its happening in every culture, and those services don’t provide equitable access to the world’s music.”
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