Let’s stir up some trouble:“Do you think orchestra librarians are musicians on the same level as violinists or bassoonists?”
If that question makes you uncomfortable, feel free to answer something easier like “do you still beat your wife?”…
I’m not attempting to single out orchestra librarians to simply pick a fight, but the issue of whether or not librarians should be included in the collective bargaining agreement with the same compensation and benefits as other orchestra musicians is apparently one of the sticking points in the ongoing Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) labor dispute. DSO librarian Ethan Allen posted a comment to an article at this blog on 12/28/2010 alleging that the DSO was attempting to remove two of the orchestra’s three librarians from the collective bargaining agreement and on 1/25/2011 the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Library Facebook page published the following note, which claims the DSO believes that the librarian positions are more administrative than artistic and therefore do not merit compensation and benefits on par with instrumental peers.
The Musician negotiation committee recently asked DSO management why they felt they needed to single out the two Librarians to take a 43% pay cut and eliminate them from the orchestra contract, hence making them the third tier in management’s three-tiered wage system. Management responded by saying that while they recognize that the Librarians “have some musical ability” they also believe that the Librarians “perform more as managers than they do as musicians.” This clearly demonstrates that they have no conception, whatsoever, of what a DSO Librarian actually does. How can they understand when not one single member of management or the Executive Board has ever visited the library for more than a few minutes? It is easy to diminish the importance of someone or something when there is no understanding of the contributions that are made and when the results are behind the scenes but essential to the finished product. Again, we urge them to take a moment to get a small glimpse of what we do by reading the article and watching the video here: http://detroitsymphonymusicians.org/ethanallen.html
It will be fascinating to see whether or not the Major Orchestra Librarian Association (MOLA) will weigh in on all of this with some sort of official statement. At the time this article was published, the organization has yet to offer any insight or opinion on the allegations from the DSO musicians about their negotiations.
MOLA exists as an unusual organization within the field; it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, yet they are not a recognized player conference within the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) nor are they a subset of the League of American Orchestras (The League). But before you go off and make some sort of Switzerland comparison, don’t forget about the DSO librarian quandary. After all, it’s difficult to stay neutral if you’re getting squared away in someone’s crosshairs.
The MOLA website provides a little more detail about being an orchestra librarian with the following section from the About page.
Being an Orchestra Librarian
There are currently no degree programs for orchestral librarians. However, orchestra librarians need to have a broad range of training. They may acquire the necessary working knowledge either through apprentice/internship situations or on-the-job training. Most orchestra librarians begin their musical training as performers.
In the past, librarians were often members of the orchestra or retired from the ranks of the orchestra into the library. Today musicians are choosing the profession as a first career. While some librarians are still players in their orchestras, it is most common for the library position to be full-time at the major orchestra level.
When surveyed about what they consider to be the most important part of their job, orchestra librarians responded, “To have the right music in the right place at the right time.” When asked how they view their role in the orchestra, they replied, “As musicians!”
So what do you think? Are orchestra librarians musicians in the same way as the violinists and bassoonists? Should they be included in a collective bargaining agreement and receive the same compensation and benefits as instrumentalists? And don’t forget, you can still opt for the wife beating question if you wish.
I’m anxious to hear what you think and why.