Orchestra Librarians “have some musical ability”

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.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

Related Posts

64 thoughts on “Orchestra Librarians “have some musical ability””

  1. Interesting topic.

    Other orchestral musician positions traditionally falling outside CBA’s would be Music Directors, Staff Conductors, Composers-in Residence, so one might logically see Music Librarians joining these ranks.

    However to do so as an austerity measure? Librarians like orchestral players exist in a high stress condition with deadlines, occasional personality conflicts, and sometimes unreasonable demands. The difference lies in that the librarians’ stress peaks before the rehearsal, not during it.

    • Great observations Chris and I find myself wondering if the DSO negotiations are going to serve as the catalyst for answering this question once and for all within the business over whether or not orchestra librarians belong in the CBA or not. What seems clear is any solution that attempts to have the positions straddle both sides of the road are increasingly untenable.

  2. Orchestra librarians undoubtedly require musical training far beyond that of a layperson. Do their responsibilities require that they be able to perform at the same level as their peers on stage? Obviously not. It is difficult to make a blanket determination on this question since the structure of the role can vary so much from orchestra to orchestra, i.e. a playing librarian vs. non-playing, career library professional vs. volunteer or half-time apprentice, etc. It should be up to each orchestra (players and management working together) to discuss their own situation and resources, to determine whether or not it is appropriate to include the librarian in the CBA.

    That being said: once they are included in the CBA, it is very difficult to justify removing them. At that point, management is basically making a judgment on the artistic value of one member of the bargaining unit vs. another, which they are no more entitled to due than to argue, for example, the artistic value of one violinist vs. another.

    • Your final point is very astute and it has similarities to one of the reasons why stating negotiation positions in the press can be a double edged sword becasue it effectively draws a line in the sand that can make it difficult to retract later. The artistic judgment example is also intriguing. I’m wondering if the DSO’s proposed dual pay scale which pays incoming musicians a lower minimum guaranteed salary might be related to their alleged position on the librarians.

  3. If one assumes the claims by Mr. Allen and the DSO facebook comment are even minimally accurate, this scheme is absurd and artistically counterproductive. Anyone with any substantial experience in a professional orchestra knows that the librarians are not only indispensable, but artistically vital. Their unique knowledge as both musicians and administrators is critical, because a good librarian saves you rehearsal time- instead of marking parts and other editorial tasks, the musicians can actually work on the music. Maybe the DSO senior staff should ask Mr. Slatkin if he thinks librarians are important or not as musicians.

    IMO this proposal clearly identifies (again) the true challenge facing the DSO Board and musicians. Given the philosophies and proposals put forth by the DSO management in this negotiation, and the overall strategy and tactics in handling this labor dispute, does the senior staff of the DSO have the expertise, industry knowledge, and common sense to lead it out of this quagmire, even if a negotiated settlement is reached?

    • I think you’re hitting on a very important point here Frank in that this situation demonstrates one of what is likely many points within these negotiations. IT serves as an important indication of how little of the proposed business model is as cut and dry as the bottom line. Ultimately, your final question sums up the immediate challenge facing the institution.

  4. I’m more troubled by the apparent assumption – commonplace throughout the orchestra business and seemingly not challenged here – that orchestral management staff automatically deserve lower pay than musicians. Until this basic injustice is addressed, any member of management who can plausibly describe themself as a musician will have a strong motivation to do so!

    That said, anyone who maintains that a top-level orchestral librarian isn’t a highly-trained and skilled musician clearly doesn’t know much about what Librarians do. Do you have to play an instrument for a living to be a musician? Where does that leave composers, arrangers…and conductors?

    • Those are very good points HalldorB and from that perspective it is useful to point out that the very nature of how much musician compensation levels differ, making universal comparisons from staff to musicians is not as useful as making specific references. In Detroit, it is safe to say that the average musician compensation exceeds that of an average staffer but in an orchestra with a $4mil or lower annual budget, the opposite is true.

      • I realise I’m generalising here – I’m coming from the perspective of a major UK symphony orchestra, where non-executive level staff salaries peak at roughly £1k BELOW the lowest-paid musicians. And that’s the norm in UK orchestras.

        I realise that we’re dealing with a very diferent and more varied financial ecology when it comes US orchestras (though this Detroit dispute is throwing up some issues of universal relevance to the classical music business, and your briefings are much appreciated!).

      • Thanks for the perspective HalldorB; in general, UK compensation for players and staffers is comparatively toward the bottom end of most industrialized EURO and English speaking countries with a professional orchestra culture. That, in and of itself, is a topic that generates considerable discussion and I’m very glad that you took a moment to point it out here.

  5. Drew Mc Manus is a self-proclaimed music industry expert who claims that, “there has never been a better time to be in the business.” Apparently he was unable to further his career as a tuba player after graduation from Eastman some time ago and now he makes a living advising arts organizations on how to trim the fat from their budgets (in this latest blog the target is the orchestra librarian) while he skims his commission. In this time of union bashing and tactics involving divide and conquer, he does no one any favors by printing this piece of trash. Anyone who is a musician will take notice that by eliminating the librarian from the collective bargaining agreement, management has just cut down the number of musicians by one (or in the case of Detroit, two). It is in the players’ best interests to fight for their librarians if for no other reason than that.

    Mr. McManus, let me give you a glimpse into what it takes to be a professional orchestra librarian, and the background that most of us have. All three librarians here at the New York Philharmonic are non-playing members of the orchestra. First and foremost, we are musicians and we all come from strong performing backgrounds. It is a common misunderstanding for many members of the arts community (be they players or administrators, or “consultants”) to think that because we do not perform onstage, that we are, for lack of a better description, clerks who file things and obediently transfer pencil markings into a part without questioning any of the musical implications no matter how musically inconsistent they may be. As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, we are the second-best score readers in the hall on any given day, and it is up to us to examine and put into musical context any directions that a composer or conductor may ask of us at any time.

    Our profession requires extensive knowledge of musical nomenclature and the sometimes arcane knowledge of notation and other conventions that a player of any instrument on the stage for any given work must be able to immediately interpret for performance. On any given day our profession also requires that we have a certain level of proficiency on any instrument in order to ensure, for instance, that the instruction is in the written range of the instrument, is correctly transposed for that instrument, and is legible so that there is no question as to what the musical direction is. (Here at the Philharmonic, we do not do computer copying in the library, it is all done by hand.) In the old days, librarians were typically retired string players that were “put out to pasture” by working in the library. For the last 25 years or so, our jobs have evolved into full-time, (for the most part) non-playing positions that have gained the respect of both performers and administrators for the extremely specialized work that we do.

    It is very easy for the nescient, non-musician to dismiss what we do…until a rehearsal breaks down.

    Oh, and for the record, I am a librarian and a bassoonist.

    Sandra Pearson
    Assistant Principal Librarian
    New York Philharmonic

    • I appreciate your passion on the topic Sandra but I do wonder if that passion is inadvertently leading you to inaccurate conclusions. The point of this article is to get people thinking about the topic and given the wide range of comments coming in, it seems to be doing exactly that.

      You’re welcome to take all the pot shots at my credibility you want, the fact that I approved your comment is a good indication that I have nothing to hide. But for those who know of my work first hand or read this blog regularly, they would likely chuckle at the notion that I make a living by prescribing budget cuts or attacking musicians. You may not be aware that I have been invited to be a guest speaker at MOLA conventions (although to date, I have been unable to take advantage of the generous invitations) and have been a speaker at ICSOM conferences as a host of several different performing arts service organizations and academic institutions.

      Consequently, the “labor friendly” tag is one that has been attached to my professional name on more than a few occasions, albeit from wildly different perspectives depending on who is doing the slapping. Regardless of the intent, it is something to be proud of since any consultant worth his/her fee will maintain an equal level of intimate knowledge about the range of dynamic issues associated with every institutional stakeholder. To that end, I wholeheartedly agree with you that there are far too many consultants who charge exorbitant fees that do little to no good for the institutions they are contracted to serve.

      Similarly, one item I won’t disagree with at all is that I was not able to progress my conservatory dream of earning a position in a full time orchestra as a tubist. Although my talent took me as far as winning a per service position in a ROPA level ensemble, I decided that was not the life I wanted to lead so I moved in the direction I am currently enjoying. I have no regrets and enjoy living in the Chicagoland area and taking advantage of the playing opportunities that come along as well as the other musical activity I pursue outside of playing.

    • To write that Mr. McManus is a “self-proclaimed music industry expert” in such a condescending tone is entirely uncalled for. I have to believe that you simply don’t know who this guy is and the reputation he has throughout the business. The anger in your tone is not unlike the sort of defensiveness I used to see from librarians all the time. I agree with how you describe the importance of librarians but I have always thought they do themselves a disservice when they respond to these questions with such a defensive tone and resort to attacking people who are trying to have a good discussion.

      Do you really think librarians are the only people who have to justify their existence in this business? As a retired executive, it consumed most of my time. I had to justify orchestra music to donors, grantors, public officials, etc. So do yourself a favor and stop lashing out blindly at people you clearly don’t know very much about.

      That being said, I hope the Detroit librarians have merely blown this out of proportion but if what they say is true, then I’m saddened to see this attitude among a 52 week orchestra management.

    • “In this time of union bashing and tactics involving divide and conquer, he does no one any favors by printing this piece of trash.”

      I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after reading that remark. I dare you to name someone who has done a better job than Drew McManus at explaining who orchestra musicians are, what we do, how we work with managers, and why we – ALL of us – are important. It seems clear that the people who want to divide and conquor are those in the DSO management and exposing it here where other managers visit is exactly what should happen.

      I can understand why rhetoric like that from the DSO management can make you angry but it shouldn’t drive you to say things like you did, especially when it is clear, as several others have pointed out already, that you don’t follow what Drew says. I hope you’ll own up to your “misplaced enthusiasm” and demonstrate that musicians aren’t a bunch a overly emotional prima donnas and offer up an apology.

    • Holy Cow!
      I think she has probably never read this blog before. I think it’s also possible that she didn’t actually read the posting to which she responded earlier. The venom is inappropriate. I’ve never heard a musician put down someone for having studied an instrument and gone on to something else to make their bread, until now.
      This kind of misunderstanding and subsequent intemperate, vitriolic overreaction is a symptom of the internet, I guess. Unbelievable!

  6. If you were a regular reader you’d realize Drew McManus is a advocate for librarians and has been one for some time. Nor does he advocate cutting your way to success. How did you infer that he had an opinion one way or another from this post. It seems like he is the only one out there (Detroit included) making excellent points as to why the library position is necessary. It would be appropriate for you to write an apology for someone who is backing the library. You do make good points as you listed the description as to why librarians are necessary; all of which I agree with. But clearly, you misinterpreted Drew’s article. I strongly suggest you read more of his posts before levying such unjustified condemnation.

    • My apologies to the above reader; when approving the comment I inadvertently deleted the original email address and upon doing that, the system automatically inserted mine in its place. Many thanks to a sharp eyed reader for pointing that out shortly after it happened so I could go back and make the appropriate correction!

  7. As an executive director (by the way, I do visit our library frequently), I would love to hear more from the field. Our librarian is not represented in the CBA, but rather part of the administrative staff (hired, managed, and need be fired by management). While this person is part of the operations team and has office duties such as ordering paper and keeping equipment functional, they work closely with the music director since the majority of their work is based on direction from him and our principal strings.

    Of course, that could be said for the stage manager (who receives stage layout directions from the music director and works directly with individual musicians on chair, stand, light issues, etc.), and while we don’t have a separate personnel manager, that person too would work directly with the artistic team.

    So it’s easy to see why these three positions are usually listed on the musicians roster, but I am not sure that puts them on par with the violins and bassoons, and how logistically their work can be outlined in a CBA to mirror their performing colleagues.

    • Hi Robert, I think you bring up some good points here and one additional thought I had after reading through everything is related to the challenges that smaller budget groups go through when considering to form or expand a group of core musicians. As groups grow, one of the typical issues that crop up during negotiations is whether or not to upgrade the status of any particular musician position. For example, in a two-tier per service/salary core structure, whether the principal tuba should be moved from per service to salary.

      Even if all stakeholders agree that librarians should be included in the CBA, there comes a point when discussions ensue about where in that structure they belong. Interestingly enough, given the collective bargaining process, either side can propose terms regarding librarian status but in order to get to that point, each side has to have an internal discussion.

      All of the considerations you proposed are exactly the sorts of items that should be measured and I believe that the more the entire field is aware of of and participates in those discussions on some level, the closer we’ll come to an acknowledged consensus.

  8. I’d like to assert that Orchestra Personnel Managers also are worthy of better “standing” in the field. Many of us, thankfully, do have extensive musical knowledge, we are called upon to be wherever our musicians are (in addition to keeping regular office hours), to be on call 24/7 to handle all kinds of matters ranging from artistic, to personal emergencies, to production-related issues, the list goes on and on. The very fact that we are invisible to most (e.g., the audience, first and foremost) is a GOOD thing, and is because we have worked long and hard to ensure that all the elements that go into the product on stage have been taken care of well before we “go live.” But, such invisibility should not contribute in anyway (and this is my own personal opinion) to the fact that we are, as a class and generally speaking, compensated at a much lower level than our musicians are, and even colleagues on staff who must use a lot of the same skills and meet the same demanding schedule as we do. We are not alone, but we are an often overlooked group, I feel. Without OPMs or Librarians, there’s absolutely no go: no people, no music, no performances! No performances=no raison d’etre!

    • Thanks for bringing this up CA! Personnel Managers are another equally fascinating topic and once I find some time, we should examine that position in greater detail via a dedicated post. But in short, I would be surprised to hear anyone say the PM or librarian position as something a full orchestra performing arts organization can do without.

  9. As the clarinet player orders reeds, as the violinist orders rosin, so does the orchestra librarian order paper, pencils, and copier maintenance. Tools of the trade for an artist, much like brushes and paint to a visual artist – NOT a comment on the librarian’s status as an administrative staff member versus an artistic staff member.


  10. Good morning, Drew.
    I have found the various postings about orchestra librarians being (or not) musicians very interesting reading. As a librarian myself, as well as a performing violinist and violist, I often encounter folks who are confused by our title. Perhaps the word librarian is a confusing one; while some of us are, in fact, trained in library science and have MLA degrees, all of us do have a thorough music background, including performance at some level.
    As a past president of MOLA, I wish to make a comment as to why you have not heard any policy statement from MOLA. It is simply because we represent performance librarians in all types of situations: orchestras, bands, academic institutions, festivals, and military ensembles. We are an international non-profit group and cannot promote an area that does not involve all of our members. That being said, MOLA membership does not preclude its individual members from offering up their opinions on matters that pertain to our industry.
    I look forward to an honest exchange of opinions and ideas, and trust that all parties will be open to reading carefulluy to what is being written.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the insight Marcia. I’m sorry to see that MOLA isn’t coming out with an official statement, even if it is something that simply reaffirms current positions and/or expresses additional thoughts on the topic of orchestra librarians being included in the collective bargaining agreement. I know that it would be enormously useful n helping organizations which are dealing with these issues find solutions.

      Is the CBA librarian status an topic that ever comes up within the organization as an official topic; meaning, is it something that has been addressed via agenda item in board meetings or among representatives during conventions?

  11. Drew,
    During your intro of this topic you stated that MOLA was a group on its own. Au contraire – the ICSOM directory lists all the orchestra librarians as part of orchestra personnel. The person in charge of ICSOM e-mailing is both an ICSOM and a MOLA board member. In another post, it was said that intense library work was over when rehearsals began. That poster has evidently not been in a rehearsal when something broke down with the conductor screaming for the librarian…….

    • Thanks for that Michael, I do recall that the ICSOM Wage charts (which for those unaware aren’t the same thing as the directory) indicate whether the librarians are part of the CBA or not. As for the directory itself, I don’t know how the AFM determines which musicians to include; meaning, do they include non-AFM members as well?

      To be clear, the point I was making is that MOLA is not a players conference within the AFM in the same way that ICSOM, ROPA, OCSM, etc. are. However, your example that describes how individual librarians can decide to pursue representative work in any of the AFM player conferences regardless of MOLA status (and vice-versa) is very useful.

      • Hi Drew,

        One can’t belong to an AFM Player Conference (ICSOM, ROPA, RMA, etc.) without belonging to the AFM. The ICSOM directory is published by ICSOM, not the AFM. Similarly, other PC directories are published by the PCs, not the AFM.

        AFM Locals each publish directories of all their members and the AFM website has a member lookup for its entire membership for those members logged in on its site.

        If MOLA members are in the bargaining unit as they are in most ICSOM orchestras, then they are ICSOM members as well.

        Hope this sheds a little more light…..

  12. Hi Drew,

    Just to clarify, Detroit only has two librarians on the CBA; I worked there as an Assistant Librarian, non-contracted and paid an hourly fee, even though I consistently put in full-time hours (including some concert duty). If management has their way, there would be no librarians on the musician contract and the orchestra would be down two musician positions.

    Librarians are musicians, first and foremost. While there is no Orchestral Library degree program, many librarians have performance degrees. In addition to their degrees, librarians spend years honing their craft through unpaid internships and summer festivals. While we are not onstage, we work tirelessly off stage refining our skills as orchestral musicians. Our performance can make or break a rehearsal cycle and no one has the time, patience or money to afford a rehearsal coming to a grinding halt. While not all orchestral librarians are treated as equals with their colleagues on stage, it would be a mistake to assume that our colleagues without musician’s contract work any less to achieve artistic greatness for their orchestras.

    Maureen Conroy
    Acting Associate Librarian
    Utah Symphony

    • Many thanks for the additional insight, that was different than what I was led to believe but I’ll double check with Robert Stiles to see if there were any changes from your time with the organization. What’s clearly important in the DSO situation is that it has the potential to impact future decisions in other institutions as well as the status of existing librarians.

      UPDATE: according to the DSO librarians, as of the most recent CBA (which is now expired) there were two full-time librarians covered under that agreement.

  13. Goodness me, but you seemed to stir something up here, didn’t you, Drew?!

    Hmmm … how to even begin … librarians aren’t performers. They are (or at least should be!) highly skilled and knowledgeable. Without them performers would be in a very bad way! But comparing the two jobs — musicians and librarians — just doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure what other comparisons I can come up with … perhaps comparing the opera singer to the costume designer? Both are very important. Both need the other. But one is a performer and the other a … hmm … would technician be the right word? Dunno!

    Should the salaries be tied to the performers? You got me! I can tell you librarians deserve a very good salary. Just in dealing with the orchestra players and the conductor they deserve a very good sum! I know this. Trust me.

    I was a music librarian for a number of years. I continue, in fact, to have music librarian nightmares. It’s a grueling job. It is not always appreciated by the musicians. The job is never-ending, and the schedule keeping was even more difficult than keeping track of rehearsals, performances and students.

    My position in our little orchestra was considered a “management” position. I was, at the same time, the English hornist of the orchestra. What this meant, at least some of the time, was that neither “side” trusted me. It was a very unpleasant place to be during negotiations and was even worse the one year when we actually did go on strike (for all of about 24 hours IIRC).

    Gee, I guess I haven’t really answered your initial trick question, have I? I like to avoid trick questions.

    But I would suggest any orchestra musician should spend some time thanking his or her librarian. Truly.

  14. Good afternoon,

    I am Robert Stiles, D.M.A., Principal Librarian of the Detroit Symphony. First and foremost, I am a musician, just like my colleague Ethan Allen, and all of my librarian colleagues around the world. Though our backgrounds and training may vary, to be successful and handle the demands of our profession at the highest level, it is impossible to imagine not having the experience of being a performing musician on some level. In the case of my colleague and I, we can both be spotted on the stage performing alongside our colleagues in the orchestra. Ethan is a very talented percussionist and in addition to his sub work with the DSO, performs with various community orchestras throughout the area. I have a doctorate in double bass and have played double bass, piano, celeste, synthesizer, and percussion with the Detroit Symphony during the past twelve seasons. Perhaps the highlight of my performing career might have been the solo bow I received for my performance of the synthesized human voice in Tippet’s Symphony No.4…I would never have imagined that when I was practicing concertos and excerpts throughout college! But I digress…does being or having been a performing musician matter to be an orchestra librarian? And does the fact we perform as playing musicians influence our day to day work?

    In the expired Detroit Symphony CBA, there is a designation of how many musicians shall comprise the ensemble and how many librarians are included in the “orchestra”. In our opinion, the contract delineates this to emphasize the importance of our role–no other “section” compliment is defined. Indeed, there are only 2 librarians included in the expired DSO CBA. I managed to acquire the necessary funding to hire part-time assistance for the last 10 years…as is common practice at every major orchestra in the country. Some orchestras have 3, 4, or even 5 librarians, and in some cases, there is extra help hired beyond that. Why? In a major orchestra, the job of an orchestra librarian is never done, as our days are filled with constant attention to details of that day, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year–all at the same time. We continually strive to ensure performances are the best they can be.

    For a major orchestra such as ours to achieve its highest artistic level, gifted musicians must perform the role of librarian. Could the orchestra survive with a smaller string compliment? We already are. Could the orchestra survive without a principal flute? We have for three years. Could the orchestra survive without a music director? We did for three seasons. Could the orchestra survive without two highly skilled, uniquely qualified musicians to serve the role of librarian? Highly doubtful. How many managers can transpose sax parts to be played by other instruments for pops shows? How many managers can re-orchestrate badly written passages so that the expensive commission can actually be played? How many managers understand the needs of onstage performers, especially at the highest level, and how to make sure they can perform their best? Very, very few.

    I have personally arranged three works performed by the DSO, plus countless others performed by orchestras and ensembles around the country. Additionally, I won’t provide names, but our collective musical knowledge has saved more pieces, performances, and commissions than I have fingers and toes…not to mention the embarrassment that would have been caused for the entire organization without our musical knowledge and skill put into action–virtuoso performances if you will. Most recently, a summer film project would have been cancelled without our musical abilities…again, we saved the DSO from major embarrassment and financial losses.

    On to another point–as noted by KT Somero, we have our own tools of our instrument–which is our brain. In addition, we need paper, pencils, erasers, a good copier, paper, etc. Because we order our supplies, does this make us a manager? No. Does our concertmaster order her own strings? Yes. Do the reeds our oboist and bassoonists make qualify them as woodworkers, not musicians? No, this is part of the trade. The point–we all have various tools needed to perform our roles as musicians. The fact we handle administrative duties make us even more special and unique–with respect to our colleagues, we are expected to know more about everything than anyone else in the organization in regard to every performance we do–often more than the conductors with whom we work. Trust me when I say there have been numerous conductors we have made look good…when they should have crashed and burned. But, that is our job–the show must go on and be the best it can be.

    Next, regarding the elephant in the room, there is a difference between the duties, knowledge, and professional commitment between librarians at orchestras of different levels, just like that of the performing musicians and managers. I started at a small organization and learned the trade working with distinguished colleagues at major orchestras. My position was not a CBA position. Was the stress level anything like I live with now? Not even remotely close. If we make a mistake and there is a disruption in rehearsal, overtime may result…which is extremely costly to the organization. We live with this every day, for every rehearsal, for every concert. As someone above noted, in a smaller orchestra, staff and management often make more than the musicians–so why would there be a CBA librarian position? Once an orchestra reaches a certain budget and artistic level, it makes sense to have a CBA position–because at that point, the orchestra depends on the librarian much more often and closely and the success of the orchestra is closely tied to the skill and musical competence of the librarian(s).

    Sometimes, I liken our roles of librarians to that of place kickers in football. As long as they make the extra points and easy field goals, no one knows our names. Once we miss an “easy” kick or miss the 54 yard game winner, we are villains. In short, if we do our job effectively, no one notices (even though they really do). If we miss a kick, we get sent to the end of the bench…and wear a scarlet L for the next few days, weeks, etc. Ours is a thankless job. If a conductor makes a mistake in rehearsal, they stop and start over…and often blame with violas (or 2nd trombone, etc.!). If a soloist plays out of tune, they use wider vibrato. We don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. Do we? Sure, but we just try to keep our field goal percentage as close to perfect as possible.

    Luckily, our DSO colleagues are 150% behind us–they understand why we are one with them. Many MOLA colleagues have assisted us throughout the strike, many have written letters to our board on our behalf, and some even sent presents during the holidays.

    To summarize, our previous performing knowledge informs our work as librarians. Without these experiences, we wouldn’t understand why what we do is so incredibly vital to the success of each rehearsal and concert. Some might think we just shuffle papers, put out folders, and say “no–you can’t do that because it violates copyright law.” But those people display the same type of ignorance evident with any other prejudice. I believe I have made my point. We are musicians first.

    Perhaps we have stayed silent for too long. I don’t think anyone thought we’d still be in strike in late January. And, even though our management acknowledges we “have some musical ability”, I am not sure very many recognize that they have any real managerial ability–just look at the way they have handled themselves throughout this process. Maybe that is a dig…but maybe it is the truth. Maybe their protracted non-negotiating is a tactic they hope will achieve the result they desire–whatever that may be. But having served on the DSO Strategic Planning Committee for three years, I can’t help but believe their position on librarians isn’t somewhat personal. I am not shy or afraid to speak the truth–and maybe that makes us an easier target, especially when our profession is so easily discounted and misunderstood. But, next time you hear a concert, perform on stage, or stand backstage patting others on the back, maybe you should take a moment to appreciate and gain a greater understanding of the musical and organizational wizards that are orchestra librarians. They are pretty awesome people.

    We invite you to see our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Detroit-Symphony-Orchestra-Library/132771000103234?v=info. We also have a video at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Detroit-Symphony-Orchestra-Library/132771000103234?v=app_2392950137&ref=ts.

    Lastly, you can sign the petition to Save our Symphony at http://saveoursymphony.info/.

    • Thanks for taking the time to write out such a thoughtful and thorough response Robert. It certainly provides some of the additional discussion points folks have been asking about. I’m particularly glad to see so many managers weighing in here along with personal email and asking questions. There is certainly some sincere interest out there so this is decidedly a good discussion.

  15. Dear Drew,

    I know that you like to stir the pot a bit and see what boils over — you certainly picked a topic today guaranteed to accomplish that goal! But I am glad there is an opportunity for librarians (as in orchestra or performance librarians) and other musicians, as well as managers (hopefully) to help answer these questions and inform your readers about an issue that is critical to us. So thank you for opening up the subject. Many of the responses have been very articulate and detailed, like Robert Stiles’ fine posting from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Some of the other responses lack facts which a few folks have touched upon. There are a couple more that I would like to address as well.

    Certainly many orchestra librarians have or are performing musicians either in their orchestras or on the outside. But it is not this (or this alone) that makes a performance librarian a musician. There are plenty of musical disciplines in which musicians who practice those disciplines do not perform: composers compose; orchestrators orchestrate; copyists copy; and librarians do library work which means preparing the music for performances. They are all musicians. Another way to put it: not all musicians are performers.

    Although we may be specialists on various instruments, the musical education and background of an orchestra librarian is likely to be a very wide one, covering music theory, history, composition, orchestration, musicology and any other discipline that helps us do the job, including practicing and performing on our instrument(s).

    We ply our craft just as the performing musicians ply theirs. Players are craftsmen (and craftswomen) too, but no one would think they are NOT musicians (even though every musicians’ level, talent, skill and even musical insight is at a different level). I can actually be a fine musician as an orchestra librarian, and never perform a note! And I am. Am I as good of a musician as a professional orchestral clarinetist or tuba player? Yes. The difference is that there are far fewer of us, and many people, even within the symphonic field, have no idea what we REALLY do. So, they perhaps can’t discern why an excellent librarian (non-playing musician) is deserving of the status as a “member” of the orchestra earning equal wages and benefits.

    Of course we believe orchestra librarians should be under the collective bargaining agreement. We have the same vigorous musical training as the players, the years of dedicated hard work in our disciplines, the experience, and the musical talent. As others have pointed out, there is some administrative work and a life of detail, but nearly every task done in the orchestra library is about, for, with, in or on the music. It’s musican work. It would be impossible to do the work at the highest level and not be a musician. I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in my job if I weren’t a musician. And, because I am performing musical services for my employer who has a collective bargaining agreement for its employees who perform musical work, then, yes, I should be part of that agreement. I am fortunate that I am but it hasn’t always been so.

    Historically and traditionally orchestras included their librarians under the CBA. It is only in the relatively recent past (about 20 years) that some managements have actively tryed to take the librarians away from the contracts. They feel they can do this because they can call the librarian a “clerk” and undermine what the job really is and the librarians’ skills really are, as in Detroit, to pay less money and give fewer benefits. I think this is nothing more than going after an easy target and trying to divide the orchestra. Apparently the Detroit management has not accepted the fact that one of the main reasons the orchestra there is still out on strike is because of the attempt to separate the librarians from the rest of the unit. To the orchestra, that would be like separating one of the oboists or percussionists — it’s cutting positions in the orchestra.

    As for any comment from MOLA, it is important to understand the composition of that association, which is an organization of organizations from all over the world (not individual librarians). The librarians are the representatives from each performance organizations but are not actually the members. Too many of our North American member librarians are not under their orchestra’s CBA’s, and around other parts of the world, even less so if at all (because the contracts are so different). But that doesn’t apply to all the MOLA member librarians who work for concert bands, or who are not members of the AFM or any union.

    So MOLA, even as it embraces the idea of commensurate pay and working conditions for all of its member librarians, cannot really endorse a position. We do have a liaison committee to the AFM of which I am the Chair, and in that capacity I have spoken up on many occasions about the plight of my friends and colleagues in Detroit, and tried to offer help when and where I can. But let’s all be clear about one thing — librarians who work for an organization in which there either is no union CBA or are not protected by it are often fearful of recrimination in their own jobs if they speak out on such issues. MOLA would never want to put any of its member librarians in any difficulty in their organizations, and because every member organization is structured differently, we cannot push for one way.

    These are the things that are on my mind today as I have been reading and discussing your questions, Drew, as well as the responses. I now must get back to work, late as it is, because I have to offer some repertoire suggestions to the management for programming a concert; edit parts for a commissioned work coming up; put additions and corrections into the conductor’s score for that same commission; fix a page turn in some string parts (and figure out the best place to turn based on tempo and divisis); and compare editions of a major work to figure out what the differences are so I can make the proper recommendation to my music director. I better get to it.

    Thank you!

    • I’m confused, you don’t want to risk reprisals against librarians so you won’t even go so far as to offer support to your dues paying members in Detroit, which by their own accounts, are being singled out and targeted? Why would any librarian want to pay to be a part of an organization that claims they won’t stand up for their members out of fear of reprisals? Are you familiar with how ICSOM was formed and what so many orchestra musicians went through in the 60’s to get the basic rights they deserved and we enjoy today? Would that have happened if they were scared of reprisals?

      I’m sorry to be so blunt but your reasons really seem like a cop out. Why should I respect librarians if they don’t respect themselves? I really hope MOLA changes its mind and stands by their member in Detroit.

  16. Almost all musicians begin as either instrumentalists or singers. As they grow and develop their skills they may specialize in an instrument or branch out into other areas of music such as conductors, composers, copyists, arrangers, orchestrators, or orchestra librarians. In any case, all of these professions are built on the fundamentals of being a musician and are simply specialized fields of music. There are no non-musicians in any of these fields.

    Every orchestra seeks a musician to serve as their orchestra librarian, it’s always stated in the job description – something like ‘degree required’ or ‘ability to copy music and read music.’ Are any non-musicians able to perform this function at this level?

  17. Drew,

    Let’s definitely start another discussion about staff and their role in the orchestra organization. The issue of where the librarian fits in is certainly fascinating and on a similar note, I believe there are a number of equally critical (and highly specialized) non-musician positions that warrant discussion.

  18. Drew-

    Not knowing much about music librarians, I approached your entry as an opportunity to learn about their function.

    Little did I realize it was such a contentious topic. I was pretty astounded by the number of comments that accumulated in a short time. More so by the venom directed your way. Though some long and considered comments here too.

    More of an education than I expected. Its clear that music librarians don’t conform to the reserved stereotype applied to their colleagues in school and public libraries.

    • I love the fact that there is some outsider-looking-in perspective going on here Joe, thanks for chiming in to remind everyone that we don’t live in a bubble. For the sake of perspective, there are a number of issues like this under the surface that can pop up during collective bargaining discussions and since they aren’t sound-bite oriented nor cut-and-dry, it can make it that much more confusing for folks to understand what is going on. Imagine how board members who are unaware of these issues react when it gets dumped on their lap.

  19. “Do you think orchestra librarians are musicians on the same level as violinists or bassoonists?”

    The answer is quite simple my friends and that answer is yes. How do I know? Check out my last name. Case closed. Here endeth the lesson.

    I’ll get around to reading all the comments later. Sandra’s looks real interesting.

      • When I was librarian and the orchestra went on strike it was a bit tricky. Since I was in the orchestra I asked the committee if I could please go into the office to pick up some music in order to prepare for other concerts. With their (somewhat hesitant) permission I went in, collected a few things, and stayed home until things cleared up.

        (While our CBA specified that the librarian was to come from within the orchestra, I was not included in any other way in the contract.)

        Oh … and management later sent me flowers, knowing how painful the strike was to someone caught in the middle.

        And a little side note: the “librarians are musicians” statement someone brought up is, to the best of my knowledge, quite true. Every music librarian I have ever met or heard of has been a musician. Not all continue performing once they become librarians, though. Some never opted to become professional players. Some never play again at all once they take on the grueling librarian job. I suppose I should make my “librarians aren’t performers” statement a bit less strong, eh? So how about “Not all music librarians are performers. All music librarians ARE musicians, though some are no longer practicing musicians.” Does that say it better?

        We most certainly depend upon them. That statement I know is fact. Don’t even try to argue. 😎

      • Fascinating stuff Patty, you are indeed a wealth of common sense knowledge! Interesting in that you asked the committee for permission to go in and pick up music etc. If the librarian wasn’t listed as a position within the CBA then I don’t think there would be any way they could prevent you from reporting for work (other than political persuasion).

        I do think the better path to follow regarding the whole labeling discussion is librarians are musicians; none of the non playing musicians, etc. The moment you begin making distinctions, the easier it is for management, board, and patron stakeholders to see distinctions, real or imagined. Beyond that, it is up to each respective musicians’ committee to address the librarian position and how it fits into the CBA in the very same way they would any other musician position.

        This will certainly be a different prioritization process for 100% per-service, per-service/salary core, and 100% salary core and the discussions surrounding the position(s) within each respective orchestra will likely be as varied as the musicians and managers within each group.

  20. I am another of the “outsiders”. As a long time (>30 yrs) season subscriber, I am fascinated by the chance to look “behind the curtain” and see what is going on INSIDE the orchestra. Frankly I had no idea how complex the job of the orchestra librarian is until I read Karen Schnackenberg’s occasional blog posts about her work here in Dallas.

    I can not imagine how a non-musician can do that job adequately.

    Good discussion…

    Bill in Dallas

  21. So did Ms. Pearson ever write back somewhere in this thread? She came across with such an emotional response while other librarians have had a far less angry reply, I’m curious to know if she’s as reasoned as her peers or are they the exception to the rule and most librarians these days fly off the handle like that.

  22. Just to remind what the original question was:

    “Do you think orchestra librarians are musicians on the same level as violinists or bassoonists?”

    If the said librarian in question has the ability to go through an audition process in the orchestra that he/she is the librarian for and can win a playing job, then yes. If not, then no. In other words, while librarians are musicians, they are not on the same level as the playing members of the orchestra.

    • I am a bit disappointed that a former librarian would post this comment. My question is: can a player in the orchestra pass a library test/ audition?

      A librarian of a moderate to large orchestra is required to have some knowledge of almost every orchestral instrument as well as a vast amount of music history. No exceptions.

      This is another reason why librarians are musicians and non-playing members of their orchestras.

      • An interesting reply; to go one step more, let’s assume that everyone agrees with your definition of why librarians are musicians and non-playing members of an orchestra.

        Consequently, should they included in the collective bargaining agreement with all the same wage and benefits as the playing musicians?

      • “can a player in the orchestra pass a library test/ audition?”

        Um… in a word, yes. These skills are also a requisite if you have a degree in Music. Library skills test/audition is exactly that, a skill. You do not have to be born with natural talent, although certain personality traits will be more helpful than others. You study for it as you would an exam. If you can’t play the violin, you can’t. No amount of lessons or practice will turn you into a violinist.

        Your very definition of “librarians are musicians and non-playing members of their orchestras” is contradictory. Last time I checked, members of the orchestra all play an instrument. I agree that librarians can be a musician, disagree that they are members of the orchestra. It’s a clerical job that requires musical knowledge and understanding, just as an artistic planner does, but by no means are they members of the orchestra. Do we really want every person on the staff with a musical education to start calling themselves a “non-playing member of the orchestra”? I hope not.

        Since this is heading back to the derived question of should they be included in the CBA or not, I am with MC’s response below. And let’s point out one more thing about the CBA inclusion. If the librarians are part of the CBA, it means that their compensation is higher than that of the section musician as librarians all seem to have titles of “Principal, Associate Principal, Assistant Principal, etc”. I wonder how the section musicians feel about that?

  23. Thanks Former Librarian for refreshing memories as to the original question, which certainly seemed provocative to me. Here’s my perspective and some impressions as an Australian orchestra professional:

    When I first began looking at American program books many years ago, and seeing the librarians (and sometimes personnel managers) listed at the end of the orchestra list, but invariably none of the other staff, I was very puzzled. My first reaction: why is no one else who is contributing to this performance (but not performing in it) credited? Occasionally I noticed that the librarians were also playing members in the orchestra in question, but that didn’t explain why non-playing librarians were listed.

    In Australian symphony orchestras librarians are counted as administrative staff. Yes, they are musically trained; yes, they may be active or previously active performers on their instruments; but their function as librarians is considered a supporting one. (For context: there isn’t a tradition here of orchestral players “retiring” to library roles.)

    The distinction in an Australian orchestra is not «whether you are a musician» or not, or even whether you are a musician «on a particular level» or not. The distinction is: are you performing on stage or not?

    So if you look at a program book for an Australian concert, our orchestra lists credit those who perform: instrumentalists and titled conductors. Our staff lists credit all those who support the concerts from behind the scenes. (If someone happened to play in an orchestra and squeeze in part-time work as a librarian as well, they’d be listed both places.)

    As others have already observed, it’s not just librarians who must also be trained musicians and in command of vast practical experience, refined musical judgement and a wealth of repertoire knowledge. In any orchestra there will be staff who are and consider themselves to be musicians by training and practice – often to a high professional level. Those people might as easily be artistic planners or program editors or marketing directors as librarians. Trying to make a distinction regarding whether an employee is a “musician” or not based on their training or prior employment is potentially fraught and will invariably lead to unfairness somewhere. Assessing a person’s role based on whether they use their musical skills and knowledge on stage or behind the scenes, as we do in Australia, seems so much more straightforward.

    (NB. I’ve deliberately not touched on disparities between musician and staff salaries – this is too complicated a subject for a simple comparison between two countries. But obviously, if the disparity is wide in any given orchestra, that will form a big part of how one feels about the classification of one’s role, especially if an unwelcome change is being proposed.)

    • This is a fascinating perspective Yvonne, thank you so much for taking a moment to contribute. I’ve noticed program brooks that list some staff along with musicians and others that don’t. Among the former, the lists usually include most of the operations staff (PM, stage crew, etc.) and among the former, full staff lists located elsewhere in the book are hit and miss.

      I know of organizations that intentionally refrain from listing the staff; they all seem to have unique reasons but the decisions are almost always made at the top executive level.

  24. As someone in a fledgling organization, I’ve found myself sitting as Librarian, Operations and OPM as well as psychologist and relationship counselor. It’s not just the musical skill set, although absolutely vital, but having skills such as – negotiation, never afraid to ask a question, freakish organization skills, attention to detail, little to no need for people to appreciate any of what you do and the ability to take the blame for any perceived or actual mistake that is made by any or all musicians or artistic staff. Oh! almost forgot one – ability to handle everything from broken glasses, lost reeds, pants ripping, multiple people without shirts, missing music, housing problems, squeaky chairs and weather manipulation.

    So should this person be in the CBA…in my opinion, no. I’ve strived to be the neutral party – artistic, management and musician. In other words, you’re the Arts equivalent of Switzerland – living everywhere and no where.

  25. Getting back to the situation of the librarians of the DSO:

    The reason management wants to remove the librarians from the bargaining unit and separate them from the musicians is clear to anyone familiar with the proposals that DSO management has offered to the musicians.

    DSO management proposes that the DSO have a 48 week season, but that individual musicians only have a 36 week contract. The proposed plan is to spread the musicians out over the 48 weeks by overlapping them.

    If there are going to be concerts presented for 48 weeks, clearly the library staff will be needed for 48 weeks.

    By removing the librarians from the musicians contract and calling them administration, they will have access to them for the entire 48 week season.

    To DSO management: If I have gotten any of this wrong, please correct me. I am doing my best with the limited information available to me from your office.

    • In the lion’s share of instances I’m aware of, librarians (CBA member or not) in orchestras with anything less than 52 weeks typically work more weeks than the stated minimum due to the inherent time lines involved with ordering, processing, preparing, and distributing music. Unless there is information that hasn’t been presented, the DSO proposal seems far more straightforward in that it has less to do with artistic definitions and more to do with establishing a long-term cost control factor.

  26. The latest news out of Detroit is troubling and quite sad. I truly hope for resolution and compromise, where all of the current musicians (including librarians) are retained.

    Speaking as a highly trained musician (multiple music performance degrees, extensive free-lance work, multiple performance orchestral audition invitations), I cannot begin to fathom working in my position as an orchestra librarian without my musical knowledge and background. It is vital to my daily existence as an orchestra librarian. Because I have had the experience of sitting in an orchestra, and working with conductors and fellow musicians, I am better able to meet and anticipate the needs of my performing colleagues. I have to be able read music in order to succeed at my job. I spend many hours a day reading music and scores, in different clefs and transpositions. This skill is not a requirement for traditional “management” positions. It is, always, one of the the first requirements outlined in an Orchestra Librarian’s job description.

  27. Dear “Retired Manager”:
    I do not “fly off the handle,” and it is to your detriment to assume that because I have a centered argument, you take the rather flaccid standpoint that I am over emotional. These are union-busting times, and my response to whether librarians are musicians was a cohesive and self-explanitory one. Why you choose to twist this into something other than a comprehensive explanation why we are musicians is obviously something your management skills cannot comprehend, but it is certainly not something beyond what anyone who performs on the stage can understand.

    • You don’t fly off the handle? Did you read all of the responses to your comment and the number of people who commented on how your anger and condemnation was clearly uncalled for and unfounded?

      You strike me as exactly the type of musician that the real anti-union conservatives on the board used to love becasue you were such a predictable and easy target to justify their position to middle of the road board members.

      Just look at the condescending language in your comment like “flaccid.” the only reason to use a word like that is an attempt to emasculate someone you think is an opponent. You might want to consider that coming across like a stereotype might not be in your best interest. Likewise, you might want to learn how to tell your enemies from your friends.

      sure, these are union busting times. Just look at what’s going on in Wisconsin. But again, you might want to reconsider lashing out against perceived threats but maybe even more importantly, learn to identify an actual threat.

      I have to ask again, did you not read all of the comments pointing out that your anger here is entirely misdirected? Did you bother to address that, maybe eat a little humble pie? Nope. Instead, you went back on the defensive.

      You might even consider that you’re the type of musician who turns good managers bad because no matter what they do to push back against the tide of narrow mindedness they always have a musician like you ready to bite their hand for the most ridiculous and unfounded of reasons. I wish you the best of luck with that and have no doubt that you’ll end up getting precisely what you deserve in this business.

Leave a Comment