A s ICSOM Secretary it was my great honor at the end of May to attend the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) Conference that was hosted by Nashville Symphony librarians D. Wilson Ochoa and Jennifer Goldberg. The conference began with a reception co-hosted by MOLA and the Nashville Symphony Players’ Assembly following our Friday evening Classical Series concert. Many attended the performance and were treated to the first performance of Principal Librarian D. Wilson Ochoa’s transcription of Aaron Copland’s Emblems.
Founded only a quarter-century ago, MOLA quickly has become a truly international organization, with 248 member organizations representing 420 librarians on six continents. Nearly one hundred member librarians traveled to Nashville from as far away as Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Germany. MOLA also includes many U.S. military ensembles. The conference has more than two days of plenary sessions, smaller breakout sessions on established topics, and a host of opportunities to meet during breaks, breakfast, and a wonderful dinner I was invited to attend. I must thank Marcia Farabee (MOLA president, National Symphony), Karen Schnackenberg (past president of MOLA, Dallas Symphony) and Pat McGinn (conference volunteer and MOLA administrator, Milwaukee Symphony), as well as my colleagues Wilson and Jennifer for making me welcome. I hope we can reciprocate during an ICSOM Conference in the future.
The message I delivered, during a closed session for members only, had to do with the inclusion of librarians in the bargaining unit. (I’m told I was the first non-member ever to give an address during their business meeting.) I am personally committed to including librarians in our collective bargaining units and am proud to say that we in Nashville have achieved success by bringing both our librarians into the bargaining unit.
Librarians work an incredible number of hours to assure that parts are legible, and they work with string principals to assure bowings are done and marked into our parts, that notes and rhythms are corrected, and that the music is available in a timely fashion. Our principal librarian was also involved in designing the library in our new hall and designing the music drawers so the parts are available even when the library is closed. (Wilson admits borrowing the idea from Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.) Our librarians serve as an additional set of ears during recording sessions and have taken on the daunting task over the years of getting all licensing clearances for our live performances and any recording or broadcast uses (like on our websites or for season demo disks). I heard a great deal during this conference about music clearances and find that it’s not as easy as a simple phone call to one place. This requires a great deal of time and effort in addition to all their other duties.
And let us not forget (though many do) that our librarian colleagues are, first and foremost, musicians. They might not volunteer it, but they began their careers as performing musicians, some of them working in our finest orchestras before taking on the responsibilities and duties of librarians. There are a variety of reasons why they chose to be librarians, but their musical background is right there for the asking. The special tasks they do for all of us are in addition to their constant attention to preparing folders, ordering music, contacting conductors and composers about their needs, etc. For example, during the last two months in Nashville, our librarians had to prepare two sets of audition books for our committees, in alphabetical order, with the first round already set up for committee use. Why any of our musicians would not want these folks to receive the benefits of protection under our CBA is a mystery to me. I don’t honestly know where they find the time to do everything they are tasked with—imagine the organizational skills this job must entail!
Additionally, and most may be unaware of this fact, unless a librarian is a member of the bargaining unit, there is no obligation to pay or include them on recording contracts. The additional work that is put into part preparation for recordings can be enormous, sometimes including fixing massive mistakes in the music, but it receives no additional compensation. That just doesn’t seem fair to me, but managers (and there are some who go around the country touting their displeasure over including librarians in bargaining units) as a general rule won’t pay recording fees to any but those who are mandated by national agreements.
I promised the members of MOLA I would educate my colleagues about all the many responsibilities and qualifications of librarians. I believe it is important to understand and embrace those orchestra members who contribute so much to our livelihood and to encourage orchestra negotiators to fight to include them in bargaining units that do not already cover librarians. Honestly, it’s not really a cost issue for our managers since they were already included in the budget, the salaries just shift from one area to another.
Including the librarians in our bargaining unit strengthens the unit with increased numbers, reinforces the local union with additional work dues, and supports the Federation with a deeper membership base. By virtue of that action alone, these musicians receive recognition, pension contributions, recording payments, and contract protection. Let’s face it: we could not do our jobs without them.
by Paul Gunther
Laura’s description, above, of the recent MOLA Conference, and her segue into the work of the orchestra librarian, is a model of concision and clarity. One thing in her humility she neglected to mention: not only was Laura the first non-member to address the MOLA business meeting, but hers was actually the opening address. At its conclusion it was greeted by applause much more enthusiastic than just polite. The time was ripe for this, and Laura’s delivery was on the money.
In Minneapolis, when I give talks about the orchestra library or tours to students, donors or guests, I like to frame the librarian’s duties with metrics like these: Let’s say your orchestra has 75 players playing 100 different concerts per year, averaging three works per concert. (This is just an example; the numbers will vary considerably.) Simple multiplication yields 20,000 or more pieces of music floating around, every single one of which must be located and placed in the right folder for the right concert. This does not include vocal parts for chorus numbers, scores for conductors and anyone else interested, chamber music, recordings, etc. Now, imagine for a moment a ball player with a 950 batting average; this person would have to be superhuman; and if he actually existed, would be held in very high esteem—and command a superhuman salary. If, on the other hand, the orchestra librarian could locate only 95% of the music, it would be akin to a player hitting only 95% of the notes correctly; in these cases a high number is not necessarily a great average, or even acceptable to the profession.
Also, I like to outline in this way the difference between an orchestra librarian and a librarian working in any other field: To be able to handle the work, an orchestra librarian must be a trained and experienced performance musician, or the job would be impossible. An education and degree in information science (the field formerly known as “librarianship”)—even an advanced degree—could not help a bit in the orchestra library, unless one were first and foremost a musician.
ICSOM Member at Large Paul Gunther is the principal librarian of the Minnesota Orchestra. A MOLA founding member, he served six years on the MOLA board, including two as president.