Music Librarianship: In Tune with Patron Needs

Communications Manager
Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 11:30am (updated Tuesday, May 27, 2014 - 12:33pm)

Editor’s note:  OhioLINK is launching this column to showcase the extraordinary talent and leadership of the librarians and staff at OhioLINK’s member institutions. If you have suggestions for a library staff member who should be featured in this series, please email Meghan Frazer at

A specialty niche among libraries, music librarianship enables people to combine passions for music, information and helping others.

Ohio’s expertise in this area runs deep: for example, the leaders of two music libraries in the OhioLINK consortium, Joe


Susannah Cleveland

Clark, head of the Performing Arts Library, Kent State University, and Susannah Cleveland, head librarian of the Music Library and Sound Recordings Archives, Bowling Green State University, served as co-editors for the recently released book Careers in Music Librarianship III: Reality and Reinvention. Additionally, Lindy Smith, research archivist at The Ohio State University Archives, and Amy Pawlowski, deputy director, OhioLINK, contributed chapters to the book.

OhioLINK recently talked with Joe and Susannah about their profession, the book and other matters.

What are characteristics of a music librarian?

Susannah:  (Music librarians) have to love music first. This profession suits people who don’t take a dead end as a final answer.  In this field there are a lot of people who get excited when there isn’t information about a topic, because they take that as a challenge to dig deeper to find something.

What led you to this profession?

Susannah: I didn’t even know that music libraries existed until the first few days of college at Baylor University. I ran into a friend on campus, and she mentioned that she’d just been at the library checking out some scores to practice. I was flummoxed. I knew that libraries had books and recordings, but scores? I always thought we were on our own for that. I hustled over there as soon as I could, and it was like a new world to me. I couldn’t believe that I was going to get to spend the next four years trying out just about any piece of music that I could think of without having to decide first if I could afford it.

Within a few months of starting as a student assistant at the music library, I realized that this could be an interesting career. It was intriguing to me to be able to work in a field so closely tied to music (but without performance anxiety!) that also involved service to others.

What instruments do you play?


Joe Clark

Joe: I played guitar professionally before becoming a music librarian. I still play professionally. I love to perform; I play with students, a choir at the Salem campus and play at home everyday. 

Susannah: I played the modern oboe early on, and took up the baroque oboe in graduate school and played professionally. Now I just play chamber music for fun.

What type of requests do you receive?

Joe: Requests always vary. I recently helped a student in Alabama taking a distance education course who needed information on a hymn used in Catholic services by Pergolesi, an Italian composer.

It’s common for patrons to come with part of the knowledge. They might know the tune but not the name, or they know the name by its English translation. For example, a patron might come looking for a Mozart symphony.  But then we help him or her further narrow the request. Do you want a score? An arrangement? He or she might be looking for a piano reduction, or maybe a concerto.  It’s fun to help them figure it out.

Susannah: Cataloging in music gets really complicated. In librarianship, we develop standard ways to list music, but patrons might need help until they learn the protocols. Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony might be printed as Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Symphony no. 3, or Eroica Symphony, for example. We help people get to the right score, regardless of what the publisher calls it.”

What's one of your most memorable library requests?

Susannah: We get a call or two from the Oxford English Dictionary each year with a request for us to confirm citations for the first use of a term. There are few things that make you feel smarter than answering a reference question for the OED.

What was the impetus for your book?

Joe: With the new economy, an updated edition with fresh perspectives was needed.

Susannah:  We wanted to show people considering the profession that there are real opportunities here, as well as give perspectives from librarians in their mid-careers who had made mid- or late-career transitions.  Also, we wanted to provide some clear advice for selecting, researching, applying for, and interviewing for these sorts of jobs, because professional literature on this topic tends to be geared more towards business environments or academic teaching jobs.

How has OhioLINK helped you or your users?

Susannah: Our shared collection development policy makes our money go much, much further when buying scores. Each music library in the consortium claims certain composers and commits to getting all of their new scores. This lets the libraries share the risk of investing in contemporary composers – who may or may not be desired 30 years from now – while giving us confidence that the scores will be available to our users.

Joe: Additionally, through YBP (one of OhioLINK’s vendors) I can see how many schools have ordered a particular title. If 20 copies of one title have already been purchased, I might pass because I know my users can obtain it through shared lending. It’s another benefit that helps stretch our dollars.

What is the biggest misconception about librarians?

Joe: So many people assume that all the world of knowledge is on the Internet, and if it is not that it doesn’t exist. Despite all kinds of technology, students still need help navigating music resources. We try to make sure people know there are more worlds of information far beyond what can be found on the web.

What's your favorite thing to do when you aren't working?

Joe: Being outside, from hiking, riding bikes, playing golf and more.

Susannah: It’s such a cliché for a librarian, but I admit that what I enjoy most is reading. I tend toward fiction, which usually doesn’t overlap much directly with professional obligations, though one of my favorite books recently—Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch—did include a music librarian character.  

What's one thing you do better than anyone else you know?

Joe: I am an expert at making buckwheat pancakes.

Susannah: I have an eerie sense of time. I can, at most times of the day, guess the correct time within a few minutes either way.