Interview with an Editor: Cleveland on Careers in Music Libraries

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

December 12, 2023

Susannah Cleveland co-edited several editions of one of the few books on music librarianship. That book is Careers in Music Libraries IV. My interview with her is below.

1. Please introduce yourself to our readers

I am Susannah Cleveland, the Head of the Music Library at the University of North Texas in Denton.

2. Please describe your career in music librarianship.

My first job in a music library was as an undergraduate student assistant at the Music Library at Baylor University. My mentors and experiences there led me to consider music librarianship as a career, something I had never considered. As I began looking for graduate schools, I prioritized ones that had programs in both musicology and librarianship; UNT fit that bill. While getting those two Master’s degrees, I began full-time work at the UNT Music Library, which solidified my decision to pursue music librarianship. I spent several years in non-professional roles at UNT, then several more in a professional librarian role, where I got to oversee audio collections, digitization, some of our special collections, and essentially—as far as I was then concerned—all the most exciting things one could do in a music library.

After almost 12 years at UNT, I went on to become the Head Librarian at the Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives at Bowling Green State University in northwest Ohio. Like UNT, BGSU has an enormous recordings collection; in fact, BGSU has one of the largest collections of popular music recordings at any academic institution in the US. There, I got to work on more administrative tasks like building collections, overseeing staff, and raising funds. I also taught a class in music research methods. Thirteen years after I started at BGSU, I had the opportunity to return to UNT and jumped at the chance to work with great people in a great library while also enjoying greater proximity to my family. In my current position, my day-to-day work is similar to what I did at BGSU, though with everything on a much larger scale. With around 1,700 music students, we have one of the largest music schools at a public university in the country, so everything is bigger here!

3. In 2022, you co-edited the book Careers in Music Libraries IV. Will you briefly summarize the book?

Careers in Music Libraries is the fourth installment of a series going back to 1990 that is intended to help those interested in pursuing music librarianship as a career to learn more about. It also includes guidance for those who are not new to the field but who might be interested in making a career transition. For this edition, my co-editor, Misti Shaw, and I were able to get a number of talented librarians to contribute chapters in which they shared their experiences in music-library work, from explaining the core tasks of those who work in music libraries, to exploring career options available at different stages of work, to status of different roles in a library. We organized the chapters according to the need of potential users, starting with an introductory section aimed at providing information that might be helpful when someone is deciding if this is the career they want to pursue, or could inform discussions of career development and transitions for those already established in the profession.

4. Why did you decide to edit the book?

My love of the profession and desire to make sure people have the tools they need to see if this profession is right for them were the two guiding factors behind working on this book. I want to be sure that students or those looking for a career change have the information they need to assess how the profession might fit them, but I also want to share what is great about this work. As an addition to a series, it is also fascinating to take the time to reflect on what has changed and what has stayed the same in this arena over the last 30 years. There are so many misconceptions about the current and future states of libraries; Misti and I felt it was important to show that while many things have changed, there is still a need for professionals who devote their time, energy, and attention to preserving culture, protecting facts, and helping people navigate an ever-more-complicated network of information.

5. In the ten years since you edited the previous edition, what has changed in music librarianship?

One of the most significant differences between the 2014 edition of this book (that I worked on with my colleague Joe C. Clark) and now is that libraries are focusing much more intently on issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. There are arguments within the profession about whether librarians should be neutral in their professional practice (e.g., for instance, should we always include sources that cover both sides of an argument, even if the arguments on one side have been debunked?), or whether we have a responsibility to take a stance on issues that affect the lived experiences of our patrons. This debate is not new, but it has come to the forefront in recent years. Another major difference is our need to respond to implications of new technology, misinformation, and the interaction between the two. We have a responsibility to our patrons not just to help them find a wide variety of information but also to teach them to assess information so that they can make informed decisions. Misinformation has long existed, but the ability to spread it quickly and with the appearance of authority has increased exponentially, all the more so when we’re looking at something like AI that is already having strong effects on society as a means of creating false information.

6. What advice would you give to librarians interested in working in music libraries or with musical collections?

This sounds shameless, but if you can find a copy of Careers in Music Libraries in your local library, I would definitely recommend giving it a look. I would also encourage someone to look over the job listings for positions in music libraries that you can find in the Music Library Association’s Job Placement Service (The Job Placement Service – Music Library Association); it is helpful to see some representative tasks that real people are doing as well as seeing what salaries are offered. A degree in music is extremely helpful, though not always required; a strong knowledge of music is required for most music-library work. And talk to music librarians! If you do not already know one, look at institutions with music schools and check out their library’s site to see if there is someone in the library who specializes in music. We are a friendly group, and you would be hard pressed to find one of us who would not be willing to talk about what we do.

7. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Working in music libraries is not always at the forefront of people’s career plans just because the work is not well known. However, it can be deeply satisfying, fun, and flexible and is something to explore if you love music and love doing work that is helpful and meaningful.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Dr. Lauren Hays is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. Take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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