Interview with Liza Vick, President of the Music Library Association

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

July 13, 2021

This post offers highlights from my recent interview with Liza Vick, President of the Music Library Association. Our discussion covered the wide range of services, responsibilities and programs that are part of a special library association’s remit and impact. 

What is your role at the Music Library Association?

I serve as President of the Music Library Association (until early 2023).

How did you become involved in the Music Library Association?

When I was a student in library school (at the University of Maryland-College Park), I worked in the music library, and my supervisor (the head of public services) encouraged me to attend the MLA national conference. I applied for a travel grant and didn’t receive it, but I attended anyway and had a rewarding and productive experience. Two of my friends and I made a road trip to Boston, shared a hotel room, and learned about the field of music librarianship. We also networked with a very friendly and engaging group of professionals. 

A few years later, once I had a professional position and travel support, I began to attend regularly and haven’t missed a meeting since 2002. Not long after that, I joined a committee and became coordinator of an interest group for performing arts librarians (a great “entry-level” opportunity to get involved). 

Since then, I have served in a number of organizational leadership positions and as book review editor of Notes, the Music Library Association’s quarterly journal. I’ve chaired the publications and nominating committees and served as member-at-large on the board of directors.

How has the Music Library Association evolved over time?

First, a little background: MLA is the national organization for music librarians in the United States. The MLA serves the profession by advocating for music libraries as well as for the librarians and library staff who work in them. Its overarching mission is to “support, enhance, and preserve equitable access to the world’s musical heritage.” 

We are composed of more than 600 individual members who work in academic, public, conservatory, and performance libraries settings. We even have members who work in corporate libraries. 

We produce many publications and have committees, working groups, and task forces that perform the business of the organization. We offer networking opportunities for early career members and students, including a career advisory service, resume review, and job placement services. We also have a really thriving community of music catalogers who contribute to global cooperative cataloging projects and help develop information standards. Our legislation and copyright experts advocate at the national level for issues at the heart of library interests, and our public services committees develop information literacy competency standards. Over time, we’ve added roles such as web managers, a web committee, and an emerging technologies committee in response to the demand for web presence and information technology training.

We are also embarking upon a new cycle of strategic planning and pivoting to a combination of in-person and virtual annual meetings. Our most recent meeting was fully virtual in March (2021) and was a partnership with the Theatre Library Association. We will continue such partnerships (and team up with TLA again in 2023).

Like many, many other organizations, we have become much more focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. In addition to posting an official statement on opposing racism and police brutality, we’ve implemented implicit bias training requirements for editors, special officers, and committee chairs (and members). We’ve long had a diversity committee and a diversity, equity, and inclusion subcommittee, and they continue to be very active. 

Much like the rest of librarianship, we are a predominantly white profession, and we are working hard to change that, including looking at our leadership structure and ways to diversify our membership and our leadership structure. We need to do better. We’re all becoming more conscious of asking how we make our libraries, our association, our field, and our spaces more welcoming to everyone.

How have music libraries evolved over time?

Perhaps the most dramatic change is print to digital (similar to many other fields). Although we do still have core music literature in print, we are acquiring digital scores and streaming packages of audio and video recordings that we make available in our catalogs. Our websites are now engaging portals rather than mere lists of information. Many of us teach and consult with students via Zoom, and via email rather than in classrooms. We create video tutorials and make research guides for discovery.

Getting back to collection building: Younger composers often self-publish on personal websites and using services like SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Since the material isn’t readily available through traditional library vendors and publishers, we have to be vigilant and proactive about collecting important, emerging composers. 

Outreach is a much bigger focus than in previous decades: reaching out to users via web presence, teaching, events, exhibits, study spaces, creator studios (recording spaces). We all have a responsibility to make our communities understand that we are campus hubs.

Today, what professional development do music librarians need?

More so than in the past, music librarians need to be interdisciplinary. Meaning, prepared for jobs where they will be responsible for collecting and supporting music, dance, theater, and perhaps fine arts, and other humanities. In addition, many handle media centers or institutional repositories, digital humanities projects, general outreach and reference services, or other duties. Professional development may entail attending conferences and trainings in a variety of disciplines (ACH, TLA, ALA), learning programming languages, and software portfolios. Music catalogers need to stay up to date with emerging tools and practices that are constantly evolving (linked data, RDA, BIBFRAME, FRBR, and so much more). The MLA’s Cataloging and Metadata Committee leads the charge: https://www.musiclibraryassoc.org/mpage/cmc. Fundraising and donor stewardship are also important components of many director/head jobs, as is space management (facilities).

What trends do you see in music libraries? 

Outreach, outreach, outreach…and assessment.

In recent years, many music library branches have been consolidated or closed, so advocacy is part of the mission of the MLA and many individual libraries. MLA and its members understand that we must constantly prove our value as spaces for discovery and browsing, and even performance. At my library (and others), we host concerts in the physical and virtual spaces, and one of ours took place in a student-curated exhibit of Persian flutes. As we move forward, we must continue to find ways to celebrate and share what makes music libraries so unique. On the other hand, if faced with a consolidation, or a space reduction, it’s important to work proactively with administration and to harness your music faculty in support of your services. You can effectively re-envision a space for service functionality and keep most-used collections onsite while moving others to offsite storage. If faculty already know your value, they will be the most effective leverage for a positive outcome. Circulation statistics are great, but faculty and student stories about library experience are better.

How will those trends impact what professional development is needed by music librarians in the future?

Adaptability and flexibility. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Be prepared to cross-train, upskill and advocate for your library and its value. Be prepared to move into new skill areas via workshops, virtual trainings and add IT, media, data management skills to your toolkit. MLA offers publications such as Basic Manual and Technical Reports series, and webinar trainings and courses. These help us all keep abreast of changes in the field. Helpful links:

Publications: https://www.musiclibraryassoc.org/page/publications

Workshops: https://www.musiclibraryassoc.org/page/Workshops

Are there any education trends you see music librarians engaging in? If so, what are they? 

Librarians are teachers and learners. Many of us teach library skills and research fluency, and so we keep up with pedagogical trends like flipped classroom, OER, interactive lesson design, and more, to engage students.

For our own professional education, to add to what I said above, we are constantly needing to learn more about copyright and legislation (developments such as the recent Music Modernization Act). We need to understand assessment tools, user experience, scholarly communications, open access, and digital humanities, as our students will look to us for guidance and support. We aren’t lawyers or web designers (necessarily) but we need basic facility to point users in a good direction.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring music librarian, what would it be?

Read a book! Here’s a great one: Careers in Music Librarianship — a new, 4th edition is coming out very soon: https://www.areditions.com/cleveland-and-clark-eds-careers-in-music-librarianship-iii-tr033.html

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And 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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