Music Librarian Career

As prominent professionals in the information services field, librarians help others find information and select materials best suited to their needs. They are key person­nel wherever books, magazines, audiovisual materials, and a variety of other informational materials are cata­loged and kept. Librarians help make access to these ref­erence materials possible. Music librarians perform many of the same duties as traditional librarians, but specialize in managing materials related to music. Approximately 159,000 librarians are employed in positions throughout the country. Music librarians make up a small percentage of this number.

Music Librarian Career History

The oldest known musical notation appears on a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from about 1800 b.c. Such inscriptions were probably organized and arranged in libraries that were available only to members of royalty, very wealthy people, or religious groups that devoted time and effort to transcription. The people who were charged with caring for collections within these libraries could be considered the world’s first music librarians.

Libraries continued to be available only to the elite until the Middle Ages, when many private institutions were destroyed by wars. The preservation of many ancient library materials can be attributed to orders of monks who diligently copied ancient Greek and Roman texts, as well as the Bible and other religious texts, and protected materials in their monasteries. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed books and other printed material to be made more quickly and disseminated more widely. Books went from palaces and churches to the homes of the common people.

Music Librarian CareerIn the United States, the first music library was established by the Brooklyn (New York) Public Library in 1882. The Library of Congress Division of Music was organized in the 1890s, with a phonorecord collection estab­lished at the institution in 1903. By the early 20th century, music-related resources gained popular appeal in our nation’s libraries. In fact, Library Journal devoted its August 1915 issue to the music collections of public libraries. By 1928, 53 colleges and universities had libraries with music collec­tions—although only 12 of these collections featured audio record­ings. In 1931, the Music Library Association (MLA) was formed to represent the professional interests of music librarians. Today’s music librarians not only manage and organize music manuscripts, books, and recordings, but also must have a keen knowledge of the Internet and music computer software programs.

Music Librarian Job Description

Music librarians perform many of the same tasks as gen­eral librarians. These duties, with an emphasis on music, include arranging, cataloging, and maintaining library collections; helping patrons find materials and advising them on how to use resources effectively; creating cata­logs, indexes, brochures, exhibits, Web sites, and bibli­ographies to educate users about the library’s resources; supervising the purchase and maintenance of the equip­ment needed to use these materials; hiring, training, and supervising library staff; setting and implementing bud­gets; and keeping abreast of developments in the field. They also select and acquire music, videotapes, records, cassettes, DVDs, compact discs, books, manuscripts, and other nonbook materials for the library; this entails evaluating newly published materials as well as seeking out older materials.

Specialized duties for music librarians vary based on their employer and their skill set. For example, a music librarian employed by a college, university, or conserva­tory may acquire the music needed by student musi­cal groups, while a librarian who is employed by music publishers may help edit musical publications. Music librarians employed by radio and television stations cata­log and oversee music-related materials that are used solely by employees of these organizations. They research and recommend music selections for programs, pull and refile musical selections for on-air shifts, and maintain relationships with record companies and distributors.

Some music librarians may arrange special music-related courses, presentations, or performances at their libraries. They may also compile lists of books, periodi­cals, articles, and audiovisual materials on music, or they may teach others how to do this.

Music librarians at large libraries may specialize in one particular task. Music catalogers are librarians who specialize in the cataloging and classification of music-related materials such as scores and sound recordings, software, audiovisual materials, and books. Music bibli­ographers create detailed lists of music-related materials for use by library patrons. These lists may be organized by subject, language, date, composer, musician, or other criteria.

In addition to their regular duties, some music librar­ians teach music- or library science-related courses at colleges and universities. Others write reviews of books and music for print and online publications.

Music Librarian Career Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a music librarian, be sure to take a full college preparatory course load. Focus on classes in music, English, speech, history, and foreign languages. Learning how to use a computer and conduct basic research in a library is essential. Developing these skills will not only aid in your future library work, but will also help you in college and in any other career areas you decide to pursue.

Postsecondary Training

Most students interested in becoming music librarians pursue undergraduate education in a music-related field. In the late 1990s, the MLA surveyed its members regarding educational achievement. The majority of its members who received a bachelor’s degree in the arts or music majored in the following subjects: musicology, music education, music theory/composition, and vocal and instrumental performance.

In addition to music-related courses, be sure to take at least one foreign language since music and music litera­ture are published in many languages. The MLA reports that the most popular foreign languages (in descend­ing order) of its members were German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Russian. You should also take classes that strengthen your communication skills, research methods, collection organization, and customer service abilities. More than half of the accredited library schools do not require students to take introductory courses in library science while an undergraduate. It would be wise, though, to check with schools for specific requirements.

You will need to earn a master’s degree to become a librarian. The degree is generally known as the master of library science (M.L.S.), but in some institutions it may be referred to by a different title, such as the mas­ter of library and information science. You should plan to attend a graduate school of library and informa­tion science that is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Currently, there are more than 55 ALA-accredited graduate schools. Some libraries will not consider job applicants who attended a nonaccredited school.

A second master’s degree in music is usually required for the best music librarianship positions. Some schools offer a dual degree in librarianship and music. Common combinations include an M.L.S. with either a master of arts in musicology, a master of music in music history, or a master of music in music theory. Other schools may allow students to take music courses that can be counted toward a library degree. Typical graduate courses include music librarianship, music bibliography, music catalog­ing, music libraries and information services, history of music printing, history of music documents, and special problems in music cataloging. Other graduate courses may feature sections that relate to music librarianship. Many graduate programs also offer internships or practi-cums in which students can gain hands-on experience working in a music library.

The Directory of Library School Offerings in Musical Librarianship, published by the Music Library Associa­tion, provides information on U.S. and Canadian library schools that offer a master’s degree in library science with a concentration in music, specialized courses in music librarianship, or other music-related educational opportunities. A free, online version of the publication is available at the MLA Web site (; a print version may be ordered from the association for a small fee.

A doctorate may be required for work in research libraries, university libraries, or special collections. A doctorate is commonly required for the top administra­tive posts of these types of libraries, as well as for faculty positions in graduate schools of library science.

Certification or Licensing

There is no specialized certification available for music librarians. If you plan to work outside of music librarian-ship as a school librarian, you are required to earn teach­er’s certification in addition to preparation as a librarian. You may also be required to earn a master’s degree in education. Various state, county, and local governments have set up other requirements for education and certi­fication. Contact the school board in the area in which you are interested in working for specific requirements. Your public library system should also have information readily available.

The ALA is currently developing a voluntary certifica­tion program to recognize individuals who have dem­onstrated knowledge and skills in general library science and to promote professional development.

Other Requirements

Music librarians should have an excellent memory and a keen eye for detail, as they manage a wide variety of resources. They must love music and be willing to assist others with sometimes obscure or demanding requests.

Music librarians who deal with the public should have strong interpersonal skills, tact, and patience. An imagi­native, highly motivated, and resourceful personality is very valuable. An affinity for problem solving is another desirable quality. Librarians are often expected to take part in community affairs, cooperating in the preparation of exhibits, presenting book reviews, and explaining library use to community organizations. As a music librarian, you will also need to be a leader in developing the cultural and musical tastes of library patrons.

Music librarians involved with technical services should be detail-oriented, have good planning skills, and be able to think analytically. They should have a love for informa­tion and be willing to master the techniques for obtaining and presenting knowledge. Librarians must also be pre­pared to master constantly changing technology.

Exploring Music Librarian Career

There are several ways you can explore the field of music librarianship and librarianship in general. If you are a high school student, you already have your own personal experiences with the library: reading, doing research for class projects, or just browsing. If this experience sparks an interest in library work, you can talk with a school or community librarian whose own experiences in the field can provide a good idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Some schools may have library clubs you can join to learn about library work. If one doesn’t exist, you could consider starting your own library club.

You should also try to take as many music-related classes as possible in high school. These will begin to give you the basic framework you need to become a music librarian. Ask your school librarian to direct you to books and other resources about music. You can also ask him or her to help you learn more about music librarian careers. Perhaps he or she took a music librarianship course in college or has a colleague who specializes in the field.

Once you know you are interested in library work, you might be able to work as an assistant in the school library media center or find part-time work in a local public library. Such volunteer or paid positions may provide you with experience checking materials in and out at the circulation desk, shelving returned books, or typing title, subject, and author information on cards or in computer records. In college, you might be able to work as a techni­cal or clerical assistant in your school’s music library.

Contact the MLA or the ALA to inquire about student memberships. Many library associations offer excellent mentoring opportunities as well. Finally, if you have an e-mail account, sign up for one or more of the listservs offered by these groups. A listserv is an e-mail list of pro­fessionals throughout the world who consult each other on special topics. By subscribing to a listserv, you can dis­cover what matters concern professional librarians today. Before you post your own comment or query, however, be sure you know the rules and regulations created by the list’s moderator, and always be respectful of others.


Music librarians are employed at large research librar­ies such as the Library of Congress; colleges, universi­ties, and conservatories; public and private libraries; archives; radio and television stations; and musical societies and foundations. They also work for profes­sional bands and orchestras, music publishing compa­nies, and the military.

As the field of library and information services grows, music librarians can find more work outside the tra­ditional library setting. Experienced music librarians may advise libraries or other agencies on information systems, library renovation projects, or other informa­tion-based issues.

Starting Out

Generally, music librarians must complete all educa­tional requirements before applying for a job. In some cases, part-time work experience or an internship while in graduate school may lead to a full-time position upon graduation. Some employers, too, may allow an espe­cially promising applicant to begin learning on the job before the library degree is conferred.

Upon graduating, new music librarians should con­sult the career services offices at their school. Employ­ers seeking new graduates often recruit through library schools. Most professional library and information science organizations have job listings that candidates can con­sult. For example, the MLA offers a Joblist at its Web site.

Music librarians can also use online job search engines to help locate an appropriate position. Newspaper classifieds may be of some help in locating a job, although other approaches may be more appropriate to this profession.

Many music librarians entering the workforce today are combining their experience in another career with graduate library and information science education. For example, a music teacher who plays trumpet in a band could mix her part-time teaching experience and her hobby with a degree in library science to begin a full-time career as a music librarian. Almost any music-related background can be used to advantage when entering the field of musical librarianship.

Individuals interested in working in musical library positions for the federal government can contact the human resources department—or consult the Web site— of the government agency for which they are interested in working; for these government positions, applicants must take a civil service examination. Public libraries, too, often follow a civil service system of appointment.


The beginning music librarian may gain experience by taking a job as an assistant. He or she can learn a lot from practical experience before attempting to manage a department or entire library. A music librarian may advance to positions with greater levels of responsibility within the same library system, or he or she may gain initial experience in a small library and then advance by transferring to a larger or more specialized library. Within a large library, promotions to higher positions are possible (for example, to the supervision of a depart­ment). Experienced music librarians with the necessary qualifications may advance to positions in library admin­istration, such as library director, who is at the head of a typical library organizational scheme. This professional sets library policies and plans and administers programs of library services, usually under the guidance of a gov­erning body, such as a board of directors or board of trustees. Library directors have overall responsibility for the operation of a library system. A doctorate is desirable for reaching top administrative levels, as well as for land­ing a graduate library school faculty position.

Experienced music librarians, in particular those with strong administrative, computer, or planning back­grounds, may move into the area of information consult­ing. They use their expertise to advise libraries and other organizations on issues regarding information services. Other experienced librarians, especially those with com­puter experience, may also go into specialized areas of library work, becoming increasingly valuable to business and industry, as well as other fields.


Salaries for music librarians depend on such factors as the location, size, and type of library, the amount of experience the librarian has, and the responsibilities of the position. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings of all librarians in 2004 were $46,940. Salaries ranged from less than $29,890 to more than $71,270. Librarians working in colleges and uni­versities earned $47,830. Librarians employed in local government earned $42,500. In the federal government, the average salary for all librarians was $74,630 in 2005.

The American Library Association’s Survey of Librar­ian Salaries reports the following mean salaries for librar­ians and managers in 2005: library directors, $78,054; deputy/associate/assistant directors, $60,729; depart­ment heads/coordinators/senior managers, $55,833; managers/supervisors of support staff, $44,324; librari­ans who do not supervise, $47,246; and beginning librar­ians, $36,486.

Most music librarians receive a full benefits pack­age, which may include paid vacation time, holiday pay, compensated sick leave, various insurance plans, and retirement savings programs. Librarians who work in a college or university library may receive tuition waivers to help them earn advanced degrees in their field.

Work Environment

Most libraries are pleasant and comfortable places in which to assist those doing research, studying, or read­ing or listening for pleasure. Music librarians must con­stantly read about and listen to music to keep informed in order to serve library patrons. They must also strive to stay abreast of constantly changing technology, which may seem overwhelming at times.

Some music librarians may find the work demanding and stressful when they deal with users who are working under deadline pressure. Librarians working as music catalogers may suffer eyestrain and headaches from working long hours at a computer screen.

On the average, librarians work between 35 and 40 hours per week. Since most libraries are open evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of their users, many librarians will have a nontraditional work schedule, working, for instance, from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., or taking Monday and Tuesday as a weekend in lieu of Saturday and Sunday.

There is, of course, some routine in library work, but the trend is to place clerical duties in the hands of library technicians and library assistants, freeing the professional music librarian for administrative, research, person­nel, and community services. For the most part, music librarians tend to find the work intellectually stimulating, challenging, and dynamic. The knowledge that one is pro­viding so many valuable services to the community and one’s employer can be extremely rewarding.

Music Librarian Career Outlook

The American Library Association (ALA) predicts a seri­ous shortage of librarians in the next five to 12 years. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that three in five librar­ians is aged 45 or older and will become eligible for retire­ment within the next decade. Additionally, the number of people entering the profession has declined, resulting in more jobs than qualified applicants to fill them.

Employment prospects for music librarians will not be as strong. The field of musical librarianship is small, and there is little turnover in the best positions. Music librar­ians with advanced education and a knowledge of more than one foreign language will have the best employment prospects. Employment opportunities will also arise for music librarians who have a background in information science and library automation. The rapidly expanding field of information management has created a demand for qualified people to set up and maintain information systems for private industry and consulting firms.

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