MLA Newsletter
Music Library Association No.186 Jul-Aug 2016
MLA Oral History Insights

The interview continues! Read the conclusion of the two-part interview of several MLA Presidents past that took place live at the 2016 Annual Meeting in Cincinnati. See MLA Newsletter no. 185 for the first part. And keep an eye out for more from the Oral History Committee in future issues of the Newsletter!


Session moderated by Robert DeLand (VanderCook Music Library) and Therese Zoski Dickman (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville); Transcription by DeLand; Edited by Dickman

Past presidents during live interview session
MLA Past-Presidents, Michael Ochs, Geraldine Ostrove, Bonna Boettcher, and Phil Vandermeer during the live interview

QUESTION: While you were MLA president, what was a notable accomplishment, challenge, or revelation that stands out for you?

GERRY OSTROVE: What I observed was that things happened during my tenure [in the mid-1980s] that were important, although I didn't necessarily start them off or finish them. One of the things, for example, was the founding of the US RILM (Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale) office. That had been in the works for a while, but it happened while I was president. There were also RISM (International Inventory of Musical Sources) activities: The A/II [music manuscripts after 1600] project at Harvard which you heard about a moment ago, with the US RISM libretto project at

UVA [the University of Virginia], also funded by NEH, was in progress while I was president. What those folks did was catalog up the librettos from the [Albert] Schatz Collection at the Library of Congress. It hadn't catalogued itself. So it's a remarkable addition to the bibliography of librettos. You didn't have to go to the Music Division and look in the card catalogue or the great big Schatz volumes to find them.

The Walter Gerboth Award was established and named. Vincent Duckles' name was attached to one of the book awards. He was a person whom we revere, for heaven's sake. Of course, when you talk about Vincent, you always remember [his wife] Madeline, who often came to meetings with him and really was quite a character. What else? Oh, tax exempt status was an issue that seemed to take forever to straighten itself out. We finally got it for MLA itself and then we began on the chapters; which, again, took a long time. So you see these things happen in [stages], and some of them are quite boring. But they had long range implications, to be sure.

Now another thing occurred during my tenure--a study of what the relationship between the US branch of IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries) and MLA ought to be. This was the study conducted by Ruth Watanabe. Four models were presented. One was "Don't do anything," and the fourth was that MLA become the US branch of IAML. When the report was discussed, Model Four dropped off the end and nobody talked about it. I remember Don Roberts, Lenore [Coral], and I got together, looked at each other and said, "There is only one way to go here." But it took a long time. So, when you heard earlier that I was delighted that MLA finally became the US branch, you see what I mean about things being a long time in coming.

MICHAEL OCHS: Like Gerry, I thought the way to approach this [session] was to read the minutes of the meetings during my time on the [MLA] Board. I

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printed out the first two sets of minutes and started reading. It was so boring, I couldn't go on. So instead I thought, "All right, I'll read my president's report and the MLA Newsletter. I won't bore you with what I found. I will read you one thing, though, because it gives you an idea of what the president's life [was like]. I wrote this in a kind of funny way. This was at the end of the Kansas City meeting [in 1994]. I guess it was my first meeting as actual president:

"What time do you want the hotel to drive you to the airport? Oh my gosh, it's a white stretch limo! Forget the iced champagne inside, instead discuss plans with Vice-President Elect Jane Gottlieb for MLA self-study." That was one of the things that we did. We had decided there needed to be a self-study of MLA, and we appointed a committee chaired by Mary Wallace Davidson. Then there should be a report and an implementation committee. Anyway, we arrived at Kansas City International Airport and were immediately surrounded by menacing MLA'ers. "Who paid for the limo? So that's where our money goes?! A likely story." So you slink off to your gate, spend the flight home making a numbered list of things to do and people to contact. We're up to Item 57 when the plane lands. I think the other presidents here will have an idea of what that means. Write letters appointing talented folks to chair MLA committees: Linda Solow Blotner for Development; Roberta Chodacki for Education; Brenda Nelson Strauss, Preservation; Leslie Troutman for RaPS…. I don't even know what that is. Anybody know?

PHIL VANDERMEER: Reference and Public Services.

OCHS: Thank you! I spelled it RaPS. Brad Short for RSCD.

BONNA BOETTCHER: Resource Sharing and Collection Development.

OCHS: Thank you! When you get old, you forget things, don't you?

(Laughter offside)

OCHS: …and name Dan Zager to chair the search committee. Also, go on and look ahead to June when Beth [Elisabeth] Rebman takes over as Placement Officer; October when Jim Cassaro becomes Treasurer; and 1995 when Deborah Pierce will locally arrange the Seattle meeting and Jim Farrington will be program czar. Now write fifty-five more letters appointing people to this, thanking them for that, and vary some things. So that gives you some idea of what it's like to be president!

BONNA BOETTCHER: When I took over first as president-elect then president, MLA was coming out of one of the more unpleasant periods in its history and needed to move on. I was fortunate to have the work particularly of Paula Matthews and Jim Cassaro in straightening out some of our administrative issues. Laura Dankner had also continued to move in that direction. One of the challenges was "Okay, we need to figure out what we're going to do with the MLA Fund besides keeping the organization afloat." We were also working on a joint meeting with SAM [the Society for American Music]. Another major challenge when I was past president was--people will remember--the Newport meeting (laughter from aside) where we were in the dripping hotel and many people were slogging across the causeway in the cold to the other hotel.

Things that I remember when I was also looking through notes from my term as president--this sounds so mundane, but it turned out to be so marvelously useful--was building a calendar of tasks and actions that had to happen at specific times of the year, and particularly what needed to be settled at each Board meeting. This was so much easier than trying to dig through, at that point, this quite linear calendar and hope that you didn't forget to do something that needed to be done! We established a real program committee. Prior to that the program chair was almost

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functioning as a glorified scheduling agent. They'd come up with some ideas for plenary sessions to run past the Board. Generally, though, if committees and round tables wanted to present programming, they would send in their ideas and what they wanted to do, and the program chair had to schedule all of those activities.

One of the things that came out of a survey that Virginia Danielson worked on was that people were concerned about "How can I present at the Association if I don't know someone already?" So we wanted to come up with a process that would allow people to submit ideas, to have speakers planned ahead of time, and we would have a representative committee who would vet those suggestions. I think it has resulted in a much stronger program. Louis Kuyper-Rushing was the first person blessed with this new idea after she had agreed to be program chair, but she was quite gracious about it.

"We said, 'Can't we at least feed people for their first meeting at MLA and not ask them to pay for it?' So we turned the dessert reception into a dinner reception."

We also saw the beginnings of planning for the educational outreach program. I think it came out of Board discussions while I was president. There had certainly also been a first time attendees meeting and we had mentors. Whoever was in charge of that would arrange for everyone to go out to dinner with their mentors. But often it was the first timers, and they were scrambling to find a place to eat and make it back for the dessert reception. We said, "Can't we at least feed people for their first meeting at MLA and not ask them to pay for it?" So we turned the dessert reception into a dinner reception.

PHIL VANDERMEER: I feel like I've been joined at the hip with Bonna, because we were on the Board

together before we were presidents, respectively. My first meeting on the Board was in Louisville. I was coming in as the assistant fiscal officer only to find out that we had been embezzled, and we had no money. So that was sort of my moment of Zen, I suppose, where I decided "Do I really wanna be here?" (laughter offside) But as MLA is apt to do, we have creative people in this organization, and we have people who have good sense. I feel like we became a stronger organization from that whole experience. We had to hire a lawyer, we had to hire a forensic accountant, and we had to start being audited on a regular basis. That was the context into which I came as president following Bonna. She described many other things that we did to move on and become a healthier organization.

"I look back at my time as president and I feel that a president is only as good as his or her Board of Directors and the membership."

I look back at my time as president and I feel that a president is only as good as his or her Board of Directors and the membership. I had the privilege of serving with two wonderful boards who were just as capable as anybody can be. They were cooperative about wanting to do things that had to do with strategic planning. So we decided to look at the Board and how we spent our time in meetings. I decided that we weren't really using every member of the Board or the time we had in an efficient way. So one of the things we proposed was the creation of a Planning Committee. Up to that point, planning was done pretty much by the financing committee. Finances ran the planning rather than planning running the finances. So I believe my first year as president we implemented a planning committee to actually work in concert with the finance committee. They would meet separately during the board meetings. I feel like that was one of the accomplishments. It's one of

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those technical tweaking kinds of things, but I think it has been good for the organization. It's certainly been good for the way in which we proceed since then to do our strategic planning.

For about 20 minutes we were a million dollar organization during my time [as president]. (laughter offside) Paula Matthews was development officer at that time. We found out we had a million dollars in assets and, all of the sudden, Paula said she's writing to everyone in the organization, "Guess what? MLA's a million dollar organization!" Of course then the credit recession happened and we weren't so much after that, but we are back up there again now.

The other thing that was both a challenge and very much of a relief to us the way it happened, was the [$379,000] Mellon Foundation Grant that funded IPM [the Index to Printed Music] and [our subcontractor], the James Adrian Music Company. MLA was the holder of and responsible for that grant. We had gotten through the three years of the grant and--I'm pretty sure this is true--we had not spent 50% of that grant yet. I thank my development officer at the University of North Carolina for giving me good advice as to how to approach the Mellon Foundation. We spent a good amount of time putting together a proposal for an extension. They gave us an extension, and we were able to spend the rest of that [sizeable] grant and come out with a pretty good product, I think. It was a relief to us because we were actually deciding, "Do we just cut it loose and cut our losses, or do we try for an extension?" We had to go for the extension because MLA was at the point of becoming an organization that needed to be doing fundraising on a regular basis. We knew we needed to find grants. If we couldn't come through with the final part of that project, we weren't gonna be taken seriously. So, I think that was our Board that came together and did that, because you [referring to Bonna] were on the Board at that time as past president.

DICKMAN: Okay, the next question is a two part question. The next one will be shorter.

QUESTION: How has a particular technology change or need impacted your work as a music librarian? How can the lessons learned be applied today?

OSTROVE: The technological advance didn't impact me personally because I didn't do that work, but I think getting our cataloging online was a monumental advance in the field of librarianship. It resulted in a kind of unusual situation. In the Boston area--those of you who have lived there--know that it's utterly dense with libraries and librarians. My [New England Conservatory] library belonged to two organizations: the Boston Area Music Libraries [BAML] and something called the Fenway Library Consortium [FLC]. My idea was to get my library into OCLC [the Online Computer Library Center]. We didn't have enough cataloging or enough money to be regular members, so we were able to work out a deal where we participated. The cataloguing staff would walk up to the Wentworth Institute [of Technology] with our materials to catalog a few blocks up Massachusetts Avenue or Huntington Avenue. I think we were the first independent conservatory to be members of OCLC. Jean Morrow had to teach herself everything about the MARC format and how to do inputting. It was a really important thing that happened. To this day, I appreciate that OCLC let us get our toe in the door even though we couldn't manage to be full time, regular members.

The thing that worries me about technology is…that traditional collection development--the job I always saved for myself because I liked it the most--is disappearing. To a large extent libraries don't acquire things, they lease them. It's very hard to get my head wrapped around that. Where can we go from here? What will we have? What does ownership mean anymore? I'm awfully glad I can leave the resolution of that to all of you!

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OCHS: Gerry mentioned computerizing catalogues. One of the things I was able to get done at Harvard in the early 1990s was to get a large grant to computerize the Harvard Music Catalogue and get that online so other people can get at it. It was one of the first really large music libraries to get online. The other thing happened when I was editor of Notes. When I took over Notes in 1987, everything was done manually. If you wrote an article, you typed it up and you US mailed it to the editor, and the editor marked it up and sent it back, and so forth. Then the entire issue was mailed off to Edwards Brothers, which was a production [company], and was printed from there with all of the intermediate steps. At that time, it was already possible to do electronic publishing. I finally got in touch with A-R editions and said "Can you do this?" and they said "Oh yeah, sure! You don't have to do all this paper stuff." So I told Edwards Brothers we were leaving them, and they said "Oh you wanna do electric? We can do that!" And I said, "Thanks a lot, you're too late!" They replied, "We can give you a good price, a better price than…" They had been charging us much more. So anyway, that was one of the major changes.

I told you that I read through the MLA newsletters from when I was president. The March/April 1993 MLA Newsletter has an article in it by H. Stephen Wright (Northern Illinois University), entitled "But I Don't Have Access to Email." I'll read you a bit of it. It says: "I certainly don't consider myself a technologically oriented person. In fact, I have a genuine aversion to technological advancements that remind me every day that I'm growing older. I prefer dial phones over touch tone,"--Do you even know what that is?--"LP's over compact discs, and original track over next generation. (laughter offside) Yet despite this, I'm a happy and frequent user of electronic mail and can assure one and all that sending an email message is far less difficult than you might imagine." (laughter offside) So much for technology of that day! Where it's going, I have not the slightest idea. I will leave it to my

colleagues to discuss that.

BOETTCHER: And we didn't even plan this, Michael! One of the technological changes that I wanted to talk about is just the Internet in general. I remember MLA's first web presence, which I worked on when I was executive secretary, to where we are now. We didn't have a web presence in 1996. That came somewhere around in 1998-1999. I also [recall] the associated expectations around that [development]. Think what it's done to our sense of time and expecting answers from people! What I remember as MLA president is that my email really got us, because people really wanted answers right away. I also remember Internet at meetings and the ongoing battles about "Why can't we have live Internet for our presentations? Why can't we have Internet in the rooms? Why are we paying so much for Internet access?"

"There have got to be people in here who remember that, even if you had a presentation that you planned to give online…you traveled with your back up overhead transparencies because you never knew when that connection was going to crash."

When we were first starting using the Internet, many of the hotels we stayed in weren't ready for it. They wouldn't even have been able to support someone willing to bring their own modem and plug it into a phone jack. There have got to be people in here who remember that, even if you had a presentation that you planned to give online-- like at a plenary session where we might have an Internet connection--you traveled with your back up overhead transparencies because you never knew when that connection was going to crash. In contrast, at this meeting, even though there have been a few glitches here and there, they've been

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so quickly solved. So I think we've seen that infrastructure grow and improve. That's been a major change. I think what I'm looking at now for MLA, but also at my institution, is coping with all of our electronic output, our electronic resources, and our electronic records, and how are we going to preserve and archive these for the future.

VANDERMEER: I was thinking about the most dramatic change in technology in my career. I think it's just the PC. I started my career without one. I had a typewriter with extra symbols on it, and I'd type my catalog cards for the Free Library of Philadelphia Chamber Music Collection. I didn't even have a PC until a year after I got to Maryland!

"…the work that we do is not the technology that we have to do it. The technology is the tool and the work that we do has always been important…our work is not our technology."

I remember very clearly the departmental secretary standing over my shoulder. I was gonna type a word processing document and there was this green screen and a little flashing cursor and I said, "What do I do?" and she said, "Just start typing!" And so, the development of that technology, from going from not having a PC to spending 99% of my time during the day on a PC has probably been the biggest change in my life.

I was thinking about what this teaches us. The fact is: We think that technology is something new; [yet] technology is as old as human beings. There has always been new technology. The book, the codex was an amazing technical achievement, and it's still an amazing piece of technology. I think we get kind of far away from the idea that technology is taking over our lives. Well, technology is always taking over our lives. I think it's important to keep that in mind, because the work that we do is not

the technology that we have to do it. The technology is the tool and the work that we do has always been important. It's not any more important now because we have certain types of advanced technology that we can use for it. But we need to remember to use it as a tool and not as an end in itself. I love seeing all of the younger folks here at MLA who are just, you know, part of the e-revolution, the technology revolution, and are comfortable with it in a way that I have never been and will never be. It's always kind of a struggle to get there.

One of the things I forgot to mention in the previous question was that the Emerging Technology and Services Committee came up under my watch, and I'm proud of that. I'm proud also that we're staying at the forefront of how we use technology. Anybody remember Second Life? Remember when we were all gonna have to learn Second Life? We were gonna exist in Second Life? All of the sudden nobody remembers what Second Life is anymore. Well, there's a lot of stuff like that. I think it's really important to be on top of [technology], to understand it, and understand how it helps us do our work. Because our work is not our technology.

DICKMAN: This is the last of the four original questions:

QUESTION: What do you envision as the future of MLA and music librarianship?

OSTROVE: Some years ago, IAML [the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres] met in Australia. I think we were in Sydney, and the president of IFLA [the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions] happened to be an Australian. We had the pleasure of having him at a session which the local folks had arranged. One of the things he did was pick four youngish attendees at the meeting, [perhaps] students, and asked them to describe what they did and what they considered

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themselves to be. Now mind you, this is ten years ago or something like that. Okay, so it was seven years ago! (laughs) Not a single one of those four people from, I think the countries were Great Britain, Australia, and United States--not a single one of those people regarded him- or herself as a music librarian. Even then, the name we give ourselves in our profession was becoming obsolete. It wasn't that they were responsible for a number of topics like performing arts librarians, but their duties were more varied. So, I'm wondering whether there will be people who call themselves music librarians anymore. That's one thing that's on my mind. I suppose I could look at that from the perspective of part of my history dying or something melodramatic, but things change. It may also be that our jobs, as we see them now, change dramatically.

Another thing on my mind was prompted by Jonathan Manton's presentation earlier today, in which he got down to some of the nitty-gritty of archiving digital materials--born digital. When I thought about the storage space, and the cost and the fact that fewer and fewer of our library materials may be text based, I began to worry about when we would find the ability to digest all of that--I mean "terabytes!" I don't know what a terabyte is. It's a quantity which is beyond my comprehension, but if we think we have had a problem with shelving, folks we haven't seen anything yet! (laughs)

"About MLA: If you turn to your MLA colleagues for help, they will knock themselves out for you. That's still true."

OCHS: As most of you know, I actually left music librarianship as a profession almost 25 years ago; not MLA I have to add. At the time I thought, "I'm going to write down some things that I think would be useful for people to know." My career had taken

an unexpected turn out of music librarianship into full-time editing the previous year. For whatever use it may be, I offer here a list of some things I learned in thirty years as a music librarian, interspersed with some wonky pieces of guidance. This is from 1993, okay? I would still envision that music librarianship will be like this in the future:

Cataloguing: Always think of cataloguing as a public service. If it's not worth cataloguing, it's not worth cataloguing well. If it's worth cataloguing, it's worth cataloguing quickly. Selection and Acquisitions: If your library director wakes you up at 3 am to ask how you would spend $50,000 if offered, have a response ready. Public Service: Treat everyone who walks into the library as a potential donor. Public service isn't the most important thing you do, it's the only important thing you do. Users are not impressed by glitzy buildings, vast collections, and 21st century computer systems if they have to leave without the information or materials they came in for. Administration: Especially for some of you folks who are getting a little older, write notes for yourself as if you expect to suffer acute memory loss when you wake up tomorrow morning. Welcome constructive criticism by having a patron comment book. Answer every suggestion seriously and politely even those that are nasty and outrageous. In general, music and art librarians can be a little wacky; people expect it of them, so it's okay. About MLA: If you turn to your MLA colleagues for help, they will knock themselves out for you. That's still true.

BOETTCHER: First with music librarianship, I'm seeing much more interest again in music librarianship from people looking for alternative careers who are in academia who aren't going through the traditional channels of joining the faculty. I think that's been common among music librarians, but I think we're going to see that probably increase. Music librarianship, as we know it now, is possibly more secure in larger

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institutions. However, I'm seeing lots of expanding roles and absorbing more of fine arts and humanities as we're looking at disciplines differently, as disciplines are looking at themselves differently. There's more encouragement among academia, if not to move to a post disciplinary world, to move to a more collaborative world. I think that encourages us to make sure we collaborate with our colleagues who may be in other areas, other fields, and other buildings.

We are also seeing major changes in the expectations of our users for the availability of information, the availability of us, and for when our services and our buildings are open. When I think back, let's say to my undergraduate and graduate school years, it never occurred to me not to conform to the expectations of the library--except about returning materials and getting fines! It would never occur to me, "Why should the library not be open on Saturday when I want it to be open?" and I don't. We're not quite seeing such docile behavior now from some of our users.

As for MLA, I said many times and will continue to say: I think we really need to be careful about not just existing for ourselves. We need to look outward, and see what we can offer the greater library profession. We need to find and nurture our associations, our partnerships with other professional associations, both library associations and scholarly associations. Really continue our programs and continuing education. I'm thinking most immediately of the web and our series with ALA that have been remarkably helpful, but not just with people in the association, but for people who work with music materials who aren't MLA members. We need to find our way into library school curricula, to make sure that people who may never call themselves a music librarian but are dealing with library materials will see those that are produced by MLA as resources for them in their jobs. And I think we need to think about, "Is MLA really thinking about all the kinds of institutions

and those there who handle music? Can we see that we have a place for them when they come, and that they want to come to us because they see that we have a place for them?"

VANDERMEER: I have to agree with everything you said. It's absolutely true. I was struck by David Hunter's presentation yesterday--about his new way of thinking about the research that he does, how interdisciplinary it is, and how different it is from what we have been used to think was music scholarship. I think it's true in terms of music performance as well. So, if we think of things in terms of the individuals that we serve, whether they be the public in public libraries or conservatory students or musicology students, I think things are going to look very different. I see the three newest members of our musicology faculty at Chapel Hill doing extraordinarily interesting work that perhaps Donald J. Grout would never imagine to be musicology. Yet they teach musicology, and we call ourselves a small "m" musicology program, which means if you want to do field work and historical studies and critical studies and archival studies and all this, come to Chapel Hill. Very different than Chapel Hill used to be--a place for medieval and renaissance work. Most of our students are doing work in popular music these days or some aspect of ethnomusicology. And so, I think if I thought about what my job looked like 20 or 25 years ago and try to project that 20 to 25 years ahead, I would say I have no idea where we're going in 20 or 25 years. I couldn't imagine being where we are now 25 years ago! All I know is it's probably gonna look different. I also think that MLA has a place in that, as long as we are willing to think in terms of how new performers are performing and how young scholars are doing their work. If we're tied into that, I think we will be a viable profession. We have the ability to continue to work with our colleagues in larger libraries in other subject areas, because we have a lot of the same issues. We also have much to teach them. So, I think there will be an MLA in 25 years. It

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will look very different than it does today. I think it'll be very exciting and that the kind of work that people will be doing that we're supporting is gonna be even more exciting!


POSTLUDE QUOTE from Q&A Segment:

VANDERMEER: I think it is important for all of us who have been in the profession for a long time to

see the potential in younger members, to encourage them, and to say, "Yeah--you might do well at that," or "I want you to be President of MLA one day!"

Additional recollections and words of wisdom were shared in the Question&Answer segment that followed the above shared program. For more, view the video recording of the complete session, captured by Katie Buehner (University of Iowa).