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This UNT Music Librarian Outlines Challenges, Rewards In His Work In The Digital Age

University of North Texas
Ampico Recording Roll Of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Troika”, No. 11 from The Seasons (Op. 37a)";s:3:"u

Whether they're working on a university campus, inside an elementary school or within a neighborhood, librarians are asserting their relevance in the age of the internet. Their biggest obstacle? People who "hold the purse strings" thinking libraries don't continue to provide an important service. That's according to one music librarian at the University of North Texas.  

Mark McKnight is the head of the music library at UNT. He was recently named president of the Music Library Association, an international group of librarians, musicians and scholars. 

Interview Highlights:

On what a music librarian does: We're educators. We work in a variety of different environments whether it's academic libraries — university or college — public libraries, conservatories, ensembles, orchestra libraries. We're just like a regular library, but we have music. And so much of our music history is deteriorating because of poor-quality paper over the years; collections are being lost every day. And we do archive letters, papers, ephemera, recordings, one-of-a-kind things that otherwise would just be lost.

On the major challenges facing music librarians: I think one of our biggest challenges is misperceptions about the importance of libraries, especially with people who hold the purse strings, whether it's politicians or administrators, who think 'well, everything is on the internet, now everything is on the web, and we don't need libraries anymore.' Our challenge is to make sure people understand that No. 1: Not everything is digitized. No 2: Even when things are digitized you still need to have help finding what's out there, and that's where we come in.

I just had to issue a statement on behalf of MLA protesting the administration's plans to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Music and Library Services, which are very dear and vital to what we do as music libraries."

Watch this piano at UNT perform Tchaikovsky's "Troika"

This piano and over 5,400 rolls (as well as thousands of CDs, 78s, cylinders, etc.) were donated in 2013 by the estate of Joe Morris, a Dallas collector of sound recordings and vintage playback machines.

On how recent administration actions will affect music libraries: If those agencies were to go away, it would severely hamper us because so much of what so many of the programs and so many of the initiatives that our members are involved with depend on these grants. I don't know where the funding would come from frankly. It would severely severely harm our ability to do our job and carry out our mission.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.