From the Orchestra Library

Sometimes It Just Takes a Village

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on September 10, 2009

How many librarians does it take to ……………………………………………make an orchestra happy?

Just kidding!  Bad joke.  😉

Let’s try this. How many librarians does it take to:

Put the music out for rehearsals? Stuff a set of folders? Or unstuff? Mark a set of parts? Or clean and repair? Put measure numbers in everything? Proofread a major work? Transfer markings from an old edition of a Beethoven symphony to a new one? Copy out a transposed part? Create excerpts for auditions or youth concerts? Make performance parts? Make an extra score? Make practice copies? Place rental and purchase orders for a whole season? Catalogue the music? Enter repertoire info into the database for all programs? Research a new work? Answer players’ questions about upcoming pieces? Put together practice parts for individual players? Get fee quotes or perusal scores for potential repertoire?  Return music to the publisher? Reshelve sets after performances? Answer questions from conductors, composers, and publishers, as well as the internal questions? Answer the phone? Make phone calls? Create a budget? Revise the budget? Have parts ready a month in advance? Change a program at the last minute?

Well, that’s The Million Dollar Question, isn’t it?  How many librarians does it take to run an orchestra library professionally, efficiently, providing a high standard of service to everyone, not make mistakes, and get everything done?

Of course we librarians usually believe there should be more librarians.  We know when we need more help, and we know what is being asked of us from all directions throughout the organization on a daily basis.  We know that the demands are increasing while resources are shrinking.  More “one-off” programs are being scheduled, and more artists are being hired who are unfamiliar with working alongside symphony orchestras in programs of less-traditional repertoire that have greater music preparation challenges.  More pieces are showing up with improper parts or electronically. We also know how often we are working 10-12 hour days/nights, or strings of days in a row without a break.

Those in charge of our organizations often believe we can get by with fewer librarians, that we can Just Do More, and that our pleas for extra help or additional money to hire another librarian are exaggerated.  Especially in tough times, this discussion is tabled for a future “better” time economically. And this can snowball on itself in a bad way.  Because tough times mean smaller budgets and fewer workers, so things don’t get taken care of early enough, there are more last-minute issues and all of a sudden everyone is in crisis management.  Which is very expensive from an organizational standpoint and a very slippery slope.

There’s all the stuff to do (some of which I listed above) that no one cares to hear about from the librarians.  They just want the work done.  I certainly don’t blame them.  You probably skimmed through that yourself and didn’t really want to think about it.  There are so many details it would make your head explode.  Just as I’m sure mine would if I knew everything about other people’s jobs.  And there are the money problems and the recession and the drop in giving which is wreaking havoc on plans large and small for orchestras around the country.  So no one wants to talk about fully-populated libraries and why that is crucial for the organization.  It’s usually low on the priority list, and there is a general lack of understanding across this and other countries’ orchestras about how the library can help achieve the organization’s goals, both artistically and fiscally.

I  know it’s kind of counterintuitive in the current climate for folks to realize that having a fully-staffed library actually saves money in the long run.  And sometimes in the short run.  And it certainly helps the performers excel on stage, which helps the whole organization realize its long-term vision.  Great concerts, recordings, and tours breed more success which can build upon itself.

But so often the short-term view is as far as things go.  I understand where that kind of misguided thinking comes from, to be sure. But it is misguided.  I realize we can’t have 10 librarians, or even 5, but if the library isn’t provided with the necessary resources to do the job RIGHT, it causes all kinds of problems and can cost a tremendous amount of money.  Things like unnecessary rental rush or cancellation fees, buying the wrong music, hiring the wrong players, not hiring enough players, orchestra overtime, and more.  Beyond that, it also costs everyone artistically through parts not being prepared properly and wasted rehearsal time spent on fixing things instead of rehearsing,

So, what I don’t understand is how the same expectations can be, well, expected from the library if budgetary cuts are made and there isn’t enough help.  I mean, if you have less money to spend on your household, and you’ve decided you can only afford a modest steak for everyone in the family once a month, then that means there will be NO STEAK for the other 27-30 days of that month.  Simple concept, right?  Can’t afford luxury items except for special occasions. Clear?

Apparently not.  I hear stories from my colleagues all the time, and have experienced similar situations myself.  We librarians, as a species, are usually still expected to do the same amount of work even with fewer people (so, in less time) and with a smaller budget, which translates to fewer resources.  We have to prioritize (or triage) in a way someone else might not like, especially if their need or request gets put to the back of the line.  And then there is an inevitable push by someone going over our heads to our bosses to instruct us to do the very thing we have decided must be cut due to lack of time and money based on our experience of what is most critical.

  • Bowings meticulously done for all programs in our control?  Necessity. Checking bowings in pops artists’ own books?  Not.
  • Fixing the most critical errors of major works from existing errata lists?  Whenever possible. Proofreading from scratch?  Luxury.
  • Some kind of rehearsal system in a work?  Absolutely.  Measure numbers in everything?  Impossible.
  • Practice copies for the major works for all the string players?  Yep.  Practice packets automatically handed out for every single piece?  Nope.
  • New parts acquired and marked for some sets that are really terrible?  Of course.  Making new parts for every pops piece that is sub-par?  No can do.
  • Inserting cuts from guest conductors if provided three months in advance?  No problem.  Inserting cuts at the last minute?  No way.  You will have to announce them from the stage.

Steak once a month.  Not every day.

There is always much discussion in library land about how many of us are in each organization, full-time or part-time or both, who does what, and how far do we go with proofreading, correcting errata, creating new materials, adding measure numbers, etc. We talk about numbers of conductors, numbers of different programs, and how long it can take to prepare ONE set of parts for ONE piece for ONE program or even ONE concert. Here at the DSO we usually have five conductors:  Music Director, Assistant Conductor, Pops Conductor, Choral Conductor, and Principal Guest Conductor.  That doesn’t count the regular guest conductors all season, for everything from pops to parks to classics.  Let me tell you a fact, my friends, the more conductors you have, the more different programs there are — and the more librarians you need!

Of course, there is never enough money to hire what we really need, because the truth is that the work is never done.   There are always more parts to mark or fix.  Someone can (and always does) want more personalized service.  Conductors often want more changes/additions/cuts added to the parts but don’t always provide the information until a couple of weeks before the rehearsal. Which is too late.  By then the folders are out for the players to practice.  We have to determine what are truly legitimate needs for right now, and what are “wish list” items that have to wait.  We have to set limits every day.

I’ve often wondered what it might feel like to go home at night and know that I had finished everything.

Ain’t gonna happen.

There are days when it seems like we need one librarian for each player and conductor.  Then there are moments, rare ones I hastily add, that it seems like one lowly librarian could handle the various items on the docket that day/night and, really, everyone else should take the day off.

But then comes 9:40 or so on a Tuesday morning before the first rehearsal of a classical program begins, and all hell starts to break loose.  The stage set has changed since we put out the folders a half hour before.  Someone forgot their parts.  Music Director asks for a librarian to talk about scores needed for later, or, worse, changes to today’s music. Cover conductor asks for a score at the last minute.  Players realize they need practice parts for tomorrow.  Admin upstairs calls and wants a quick answer on rental fees for a potential program change.

Right about then I could use a Village of Librarians.


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