Researcher’s Corner: Job Trends in Music Librarianship

I’m a generalist, but I always like to peek into the different library specialties.  In this piece, Joe Clark reports on vacancies for Music librarians, describing changes in the number of posted jobs, in what types of organizations are posting, and even in the nature of the work being advertised.  His findings make me curious to see if these types of changes are occurring all over.

A more formal write-up of his research was published in Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, and if I’m parsing Project Muse correctly, it’s open access, so you can read his article here for free.

The graying of the library profession and recession of 2008 piqued my curiosity about the number of available positions in music librarianship over the last decade. Position announcements seemed fewer in 2009-10 than when I was looking for my first position in the early 2000s, but I did not have empirical data to back up this suspicion. This entry provides an overview to the study investigating my question, some key findings, and additional data from research I have done since.


Vacancies in music librarianship are posted in numerous places; however, the most comprehensive sources is the Music Library Association’s (MLA) Placement Service Job List. The Job List was a subscription-based service before the early 2000s, at which time it was moved online and made freely available. Hiring institutions can post announcements at no cost, and access is free to employment seekers.

Because 2002 was the first full year that all job openings were included on the web page, it marks the first year of my study. Each Job List posting from 2002 through 2010 was classified into type of position (professional librarian, para-professional, appointment in professional organization, etc.). Professional and paraprofessional employment was grouped by hiring organization category (academic, public library, government, etc.) and type of work (reference, cataloging, etc.).


The total number of job postings varied widely from year to year. Advertisements were most plentiful in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2008, with 102, 101, 95, and 92 respectively. While the number of available positions was lowest in 2009 with 50 (followed closely by 2010 with 58), the numbers were similar to those in 2003. Of the positions posted on the Job List, most (63%) were for professional librarians and required an American Library Association accredited Masters degree. Twenty-three percent of the listings were for paraprofessionals, while a small number (under five percent) fell into one of the other categories (such as an officer position for professional library organization, work for a scholarly organization, or a music-related position not involving library work).

Eighty-two percent of the professional library positions were in academic institutions. Eleven percent were in public libraries, and 5% were in non-profit institutions (most of these were in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum and Archives). Vacancies in public libraries were 11%,  down from previous Job List studies. Renee McBride’s 2004 book chapter “What Employers Want Now: A Survey of the MLA Job List” (in Careers in Music Librarianship II: Traditions and Transitions, ed. Paula Elliot and Linda Blair, Scarecrow Press for the Music Library Association, 2004) found 14% of listings in public libraries. Reference, cataloging, and administration positions each accounted for approximately one quarter of professional employment. The remaining quarter offered work in archives, digital specialization, or hybrid positions involving cataloging and public service.

The percentage of professional jobs in public libraries decreased over the nine years of the study,  as did listings in corporate environments. Due to the staffing of the newly opened Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, the number of positions in non-profit environments rose sharply during 2007-2010. Cataloging jobs declined as a percentage during the nine years of the study. Advertisements in archives and hybrid positions (those involving both public service and cataloging) increased dramatically between 2008 and 2010.

Research conducted since the original study reveal that professional vacancies in music librarianship hit a low in 2011, with only 25 Job List advertisements. 2012 witnessed 60% more professional positions, with 40 announcements, which was slightly lower than 2010’s total. Distribution of the 60 professional jobs by type for 2011-12 are as follows: 35% reference, 25% administrative, 17% archival, 13% cataloging, 7% hybrid (includes both cataloging and public service), 2% digital, and 2% scholarly work. Eighty-eight percent of these posts were in academic institutions, 7% in public libraries, and 5% in non-profits.

Hiring institutions for paraprofessional openings were more varied than professional positions, with approximately one-third in academic, one-third in performing organizations, and the remaining third in government/military, corporate, non-profit, and public libraries. Forty-one percent of paraprofessional posts involved ensemble librarianship. The duties of the remaining posts were distributed among seven other job types.

The other position types included officer positions within professional organizations (mostly from the Music Library Association), non-library posts in music settings, non-music library positions, and organizations that create scholarly materials used by music librarians. These accounted for up to ten percent of Job List postings in any given year.


The original study’s data spanned December 2010; however, the recent number of Job List postings continues to be lower than those from 2004-08. While there were 67 jobs listed in 2011, that year marked the smallest percentage (37%) of professional vacancies during the eleven years under study. Due to the high number of job seekers lacking library experience, the Placement Officer during this period included paraprofessional positions whenever possible. Fifty-eight positions appeared on the Job List in 2012, the same as 2010.

The complete study, entitled “Job Trends in Music Librarianship: A Nine-Year Analysis from the Music Library Association’s Job List,” was published in Notes 69, no. 1 (September 2012). I also wrote the follow-up article “What Employers Want: Entry-Level Qualifications for Music Librarians,” which examines the qualities hiring institutions want in new librarians. It will be published in Notes 69, no. 3 (March 2013). Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

Joe Clark

Joe Clark is the Head of the Performing Arts Library at Kent State University. He has published articles in Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, Fontes Artis Musicae, Serials Review, and Journal of Library Innovation. His research interests include employment trends in music librarianship, collection management, library administration, and American music.


1 Comment

Filed under Academic, Public, Researcher's Corner, Special

One response to “Researcher’s Corner: Job Trends in Music Librarianship

  1. Pingback: Researcher’s Corner: What are the Qualifications for an Entry-Level Music Librarian? | Hiring Librarians

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