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Home » Orchestra News » Orchestra Librarians: Unrecognized Musicians No More

Orchestra Librarians: Unrecognized Musicians No More


by Rochelle Skolnick, Director AFM Symphonic Services Division

If you are a musician in an AFM represented symphony orchestra, you rely upon the services of one or more professional music librarians who ensure that you have legible, accurately marked sheet music on your stand at all rehearsals and performances, and that parts are made available to you in advance so you can arrive at the first rehearsal for a new program prepared for the work ahead. For some musicians, that is the extent of their interaction with their orchestra librarians.

Many others turn to their librarians for a range of specialized support services and for invaluable musicological, historical, and repertoire information. Whether you are a casual or intensive consumer of library services, you appreciate the work of these dedicated music professionals who must possess musical training, skill, and experience. The work of professional orchestra librarians is essential—a necessary predicate to the work done on stage and in opera and ballet pits—but librarians’ critical role as partners to their performing colleagues often goes unrecognized.

Represented Librarians

That is not the case in the 36 International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras, 21 Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) orchestras, and four Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) orchestras where orchestra librarians are included in the musicians’ bargaining unit. (A look at the wage charts shows the broad range of orchestras these numbers represent.)

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Sarasota Orchestra, and Washington National Opera Orchestra are the most recent additions to the growing list, which already included the orchestras traditionally thought of as the “big five” (Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra). Others include Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony. One might conclude from this list that a key ingredient in making a so-called “destination orchestra” is librarian inclusion in the bargaining unit.

Unrepresented Librarians

Why does it matter whether your orchestra librarian is included in your orchestra bargaining unit? Those of you who regularly work under an AFM collective bargaining agreement know first-hand the benefits that come with collective bargaining: collectively negotiated wages and benefits, reasonable work hours and leave time, and protection against arbitrary termination—not to mention union representation in every aspect of employment. Orchestra librarians who are not part of their orchestra’s collective are employees “at will” and can be terminated at any time, for any reason or no reason at all. They have no recourse to a grievance procedure or peer review to challenge that decision.

These same unrepresented librarians are often expected to put in full eight-hour days, five days a week, in the music library and to be present at all evening and weekend services as well, arriving at least an hour before downbeat and staying until the service has ended and music has been collected and put away. Because many orchestra librarians are considered “exempt” for purposes of wage and hour laws, their employers do not provide overtime pay for this work. As individuals not part of a collective, librarians have little leverage to negotiate fairer schedules or compensation that takes into account their advanced degrees and complex skill sets. In some cases, that compensation can be as little as half the base scale wage of performing musicians.

These are clearly unacceptable conditions that could be remedied through collective bargaining. Librarian inclusion in orchestra bargaining units benefits not just the librarians—it also brings tremendous benefit to the rest of the orchestra collective. When we insist on inclusion for our librarians, we send a powerful signal to our employers that we will not tolerate abuse of any musician.

Besides simply expanding the size of the collective and thereby increasing its bargaining power, librarians with “full citizenship” in the bargaining unit become available to serve on orchestra and negotiating committees, bringing with them their additional skill sets and unique insights into the operations of symphony orchestras. Where librarians’ terms and conditions of employment, including hiring procedures, are standardized through collective bargaining, the quality of applicants for future library vacancies is demonstrably increased. This raises the overall level of the institution (aspiring librarians know the value of a CBA!). And, in a worst-case scenario that has played out several times over the past few years, librarian assistance is indispensable (but only available if the librarian is a bargaining unit member) when orchestra musicians enduring a work stoppage wish to self-produce concerts for their communities.

MOLA Conference

I recently attended the 36th annual conference of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA) held in Kansas City. MOLA was founded in 1983 to foster communication among professional performance librarians. It has grown to include representatives from nearly 270 institutions worldwide.

At the conference, I had the privilege of participating in a well-attended panel discussion moderated by Dallas Symphony Orchestra Principal Librarian Karen Schnackenberg, a member of Local 72-147. Co-panelists included Sarasota Orchestra Assistant Principal Librarian Paul Greitzer of Local 427-721, Los Angeles Philharmonic Librarian and former ICSOM Governing Board Member Paul Gunther of Locals 47 and 30-73, Rochester Philharmonic Principal Librarian Kim Hartquist of Local 66, San Francisco Symphony Principal Librarian Margo Kieser of Local 6, and Kansas City Symphony trumpet player and ICSOM Media Committee Chair Brian Rood of Local 34-627.

The session, entitled “Librarians and the Collective Bargaining Agreement: A Roundtable Discussion of Traditions, Trends, and Tips,” provided attendees with a history of orchestra librarian inclusion in AFM represented symphonic bargaining units and guidance on how to become part of an existing bargaining unit. Each librarian on the panel described the path she or he traveled to attain unit membership, ranging from voluntary recognition by the employer to a certification election at the National Labor Relations Board. In each case, the librarian had the support of performing colleagues and described it as essential.

The Pie Fallacy

As I explored this topic, it surprised me to learn that, in some cases, resistance to librarian inclusion comes not only from employers, but from orchestra musicians. When pressed for an explanation, what I hear most often is that those musicians fear having to share “the pie” with their librarian colleagues. This scarcity-based fallacy ignores the reality that all employees of the orchestra, including the librarians, already sup in the same kitchen; bringing librarians to the bargaining table only enhances the collective’s power to demand more and better pie for everyone. The “pie” argument also disappoints me because it exposes a way of thinking that is inconsistent with principles of fairness, justice, and concern for the welfare of all musicians that animate our work as unionists and union musicians. Fortunately, this divisive rhetoric is confined to a handful of orchestras and does not represent the views of the majority.

As we head into the homestretch of our regular seasons, I encourage you to get to know your orchestra librarians, if you haven’t already, and find out more about their work. The MOLA website includes a page describing the orchestra librarian career ( that may be enlightening to nonlibrarians. If your librarians express an interest in becoming members of your bargaining unit, remember that we are all stronger when we (all) stand together. If you and your librarians need guidance about how to bring them into your bargaining unit, please call or email me. AFM Symphonic Services Division stands ready to assist in this important endeavor.

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