Music Library Association confers with the Theatre Library Association, March 2021

March 23, 2021
Ray Heigemeir
The exterior of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Music and theatre librarians across the US and Canada gathered virtually in March to listen, learn, discuss, debate, decide, and attend to the business of our professions. The opening plenary session set the tone for many of the presentations to follow. “Anti-racist performing arts librarianship” was the topic insightfully addressed by our guest speakers, Dr. Dwandalyn Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and Dr. Loren Kajikawa, Associate Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at George Washington University. What does race have to do with music?  With performing arts?  How should we embrace anti-racism in our collection-building activities?  In our public programming?  In our staffing?  So many important questions were considered in this excellent morning session.

The conference was to have met in Cincinnati this year, and speakers for the second plenary session focused on Cincinnati’s King Records, a seminal recording label promoting American popular music. Musicians recording at King Records included the Stanley Brothers, James Brown, Bootsy Collins, and Wynonie Harris among many others. Our special guest was Bootsy Collins, bass player for James Brown, and later, beyond Cincinnati, a member of Parliament-Funkadelic and a freelance artist who collaborated with performers including DeeLite (playing and singing on “Groove is in the Heart”).  Bootsy regaled attendees with stories of his youth and how he became a member of Brown’s band, the work ethic of both Brown and of Parliament’s George Clinton (late night rehearsals put the damper on the potential hard-partying ways of the musicians—who knew?). The panel was moderated by MLA’s Andy Leach, Head of the Library and Archives of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Andy displayed one of Bootsy’s guitars, donated to the Rock Hall of Fame, leading Bootsy to reminiscence about buying his first guitar on layaway ($29, paid down from paper route earnings) and restringing it to be played as a bass.

Bootsy Collins

Practical sessions addressed such topics as digital projects and preservation, copyright, open access, publishing opportunities, 21st century score formats, and new initiatives to update the language we use in our catalogs. The conference itself was socially-distanced, in that presentations, interest group meetings, and committee meetings were spread out over a three-week period and across three time zones. Next year we (hopefully) descend on Salt Lake City—stay tuned!