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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Ruthann McTyre

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Ruthann McTyre, head of the Rita Benton Music Library; and president of the Music Library Association.

Music did not begin to find its home in America’s libraries until late in the 19th century. As the success of those first music collections were reported, music then gained acceptance as viable library holdings.

Ruthann McTyre is head of the Rita Benton Music Library at the University of Iowa in Iowa City; and president of the Music Library Association.

Founded in 1931, the MLA is the main professional organization for American music libraries and librarians. It also serves corporations, institutions, students, composers, scholars and others whose work and interests lie in the music librarianship field.

The MLA provides a professional forum for librarians, archivists, and others who support and preserve the world’s musical heritage.

The purposes of the MLA is: to promote the establishment, growth, and use of music libraries; to encourage the collection of music and musical literature in libraries; to further studies in musical bibliography; to increase efficiency in music library service and administration; and to promote the profession of music librarianship.

Previously McTyre was at Baylor University in Waco, Texas as Head of the Crouch Music and Fine Arts Library, from 1992 – 2000; also serving as associate director for Organizational Development and Planning 1999-2000.

Earlier, she was the Public Services Librarian for the music library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

McTyre holds a Master of Library Science degree from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas; a Master of Music degree (Vocal Performance); and a Bachelor of Music (Music Education) from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

McTyre’s published works include: “Library Resources for Singers, Coaches, and Accompanists: an Annotated Bibliography”; “'Source Readings’ in Music Reference and Research Materials”; and “Music in Britain in the 1890s,” a chapter in "The 1890s" for the “Encyclopedia of British Literature, Art, and Culture.”

The technology revolution has greatly changed music reference. If you know what you are doing, it has sped up research.

However, due to technology and increasing operating costs, there is the growing fear that music libraries in the future might be forced to focus exclusively on electronic collections. That collection development will almost cease to exist as selection of library materials become more patron-initiated. As a result, librarians may have to develop shared investment strategies to manage shared print archives. Also local special collections and archives might have to be funded by donations.

Yet, with music librarians being skilled and knowledgeable in music’s publication and dissemination, it is likely that they will still remain well positioned to teach about music, and to collect and collaborate on the online publication of research collections of music.

What size staff do you work with at the Rita Benton Music Library?

I have one para-professional staff person and a music cataloguer who reports to the head of cataloguing. She processes all of the original cataloguing items, and gets to work on a lot of neat projects. She does a lot of work with the rare materials and unique scores that come through.

With your job, have you had to broaden your musical scope?

You certainly learn a lot along the way. I used to watch MTV a lot in the early days just because it, at least, kept me up with what the hip kids were listening to. I don’t watch MTV anymore because it’s not my cup of tea nowadays. I listen to country music all of the time. That’s about all I can tolerate these days. We do collect some popular music here. But it’s not the focus.

Do you and your staff scan YouTube for reference?

Yep, and we do a lot of going through the (music) journals, and online resources and things like that. Part of my job is to work with the faculty and students in their research areas. So I learn a lot from them (about music) as they are trying to track down resources for their own research. That helps a lot with me keeping up with trends.

So you know now where Lady Gaga fits historically?

I think I do. She scares me a little bit, but I like her at the same time. She sure knows how to put on a show.

How many members are in The Music Library Association?

We have around 680 members. That’s institutional and personnel. We have one annual meeting in the spring. We have several (regional) chapters. Being local, they concentrate on their particular area. They provide an opportunity (for members) to meet in a small venue and they give people more of an opportunity to participate in programs at a local level. We do a lot of outreach with our library schools across the country, both on a regional and national level. It’s a great way for para professionals to participate when they might not have the opportunity or the funding to go to a national meeting.

Are music libraries in the United States at a crossroads today? Even the type of material to be collected in the future seems in question. There doesn’t seem to be an overall plan. Everybody is looking at problems in a different way.

That’s right. Public libraries have a very different approach from academic libraries. Conservatory libraries will look at (the problem) differently than a research library would, for example. You want to get the music product to the person in your school that they absolutely need to do their research and their learning. So, you are absolutely right. We are at a crossroads, and it is something that we talk about all of the time.

One example is that more and more, at least with popular music and now starting with classical, sometimes we can’t buy the CD of a title. It is only available as an MP3 file, which creates all sorts of problems for libraries. We can buy it but we can’t catalog it or provide access to it for our clientele because of copyright.

[Before using any prerecorded or printed material, librarians must first evaluate whether the use falls under one of the Copyright Act’s specific exemptions or those described in the voluntary guidelines.

For librarians, a major headache is deciphering the exceptions provided for them under the fair use provision. Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted material without permission. However, the fair use concept is very loosely defined by the law.

The Copyright Act, for example, does not specifically address the rights of copying for reserve. General practice among libraries rests on the assumption that the library reserve room functions as an extension of the classroom and, thus, is permitted to provide copies of copyrighted works related to the rights of copying for purposes of teaching.

Purpose, in fact, plays an important role in determining whether a use is fair. The law suggests several possible fair uses, such as criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, or research. Other factors considered include: the nature of the work, the amount used, and the effect on the market for the work. The guidelines allow librarians to make a single recording of a performance of copyrighted material for educational or archival purposes. Beyond that, a license is required. Penalties for infringement can run from $750 to $30,000.]

Music libraries operate within the “classroom” exemption provided under the Copyright Act’s fair use provision. That’s pretty murky.

It is pretty murky. Music librarians tend to ride on the edge of that (copyright infringement), I think, a lot. We have had to provide access to our students. The way we get around (infringement), especially with the streaming audio and things like that, is that the databases that we subscribe to are IPS address driven. So that covers fair use. People who don’t have a university ID, for example, can’t access my streaming audio products. If we have a cursor or a clip of audio material it is only up on a page for that specific class. Again, they have to log in with their university ID and a password to get access to it. So that protects us. We have to be pretty careful. Things go up first semester on courses, and they go away at the end of the semester.

That goes to the purpose part of fair usage.

Yes, right. It’s the educational use. That sort of counts as your one copy.

The library is an extension of the classroom.

That’s correct. When we use CDs, and rip files to put on the streaming audio, we put the actual CD on course reserve as well. We don’t—and this is pretty standard within the American academic library—we don’t put up course reserves of material that we don’t own. The library has to own it to rip the file, and put it up.

How many copies for reserve are you allowed without permission?


Any further copies and you have to make a payment?

Yes. To the copyright clearance people.

One copy is fairly limiting.

That’s our policy here. (Usage) has gotten tighter and tighter. We sort of have a direct line to university counsel for a lot of things, because there’s the copyright law; and then there’s the university’s interpretation of the copyright law.

Does that interpretation differ at each university?

Yes. There are some differences across the board.

There has yet to be a case of the “copyright police” sweeping down on music libraries in the U.S. for copyright infringement.

None that I know of. Knock on wood. But, when you get into the realm of film, (copyright) is an absolute nightmare.

Students might face tightened copyright restrictions at university libraries, but when when they are in dorms or at home they are likely downloading music illegally.

Absolutely. Our sound recordings circulate to our students. They will come in and check out piles of compact discs and then bring them back the next day. And you know exactly what they are doing. There is really nothing we can do about that, except educate them about what copyright means. Especially musicians. You explain to them that when they go to photocopy this score, that it is taking money out of the composer’s hand. “Look across the classroom at your friend who wants to be a composer. Are you going to make your friend starve?”

With the advances in information technology, the disbursement of information is more widely available to libraries today. Do librarians trade information back-and-forth?

Oh sure. We are all for access as much as we can, and to share it amongst everybody. We try to provide as much free access as we can to things that we can legally provide free access to (to other librarians).

So there’s significant back-and-forth?

I think that there really is. Librarians like to get information out, and like to help people with their research in any way that we can. We have, of course, the formal library loan process that we go through amongst all universities and all libraries, but there’s a lot of personal contacting. There’s a lot of “I need this in a hurry,” or “Can we get this in a hurry?” kind of things. So we do a lot of expatiating for each other to get the materials to people in an efficient manner.

Do some librarians hoard information or collections?

Do they hoard information? I don’t think so. If they hoard it, somebody else might have the same information. They might as well share. I think that librarians today are not, “you can’t have it,” or “you can’t touch my stuff,” anymore because it’s going to be out there in the online word in one way, shape, or form.

MLA performs different roles.

Music is like a foreign language to so many people who don’t understand or don’t know how to read music. Music tends to be a good testing bed for on-line systems that come into being for machine-readable cataloguing records. When we did develop OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) years ago, music presented such unique problems. If you could fix the way computers search music, then it was great for other things.

[Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs. More than 27,000 libraries in 86 countries and territories use OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend and preserve library materials.]

For example, trying to find recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies could present a lot of problems if you think about the wide variety of titles that are out there. The Bibliographic Control Committee (of MLA), they do a lot for the profession and for cataloguing. We deal with a lot of technologies on the front-end. When CDs came out, librarians got them first. It was a big deal the day the first CD arrived. I remember it clearly, “Wow. What cool technology.”

[The MLA’s Bibliographic Control Committee maintains formal channels of communication among music catalogers, and with other groups requiring formulated positions on bibliographic control of music materials. It participates in maintaining and revising national and international codes for both descriptive cataloging and electronic transmission of bibliographic data.]

What happened with the library’s cassettes?

Well, we kept them for a long time. Every time a new technology comes out, it really pushes our budget to the max, because we have to buy the new technology. And we have to buy the (hardware) to play it. Schools of music and music libraries are expensive endeavors for people.

Not exactly a profit center for a university.


When there are institutional cut backs, they often start in the music library. Is that a concern for MLA members?

Yes it is. Especially as a lot of people retire, there’s the (attitude) that, “this is a good time to absorb the music collection back into the main library.” Or they will have someone come in who, maybe, does music reference and acquisition, but also does social sciences or does two or three other subjects as well. It is a concern for us, definitely, keeping the profession going.

But you go to the MLA (conference) each year, and there are encouraging signs. With our last conference, there was a music library student group there, started by two enterprising young women from Wisconsin. I think that we had 35 people interested in the profession as library school students who showed up at our annual meeting. That’s great to have that many people who are interested in doing that kind of work. It makes me feel good as I look closer to retirement myself at 56.

In the face of reduced purchasing power as well as with the continuing robust pace of print publication - especially music scores - and greater demand for digital materials, has an issue for music librarians become what to collect or what not to collect?

Yes, I think so. Because so many of us have the same streaming audio things, we can really focus in on what we really need to collect, and what we don’t need so much anymore. With more and more journals being in an online environment, do we store the print copies or do we get rid of them? When we get CDs in now that are reissues of LPs, we pull the LPs out and withdraw them. Space is an issue because libraries are downsizing in terms of staff across the board. It becomes a real cost issue of what we add and what we don’t add. In terms of staff time as well as space. So it is a daily problem.

I have, sitting in my office right now, the libraries from three emeritus professors. One is 96, the other is in his late ‘80s, and the other is in her late ‘70s. They have been collecting for a long, long time. Going through what is here is amazing. One of the things that we are excited about is (from) the emeritus cellist professor. The fingerings that he has in his scores, and the markings and things, that’s a goldmine for students; especially if you go back and look at peoples’ lineage of who their teacher was. It’s a neat way to record that kind of history. The score might be in awful shape, but we will hold onto it anyway just because of the value of the markings and the notes that person has put there.

Music did not begin to find its identity in America’s libraries until late in the 19th Century.

I think that’s a fair assumption. When they started building up libraries, especially in the East, music was a separate thing. The Music Library Association didn’t come into being until the early part of the 20th Century, when it was decided that there was a need for a separate association. We are fairly young.

Book libraries go back centuries.

Oh yeah. Alexander the Great had a library. I don’t think he had a music library. That would have been pretty boring back then.

[The first libraries were composed, for the most part, of published records. Archaeological findings from the ancient city-states of Sumer (in present day Iraq) have revealed temple rooms full of clay tablets in cuneiform script. These archives were made up of the records of commercial transactions or inventories, with only a few documents touching theological matters, historical records or legends. The earliest discovered private archives were kept at Ugarit in Syria; besides correspondence and inventories, texts of myths may have been standardized practice-texts for teaching new scribes. There is also evidence of libraries at Nippur (Iraq) about 1900 B.C. and at nearby Nineveh about 700 B.C., showing a library classification system.]

The first American libraries to collect music were the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.

That’s right. The New York Public Library has a wonderful collection. Just wonderful.

Early on, American librarian, editor, and musicologist Oscar Sonneck introduced ANSCR (Alpha-Numeric System for Classification of Recordings), composed of 46 major categories into which all sound recordings are organized.

Public libraries still rely on ANSCR a lot. In this library and at a lot of larger academic libraries, we just do a straight acquisition number model on our sound recordings. Having 20,000 CDs classified by subject get a little clunky for our purposes. But for smaller collections, ANSCR is a real good solution.

[The Society for American Music was founded in honor of, and originally named for the first critical scholar and bibliographer of American Music, Oscar G. T. Sonneck, who passed away in 1928.]

You don’t break down musical genres?

No. We rely on our wonderful catalogers to do that for us in the online catalogs. The categorization (of music today) would be nutty. It’s interesting because I haven’t really thought about that system for a long time. It’s pretty neat and tidy (catalogue system) for a small public library or even a small college library that, maybe, doesn’t have a department of music that has a CD collection. It would make a lot of sense for people to walk in, and actually browse through the CDs themselves.

Where are you from?

I’m from Zionsville, Indiana. A little town just north of Indianapolis. I had, I think, 90 (students) in my high school class in Zionsville High School. My family transplanted to Texas when I was in college, so that’s how I ended up down there. My family moved to Midland, Texas which is in the oil country of west Texas. But I went to school at SMU (Southern Methodist University) in Dallas. I finished my education in Texas, and did my library degree at North Texas (University of North Texas) up in Denton. I worked as a church singer and a temple singer while I was working at the library and going to library school at North Texas.

What led you to being interested in this field?

Well, you know, as a graduate student I worked in the music library and was working on a Masters in vocal performance at SMU at the time. When I graduated with my Masters, I already had two really good singing jobs, and I was an oratorio singer with a lot of the churches in the city. There was a part-time job that opened up in the music library at SMU, so I just stayed on. That turned into a full-time job. I worked as a para-professional staff member for five or six years. Then I got a letter inviting me to apply for a music librarian’s position at UNC (University of North Carolina) in Greensboro, North Carolina. I had all of the qualifications but the degree. So I thought, “Shoot. I have everything else in line.” So I ended up at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after library school. It was a great first job, I can tell you.

Why did you leave?

There was an opportunity to be head of my own music library, which I thought was a good opportunity. That was at Crouch Music Library at Baylor (University).

That’s quite a prestigious position.

Well, it is. It was a nice place to learn to be the head of my own library, and to be an administrator. It was a small library faculty, and a really good place to work.

What kind of things do you learn in first running a library?

I think just learning to be a good manager of your staff. And to work in that kind of environment. As the boss, you need to have those kinds of managerial skills. You needed budgetary skills because you are responsible for a pretty big acquisition budget. The music end of it was already in place. It was more of the supervisory kind of things that I was interested in.

The Baylor Collection; it’s a wonderful music library.

It was long before I got there. It’s kind of amazing, because it’s in Waco, Texas. While it is not exactly in the middle of nowhere, it is not exactly a big city library either. But it is really a fine library, and a really fine music collection. It is a wonderful school of music. It is the same size that we have here in Iowa.,so it was a really good place to work.

It was there that you wrote the chapter “Music in Britain in the 1890s” for the 1993 book “Encyclopedia of British Literature, Art, and Culture.”

I was actually doing research in solo vocal literature as a possible thesis and dissertation topic before I decided to go to library school. So that’s been a subject of interest for me for a long time.

That period was when vocal music was re-introduced in Britain.

There was a big dead period after (17th century composer Henry) Purcell died, before (Sir Charles Villiers) Stanford and (Sir Edward William) Eigar started to write vocal music and people started paying attention again.

Did Queen Victoria’s court encourage this re-emergence of vocal music?

I think so, because she was such a big fan of (Felix) Mendelssohn and so many (British composers) went to Germany to study and came back (to Britain). (Ralph) Vaughan Williams, for example, and guys like that. It was an interesting time to see how the classical solo thing kicked back in again. As a choral singer, I just love that era of English choral music.

Your book “Library Resources for Singers, Coaches, and Accompanists: an Annotated Bibliography” was written before the advent of the new informational technology.

There’s really a huge amount of repertoire available today, so that’s a book I need to do an updated edition of someday. Just given the wide amount of resources that are out there these days. For example, for translations of vocal literature, that is just one small piece. There is a wide variety of material out there. Most of it is in print still, and not necessarily online.

Have many of the older scores been scanned and digitalized?

Yes. Public domain material certainly. It is sort of happening all over the place but specifically there are a group of music libraries in Boston who have started taking public domain reference works in music, scanning those, and putting them up on a database.

We have here a collection of the works of Ignace Pleyel, who was an 18th Century French composer and music publisher; and his family also started building pianos. The Pleyel piano company exists today in Paris. We have about 220 Pleyel scores that we have put into a digital database for scholars to use. That’s really cool, actually. We started getting questions—well, we have for years—from scholars all over the world needing access to these scores, especially the first editions. So, we developed the digital library services component in the library, which was one of the first projects that we were able to do.

[An Austrian-born French composer of the Classical period, Ignace Pleyel is a composer who was very famous in his own time but obscure today. Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis wrote, "What composer ever created more of a craze than Pleyel? Who enjoyed a more universal reputation or a more absolute domination of the field of instrumental music? Over more than 20 years, there was no amateur or professional musician who did not delight in his genius.” Pleyel died in 1831.]

Preservation is becoming a growing reference issue today. As you know, you cannot get material back once it deteriorates.

That’s exactly right. One of the former resident string quartets here, the Stradivarius Quartet, performed for many, many years. So we had a lot of their concerts on reel-to-reel and audio cassette, and they were starting to deteriorate like crazy. So that’s a digital project that we have done here. A lot of academic libraries are putting university performances up in a digital format and preserving the actual (musical) item at an off-site storage. So what we do, again in compliance with copyright for preservation works, is that we make CD copies as well as the digital file. We tuck away the original and then we have two CD copies for preservation copies as well as the digital manifestation of the work.

Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.

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