Orchestra Librarians: Unrecognized Musicians No More

By Skolnick, Rochelle | International Musician, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Orchestra Librarians: Unrecognized Musicians No More


Skolnick, Rochelle, International Musician


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 oftheir 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 oflibrary 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. …

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