Inaugural post…Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my blog about all things queer, musical, and critical librarianship. I am a very busy person currently working full-time and enrolled in a distance MLIS program, so I won’t be able to update this blog super frequently, but I will make the effort to post at least once a month.

I am also not yet certain what format this blog shall take and eventually am hoping to combine it with a podcast series (perhaps using Youtube as a platform). More to come as I dream Euterpe into existence.

What brings you to my page? Are you too a librarian, perhaps even a music librarian? Were you merely intrigued by the reference to the Greek muse of music, Euterpe, and curious about in which ways I will queer her? What about the #critlib movement (and yes, hashtag)? Where does that fit in the puzzle?

First off, here is a brief tale about me, my life to date, and my career aspirations. I am a 30-something cisgendered queer white woman from Maine, happily married to an incredible woman from Spain (and, yes, the “rain in Spain” does “fall mainly on the plain”), and living together in the cold tundra of the Northern Midwest (Minnesota). I was a music education major in college and during my semester of student teaching kindergarten and high school choir, realized that as much as I loved teaching, teaching children (even adolescents) was not for me. Inspired by my growing interest in feminist/queer theory and the hertory of women in opera, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in musicology. Now nearly a decade later, I have accomplished that goal and am working toward my MLIS. During the long and arduous task of preparing for my comprehensive exams in grad. school, I fortuitously found myself working part-time at the circ. desk in the University’s music library. This proved to be prophetic: I had found my niche. Having lost my mother quite unexpectedly around that same time (October 2012), I had begun to re-evaluate my priorities in life and decided that as invested as I was in the realm of feminist musicology, the race for tenure in a horrific job market combined with the constant pressure to publish or perish was not for me. In the music library, however, I was able to satisfy my insatiable intellectual curiosity; collaborating with Special Collections on a fascinating exhibition about the “Soundscapes of Early America” while fielding reference questions (even from the circ. desk) that put me and the patrons in question on quests down so many delightful rabbit holes in pursuit of often rather obscure materials.

My favorite was a very kind older gentleman, unaffiliated with the University, who came in one quiet summer afternoon in search of piano-vocal music (parlor music) by a late-nineteenth century American woman. Alas, I do not recall her name now, but I do remember walking down to the M stacks with him in search of this lone score to her name, and listening to him regale me with stories about his childhood and hearing his mother play this music in their own parlor way back when. While I do not recall offhand the name of this fairly lesser-known composer – though I could attempt to find out – the point of this anecdote was the human connection! Librarianship for me is so much more than curating and caring for print and digital collections and being a gatekeeper for information. For me it is ultimately about making profound human connections with other people; helping them help themselves and guiding them to a place of empowerment and/or agency in their own knowledge production. This is where teaching factors in – as one of my LIS professors, Dr. Jim Elmborg, claims, it is vital to teach from the reference desk. We are there not simply to procure information on behalf of patrons, but rather to guide them through the process of procuring it themselves. Nor is it merely a question of procuring information; they too can contribute to knowledge production and helping them become aware of the politics of higher education today (in this neoliberal wasteland) and how to navigate or even challenge them, is absolutely crucial.

Enter #critlib: My question is in what ways can this burgeoning movement inform my work as a music librarian specifically? Beyond finding ways of transforming the library into a communal space and empowering patrons to reclaim their voices in the research process via outreach programs like my predecessor’s “Making Noise” (more on that to come), how can the qualities of the critlib movement infuse my daily life as a music librarian? (Wow…now that was one long sentence!)

One final anecdote and I will call it good on this inaugural post…Not to worry, I won’t turn this blog into a second dissertation, because who wants to read that?

When my mentor took a job across the country (from VA to CA), I ended up being hired as his interim replacement during the final semester and summer of my graduate career. While finishing my dissertation, I worked 20-hours a week in the Music Library in his position, no longer just dipping my toes into the field but diving in headfirst. Aside from collection management issues (weeding the reference scores), library-wide meetings, and day-to-day reference work working with faculty and fellow students on their research, I continued to promote the aforementioned “Making Noise” series as a means of bringing the music department together while also reaching out into the campus and local community beyond. Working closely with my dissertation advisor, another musicology professor, a voice instructor, and several students during April 2016 we successfully launched a musical counterpoint to the Title IX-inspired week-long event about reclaiming women’s agency and “tak[ing] back the night.” In conjunction with the University Women’s Center, the Music Library offered a Friday afternoon performance of and discussion about music that speaks to these issues of sexual and other forms of violence. It was an incredibly moving couple of hours, prefaced with much-needed trigger warnings, and followed by an invigorating conversation between students, staff, and faculty about how to grapple with these all-too real problems on the college campus. Although I didn’t spend even a second in the stacks, catalog, or one of our many package research databases, guiding a patron through a research question, this was one of the most rewarding moments of my career as a librarian to date. Even before having read David Lankes’ manifesto on radical librarianship, I realized that I had rejected the traditional notion of the library as a place (a physical collection) and my role as its caretaker. Instead, I had brought a significant chunk of the dept. community into the library and encouraged them to “make noise” about an issue that deeply affected the entire campus. I will never be that librarian shushing patrons and re-shelving materials as I admonish them for having the audacity to speak in such a sacred space; instead I will encourage them to make as much noise as they can about the many issues that we as an entire society grapple with on a day-to-day basis. With Trump in the White House, Neo-Nazis and the alt-right on the rise, the very lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans (who am I kidding, these are global issues!) are threatened, so now is the time to reclaim our voices and make ourselves heard.

On that note, I will now be signing off. Until next time!

-Courtney

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