Margaret Jones – Music Collections Supervisor, Cambridge University Library

Margaret JonesHow did you get into librarianship? I became a music librarian by accident. After a peripatetic career playing, accompanying, teaching, and doing various mainly music research based jobs, with the odd foray into eighteenth-century English literature, and seventeenth century English history, a friend mentioned that they were looking for a music cataloguer at Cambridge University Library. They had a very short term contract (I think it was 6 weeks) and were desperately trying to find someone to fill an unexpected gap. I applied, and rather to my surprise got the job.

I took to it like a duck to water. I loved everything I learned about music librarianship from investigating watermarks to cataloguing some of the most bizarre music books you could hope to meet (one of my favourite “odd reads” is Poncho Sanchez’ Conga Cookbook, where you can learn to play the conga drums and make great Mexican food, presumably at the same time!). I also enjoyed the interaction with readers, some of whom were researching the most fascinating topics; and when shortly afterwards there was a vacancy to cover for maternity leave I took on the job. Despite the shock of learning UkMARC initially only to be told 4 weeks later that we were now moving to MARC21, I survived, and nearly 13 years later, post-AACRII, I’m still here.

What qualifications do you have? I have a degree in music, and performance and teaching diplomas; as well as lots of experience from the other side of the counter both as a regular recreational library user, and as a researcher.

What is your current job title? Music Collections Supervisor, Music Dept., Cambridge University Library. I’m also the William Alwyn Archivist.

What does your job involve? In no particular order: Answering reader enquiries, cataloguing music especially antiquarian material, classifying music literature, care and cataloguing of some of the music archives held here, dealing with invoices, blogging and social media, user education, curating exhibitions on music related subjects, selection and ordering of antiquarian material, fetching books and cds to the reading room, occasionally dealing with recalcitrant computers.

Can you describe a ‘typical’ day? I don’t think I have one of them. One of the things I most enjoy about music librarianship is that it is so varied. We’re one of the few departments in the library that deals with most aspects of our collection, from selecting to ordering, cataloguing, classifying, sending to binding and getting the music on the shelf. We also deal with music specific enquiries. So any day will involve any number of these things.

A “typical” day might start off with checking emails and responding to reader enquiries. I love this part of my job, and have had some great questions – hunting for the Bovril song, genealogy queries, watermarks on eighteenth-century paper, popular music in T.S. Eliot etc., etc. I’d then do some work on a blog post for our departmental blog MusiCB3. There’s a team of three of us who blog regularly, with others helping out occasionally, and the odd guest-blogger. What I really enjoy about it is that we all have very different interests although they’re all music based. Over the last few years I’ve blogged on piracy in eighteenth-century music, Tudor treasures at the UL, Victorian songs, and castrati. Other bloggers have blogged on the Eurovision Song Contest, bygone concert venues; and there have been lots of practical posts too aimed at readers who are new to the Pendlebury (the Music Faculty Library) and the UL. You can read our blog at

If there’s time, I’d hope to spend some time working in one of our composer or musicologist archives. This might be in response to a direct question so I’m needed to do some research, or it might involve arranging some conservation work, or perhaps getting a tape digitised, or sorting out copyright issues surrounding the photographs that we have here. I always enjoy that – trying to trace copyright is a great way for getting in contact with other librarians, and very helpful you all are too.

At some point in the day, I’ll need to tackle at least one of the two main areas of my job – classifying music literature, and cataloguing music. Classifying involves initially dividing the literature and the music into what is deemed to be more academically important, and more standard fare. As a Legal Deposit library we get a lot of educational material aimed at the primary / lower secondary school market; and lots and lots of pop music albums. Some of these are just plain weird – Black Sabbath for Ukulele, anyone? Once divided, a colleague usually takes over the music, while I classify the literature. I find this fascinating; you’ve just got to be careful that you don’t get so interested in the book that you forget to work!

Cataloguing music can range from updating records that are already on the system, or downloading records from elsewhere to creating records from scratch. Some records will be fairly basic, although you try to keep all of them to a decent standard, others – most notably records for manuscript scores, and for antiquarian material will have a lot more detail. I think this is vital, especially for readers who can’t access the library easily. The catalogue record may be the only indication they have if what you have is actually what they want. I always feel very pleased when a reader has found what they’ve been looking for thanks to my record.

End of the day – do a few invoices, start preparing a Powerpoint presentation for a reader education session, a quick chat with another staff member to try and sort out a work-flow issue, and make a note to myself to remember to look out items to display for an exhibition tomorrow.

What skills do you think are most important for today’s information and library professional? For a Music librarian, knowledge of the subject is still vitally important, and at least a basic knowledge of a few European languages is extremely helpful. I think in any librarianship role you’ve got to be flexible, willing and eager to learn, and be a great lateral thinker. Computer skills are essential.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in Information Management? When I entered the profession, it was still fairly common at least in academic libraries for staff to not have librarianship qualifications. This is becoming rarer. If you want to get anywhere in the profession now, you should get a librarianship qualification at an early stage however well you may be qualified in other areas.

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