Thursday, May 18, 2023

Rethinking Library Practices: Reflections on Racism and the Role of Music Libraries

Confronting Racism and Social Injustice in Music Libraries

 #AcademicLibraries #RacialJustice #DiversityInLibraries #MusicLibraries

The problem this article addresses is twofold

First, it interrogates the role of music libraries within the framework of systemic racism and social injustice; and second, it explores how music libraries can become active agents of change, promoting diversity, inclusion, and racial justice. 

Social Impact of Music Libraries

Music has always been a powerful tool in shaping cultural narratives and promoting social justice. It can transcend language barriers and connect people from different backgrounds. In addition, it has always been a powerful tool for activism, as it can convey messages and emotions that inspire change. 

Music libraries are an essential tool in preserving and promoting socially conscious music. They provide a platform for artists to showcase their work and ensure it is accessible to a broader audience. 

By curating collections of socially conscious music, these libraries can help to raise awareness of important issues and inspire positive change. Additionally, they can serve as a valuable resource for researchers and educators, providing information about socially conscious music's history and cultural significance. Music libraries play a crucial role in preserving and promoting this vital genre of music.

Libraries that curate music collections addressing critical social issues play a crucial role in preserving these messages for future generations. By collecting and organizing music that speaks to social justice, equality, and other vital issues, these libraries help to ensure that these messages are preserved over time. In addition, it provides a valuable resource for researchers, historians, and anyone interested in exploring the intersection of music and social issues.

Furthermore, making music accessible to the public can significantly impact spreading awareness and inspiring action towards creating a better world. Music can connect people and evoke emotions that motivate individuals to act. By sharing music that promotes positive messages and encourages social change, we can create a ripple effect that inspires others to join the movement toward a better world. Therefore, it is essential to continue to make music accessible to all so that we can continue to spread awareness and inspire change.

The Music Library Call To Action

 Avery Boddie's call to action to the Music Library Association (MLA) following George Floyd's murder sparked conversations on the roles and responsibilities of libraries in challenging racism and systemic injustice.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked global outrage and a renewed call for racial justice. Within this broader context, Avery Boddie, a music librarian at the University of Nevada—Las Vegas, challenged the Music Library Association (MLA) to confront racism and police brutality (Music Library Association, 2021). His plea emphasized the connection between such tragic events and the professional lives of librarians of color and became a clarion call for substantive changes within the profession.

The Moving Train

Historically, academic libraries, including music libraries, have been considered neutral entities dedicated to collecting and preserving knowledge. However, as Boddie's message suggests, the materials libraries choose to preserve. Moreover, the broader social, political, and cultural contexts influence the narratives they support and the voices they amplify or suppress. The question thus arises: Can libraries be neutral in a society riddled with systemic injustices?

Boddie's call to action highlights a growing discomfort with the perceived neutrality of libraries. This discomfort arises from the realization that a library's collection, though seemingly neutral, can inadvertently perpetuate societal power structures and inequalities. The authors call for examining these issues critically, exploring how power structures influence the construction of musical understanding and how libraries may unconsciously perpetuate bias.

Libraries and Race

The question of representation within music libraries also arises. The authors note that most works held by academic libraries are by white composers, leading to the underrepresentation of non-white composers and the systemic exclusion of diverse voices.

Critical information literacy can serve as a tool for understanding how power structures influence the construction of knowledge. At the same time, adopting anti-racist practices can lead to more equitable library policies and structures.

Abbazio, Boddie, and Ogihara echo the call for more diverse collections in their article "Music Libraries and an Expanding Canon: Strategies for Building Diverse Music Collections." They argue for intentional and conscious efforts to diversify library collections and to make them more reflective of a broad range of musical traditions and voices (Abbazio, Boddie, & Ogihara, 2023).

An examination of the historical record of the MLA reveals slow progress in achieving racial and ethnic representation. The persistent underrepresentation of people of color in the U.S. musical academia and music libraries highlights the necessity for urgent action. In addition, the dominance of works by White composers in the collections of academic libraries serves as further evidence of systemic racism within the field. However, music libraries have the potential to challenge these biases by becoming proactive agents of change.

A critical approach toward these issues raises several vital questions. 

  • For instance, how can libraries, as institutions supported by society, provide unbiased information? 
  • How do structures of power influence practices within the realm of music libraries?
  • Can music libraries, which have been part of the social structure allowing marginalization and extrajudicial killing of people of color, contribute to some form of reparative action?

Boddie and others have proposed several topics for further exploration in response to these questions. These include the role of music libraries in creating a society where Black lives matter, the exploration of "vocational awe" and music librarianship, and an examination of discourses on race and ethnicity within the MLA's documentation.

In conclusion, the role of music libraries in addressing racial injustice extends beyond mere statement-making. It calls for critically reassessing practices, policies, and structures contributing to systemic racism. By embracing diversity in collections, championing critical information literacy, and promoting equitable workforce representation, music libraries have the potential to foster social change and contribute to a more just society.


Music Library Association. (2021). MLA

"MLA Statement Opposing Racism and Police Brutality," Music Library Association, accessed September 9, 2021,

David Lesniaski, "A Profile of the Music Library Association Membership," Notes 56, no. 4 (June 2000): 895–96.

Susannah Cleveland and Mark Puente, "Survey of Music Library Personnel Characteristics, 2009," Notes 67, no. 4 (June 2011): 686–715; Jonathan Sauceda and Joe Clark, "MLA Personnel Characteristics, 2016: Continuity, Change, and Concerns," Notes 74, no. 3 (March 2018): 359–71.

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