Judy Tsou is emeritus music librarian at the University of Washington, and also Affiliate Assistant Professor of Music History at the School of Music. She was interviewed by Treshani Perera during the 2018 MLA annual meeting in Portland, Oregon. Excerpts of their conversation appear below.
TP: I’d like to start by asking about your education background, how you got interested in pursuing a career in music, and so on. If there’s personal information that might be relevant, please feel free to share.
JT: I went to undergraduate school in Upstate New York, a small liberal arts college called Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs. Then I got a Masters at Columbia University, in Piano Pedagogy. Then I went to the University of Michigan to do a graduate degree in Music Theory, and I did that for a while. There are various reasons why I did not continue, and I did not know what I was going to do. I [then] worked in the music library, and then I said, “Oh, this is what I wanted to do.” My boss then was Peggy Daub, and she encouraged me to go to library school.
TP: So, was this in Upstate New York?
JT: No, this was at the University of Michigan.
TP: Okay. So, your first [music library] job was at the University of Michigan… what kind of tasks did you perform in that role?
JT: I [did] different levels [of tasks at various times]. I was [a] paraprofessional in the beginning – I think I was circulation supervisor to begin with, and then I went to do more technical “stuff.” When Peggy Daub became the head of the music library in 1982, we worked together very well. We started talking about acquiring the Women’s Music Collection [later, the Women Composers Collection], which was [originally] collected by Richard McNutt, an antiquarian dealer in England. We bought the collection. Peggy Daub let me add to it: I would go through antiquarian catalogs [to find more materials for the collection]. So, basically, I did collection development for women’s music and I also did the cataloging for it; I cataloged every single one of them. She [i.e. Peggy] was the one who encouraged me to go to library school, and she let me work half time and go to school full time. I was able to pick whatever half of my job I wanted – she was guiding me to make sure that I got the right professional experience. I did a collection analysis [of University of Michigan’s music score collection] for RLG (Research Library Group). My cataloging [of the Women’s Music Collection] resulted in [printed and] online catalogs. So, I had a very enriching experience.
TP: Would you say Peggy was perhaps your first mentor?
JT: Yeah, definitely in libraries.
TP: Were there any others – that come to mind – from that time that helped to navigate the profession, or get experience in certain areas, or was it just one person?
JT: She was the closest. She was the head of the library, she was my boss, and she was also my teacher in bibliography. So, she helped [me] to think through things [and encouraged me to go to library school]. She’s [also] the one [who] encouraged me to do an anthology in women’s music.
TP: So you mentioned going to Duke [University] next. Maybe talk a little bit about your position at Duke?
JT: So, when I graduated from library school, I was really lucky and got three job offers. Duke was probably the best [position for me]… had the best prospects. John Druesedow was my boss and he was very nice, and very good. We worked very well together. The only reason why I stayed for so little [time] was [because] there was a job opening at [University of California] Berkeley. And my husband’s from California, and we both loved Berkeley, the town. And I said, “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll get the job,” but he said, “Just apply!” I thought, “I won’t even get an interview,” but I got interviewed. I thought, “I won’t get the job,” and they offered me the job, and my husband said, “Take it! Take it!” So I did. We were only at Duke a little over a year. It just depends on when jobs open, right? So we moved. His parents were in Northern California, too, so it was good. It was a year before his father died, so it was really good to spend some time with his dad [during his] last year.
TP: So, was your position at Berkeley similar, in terms of responsibilities, to the one at Duke, or different?
JT: Similar, but a lot busier. Duke was a smaller department. There was a lot more things to do [at UC-Berkeley]. [I did collection development for sound recordings and was in charge of public service.] I was [also] in charge of the archives. You’ve heard of the Berkeley Finding Aid Project, which eventually became the standard… what’s it called now?
TP: The EAD? Oh, that’s right!
JT: The EAD, right! So, we [UC-Berkeley] started it, and I was the music person with Daniel Pitti.
TP: Oh, was he was on the archives side?
JT: He was a cataloger. [This whole project was his idea, a brilliant idea. He designed and led the project.] He didn’t have a lot of archival experience, but we had archivists [in] the group, and me as [the] music archives person. [There were many people working on it and] did a lot of the coding. It was really good. After we did that, we took it [national]… you know there’s the Ann Arbor [Accord], and all that stuff [with SAA’s support]?
TP: That’s fascinating! Wow! So, you were at Berkeley until…?
JT: Until 1999, December.
TP: So, was that when you transitioned to UW (University of Washington)?
JT: Right. I liked the west coast. When [the position at] UW opened up and they sent me a letter asking me to apply, I did. The working environment turned out great. The dean [was wonderful]… [the] new dean took the position soon after I arrived; she was one of the [associate directors] there. [My boss then became the acting associate director, and I became the acting head of the arts group, my boss’ job.]
TP: Looking at all the different things you’ve done at UW, you had many roles. It’ll take a full hour to talk about those. Were there any highlights… memorable things you did at UW?
JT: I think one of the highlights had to be getting the William Crawford III Collection. He was a collector in New York City. He came to UW and talked to me about the collection and asked whether I would like the collection. [He had five other prominent institutions in mind, as well]. And I [immediately] said, “Oh! Yeah, [we would very much like the collection].” So, we worked for seven years before he signed his will. He told me – the second year – that he would give it to us, and I remember MLA was meeting in New York City. He said, “Well, you’re going to be in New York City… come see the collection.” It must be 2001. I remember, that year I was rooming with Mimi Tashiro, and I told Mimi, “You’re not going to tell anyone. I’m going to see [this] collection. If I don’t come back, call the police. Here’s where I am.” [Laughter] I’d only met him once, so I didn’t know… So I went, and it was just a lovely place in Chelsea, New York. The whole collection was in his living room. I’ve been there many times since. After he died, I went to supervise the packing.
TP: I know you had an article in MLA Notes about that collection. (JT: Right!). What were you trying to highlight in that article? Was it about the acquisition of the collection and its highlights, or what the collection was – do you recall?
JT: I think, what I was trying to do in the article is, really, telling you the complete process of [acquisition] and some of the decisions we made. The collection is about 745 volumes of piano-vocal scores, mostly first editions [and] rare [items]. I don’t know if you know. In opera scores, the first edition is actually the vocal score and the [full score] is normally [published] later. So, he [i.e. Crawford] would [collect] many issues of the first edition. [For example,] there were 7 issues of [Verdi’s opera] Aida, of the first edition, all slightly different. Very interesting, very informative, and the whole opera canon was [in the collection]. When we got it in 2014, it was appraised at $1.3 million, so it’s a major gift. It took 7 years before he inked it, and he died a few years after that. So, it was [thirteen] years [before we got it]… I talked about the issues [in the article]. What was unexpected was that… [Pause]. So let me back track. I told him, when he was still alive, “Bill, if you have any correspondence about the collection, I would like to have that.” And he said, “Okay. These are the drawers. You can have anything you want in there.” So, when the packer was there, I said, “Pack everything.” It was very informative. This is the archival collection, and it tells me how he went about making decisions, every single item he bought. He did extensive research on them: to find out the first printing of the first edition, what’s different, and so on. He had all these correspondences with Nigel Simeone, who was [then] an antiquarian dealer, and Richard McNutt. Those [were the] two people he worked with, and to a certain extent, Lisa Cox. The correspondence showed that he [i.e. Crawford] would also write to scholars specializing in certain things, to make sure that he’s got the right edition. [What was totally unexpected in the collection were the extra letters, the letters of composers he collected, from Puccini, the Garcia-Viardot family, Britten, etc.]
He himself was [an amateur] musician [when he was young]. He [had] always been a subscriber to the [MET, from a young age]. We enjoyed our company a lot because he knew so much about opera[s]… we talked, a lot, about operas. That’s one of the biggest [factors for his decision to give us the collection], I think.
TP: So, the first time I was introduced to you was at AMS [American Musicological Society] in 2014. I don’t think we met, necessarily, but I attended your session on digital musicology – it was a panel titled “The crisis confronting 21st century sound recordings collections.” I want to talk about your work in that area, with digital access and streaming media content. You’ve done work with your former colleague John…
JT: John Vallier. Yeah, we worked very closely.
TP: So, maybe start [with] talking about how that collaboration came about, and also your work with getting the IMLS grant?
JT: Our [then] digital librarian at UW got an NEH Planning Grant to think about online-only music, and she consulted John with that, and then she consulted me. So, that was the first iteration. And we had a meeting at MLA – I forget which one – to have a group of people to talk about it, and then MLA wanted to be involved. I don’t remember how the process went, but in any case, a task force was formed to work with John [Vallier] because he was going to spearhead some part of that. Then we decided that I’ll represent MLA and John will represent UW. So that’s how we started working on it. We applied for the IMLS grant and we got it, and so we [held many] meetings [with stakeholders, including ALA folks]. I [co-]wrote an article [with John Vallier] in Notes about that. The whole idea was because of copyright deposit. There was no [deposit requirement] for online-only music; the requirement was [for] items that were fixed in media, like a CD or LP or cassette. Even if it was required, a lot of people [and record companies] did not deposit. When it was not required, of course, no one deposited anything in the copyright office; they just needed to say they’ve copyrighted it. That is a big problem because there’s no longevity [to] it. Generations from now, a whole bunch of music – if it’s only online and not deposited anywhere – will be lost. The culture’s lost. That was our biggest concern; there’s no preservation. You may think, “Well, what about the National Recordings Preservation Board [NRPB]?” NRPB only picks twenty-five items a year, and they have to be at least ten years old, so you were talking about very small amounts of material. One of the things that we did when we got the [IMLS] grant was [that] we went to DC [for] the NRPB meeting – that was before I was invited [to be] on the Board. I think the Library of Congress people must have gotten [the message]; they were very much on board with it, especially Sam [Samuel Brylawski]. He used to be the head of the audio recordings department [Director for Recorded Sound Section in the Library of Congress]. Sam was very supportive and he was very influential. It must have been a couple years ago now that the [Copyright] Registrar’s Office asked that the Library of Congress start collecting the material… requiring them to collect all online-only music. Gene DeAnna, who was the[n] head of the audio recordings [Head of the Recorded Sound Section] after Sam, called me and asked me for advice on that, so I brought John Vallier into the conversation [as well]. A whole bunch of us were on a conference call talking about how to do that.
TP: Do you remember the date, roughly? Was this late 2000s?
JT: I don’t remember, but the dates are in the article, and the article is from 2016. I don’t remember exact dates, but around that time, I think maybe January 2017, was when they asked people to start collecting. The article did not mention that they [have] asked people to collect; [the mandate to collect came after that].
TP: Right. So, are you still involved with that program… the NRPB?
JT: Yeah, I’m on the Board… the National Recording Preservation Board, NRPB. I’m the representative for AMS.
TP: So, another project you were involved in, with the Library of Congress, was the Music Treasures [Consortium].
JT: Right. That started at Juilliard [The Juilliard School] with Jane Gottlieb and Sue [Susan Vita], who is the head of the music division there [i.e. Library of Congress]. They [had only east coast institutions at that time], and I said, “Well, do you accept other institutions?” Sue said, “Oh yes, of course.” So, I started uploading materials; it’s a very easy process, [but] we have some problems at our end, at UW, with some of the images. We [were] still straightening it out [at the time of my retirement]. Erin Conor, who took over [from] me, is straightening some of that out [now]. We have [it] all digitized; it’s just a matter of getting all the technical stuff to work. I’m not the one who started it [i.e. the consortium]. If you want to know more, you should ask Jane or Sue Vita.
TP: Okay. So, in more recent years you’ve taken an active role in giving talks on the state of music librarianship in the United States. How did those come about? Was there a specific event that got you to think about that topic?
JT: I was invited by a Hong Kong librarian. He was the head of the central public library [Hong Kong Central Library]. He was teaching a course in music librarianship but he wasn’t a music librarian. [Maureen Buja had told him] that my mother lived in Hong Kong and I [went] there fairly often, so he asked me to [lecture]. He was teaching a course every other year – [the] lectures [were] like, three hours [long]– and that’s how I started talking about [music librarianship in the US]. Other people got wind of it and [also] asked me to [speak].
TP: Have you been there recently to give a talk?
JT: No… Well, I’ve been active in Asia. I’ve given talks at the Shanghai Conservatory, Beijing’s [Central] Conservatory [of Music], [National] Taiwan Normal University, and in Seoul [Ewha Womans University, South Korea], as well.
TP: So, maybe we can transition to your involvement with MLA and also IAML [International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres].
TP: Do you remember how/when you first got involved in MLA?
JT: 1986. The Eugene conference – that was my first MLA. I was in library school looking for a job, and my boss [Peggy Daub] said, “You ought to go to MLA,” and so I did. Suki Sommer and others were very inviting. I remember, when I first got my job at Duke [University], Suki was president, or maybe president-elect, and she wanted me to be [more] involved. Some of the stuff I did was in RAPS, Reference and Public Service Committee. This was a huge committee [with many subcommittees], and I was chair of that.
TP: Was this a previous iteration of maybe the Public Services Committee?
JT: [Yes]… In the 90s, I was elected to the Board – Michael Ochs was the president at the time, and [then] Jane [Gottlieb] took over. I think Jim Cassaro may have been treasurer. Our budget was very modest at that time. Most officers were voluntary, and you didn’t even get any kind of honorarium; just a few people [did].
TP: I think I’m going to backtrack a little bit because this is going to get into my next topic, about IAML-US and MLA merger. Were you involved in IAML at the same time?
JT: The reason I was on the [MLA] Board the second time is part of the contract we [i.e. MLA] had with IAML-US. I was the president of IAML-US – this was 2008-. [My term at IAML-US] was longer than many people because I [had to continue as] president [as we finished the merger process]. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there were many many attempts to merge the two. It did not really make sense to anyone why there would be an IAML-US and an MLA because they’re both [for] music librarians, both music library organizations. MLA was formed before IAML because of people like Vincent Duckles. [IAML was formed in Paris with many Americans involved.] Every country has its own [IAML] branch – the name was always IAML [and] country. At that time, they didn’t call MLA the IAML-US branch [since MLA has already been existence for a while]. It was very hard to think of IAML absorbing MLA, because MLA was bigger than all of IAML together. It has a [larger] endowment, has [more] members. People just did not like the idea of the little guy absorbing [the bigger organization]. At least three attempts had been made, and everything was always turned down. It did not even pass [out of] the Board. When I became president of IAML-US, the Board talked about merging. The MLA president [then] was Ruthann [McTyre]. Ruthann and I were twins, right? [Laughter]. [She] jokingly said, “We twins have to do something together.” I said, “Well, how about doing the merger?,” and she said, “Sounds good.” So, we started working on it and hired a lawyer to look into it. We were more involved than what people saw on the surface. We had a town hall in San Diego [at the 2010 MLA annual meeting] and Ruthann had a great idea – “Let’s feed people breakfast so they will come” – and lots of people came. [We had a straw poll.] Basically, no one was against it, and they all [thought] it’s a good idea. When we did the merger, I consulted with our library dean at the time – at UW – because she had led the RLG and OCLC merger. She said, “Judy, you must have a set of guiding principles,” and she shared some with me. Ruthann and I followed the set of guiding principles [we drew up]. One of those was that we should not have preconceived ideas of what the end-product would be, who’s going to absorb whom, etc. If you start with that all people are going to do is fight about it. It’s preposterous to think of IAML-US absorbing MLA. So, we started looking for models out there. Are there IAML branches that are not called IAML-dash-the country? We looked north to Canada, CAML [Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres]. I said, “Look at CAML” – of course, they are very small – “let’s look to them as a model”. Sure enough, we just let people decide what they wanted to do. I think it was at the [Philadelphia] meeting that we had the vote [from MLA members].
TP: So you were the co-chairs of this joint task force?
JT: Right. Ruthann and I, because we were the presidents. There were a lot of logistical problems to dissolving IAML-US. You had to have two-thirds [of membership] and not just a majority vote, and they had to be on paper. The problem is that IAML-US, like all IAML branches, had institutional members, and institutional members can vote. To have a two-thirds majority, institutions had to vote. Thank God for Bonna Boettcher, who was on the Board of IAML-US, who said, “Judy, we have to do this!” So what I did was I called a lot of institutions, music libraries. Some [members] were not music libraries. I said, “The ballot would have gone to your serials department because that’s the address you have. Dig it up and send in your vote.” I made a lot of calls. Michael Colby [also] helped – he was the [IAML-US] secretary-treasurer. We all worked together to get this done. Of the votes, [less than] one percent were against it. It was very low.
TP: Wow! That’s a very good number in favor of the merger! [Laughter]
JT: Definitely! Hands down! We had to follow all the rules. We just wanted to do it right. So, part of the agreement was that the IAML-US president would be on the [MLA] Board [as] a non-voting member. I was supposed to be on for two years, but Michael Colby got elected and they [i.e. the Board] said, “Why don’t you not come?,” because he was part of the IAML Board during the merger.
TP: That’s so fascinating! So, I’m assuming that IAML-US’s archive is part of MLA Archives?
TP: So, I want to transition to a topic that I’m personally interested in talking with you about, your work towards diversifying MLA. At least on record, you were first invited to speak on this topic at the 2010 MLA annual meeting in San Diego, with a presentation titled “Plan for a diverse MLA”. How did this conversation come about? Who were the other key players involved?
JT: Susannah [Cleveland] and Mark Puente. They organized the session and they asked me to join them. I didn’t think there was any effect at all because people seemed like they didn’t see [the need to be more diverse. They looked complacent]. A very senior member asked me, “Do you feel like a minority?” [Laughter] In other words, she thought I’m [too] successful [to feel like a minority. She did not know what minorities had to go through all the time]. One has to work at it to get to where one is, and not everyone has the luck that I had.
TP: So, that presentation in 2010, I assume, is what led to that ARL MLA [Association of Research Libraries and Music Library Association] Diversity Inclusion Initiative? Were there any other discussions in between?
JT: The ARL MLA Inclusion [Initiative] is maybe a separate conversation. I was not in on it… My complaint was that [for creating] the strategic plan, there was no minority. The only minority person was the moderator, [and] moderator[s are not supposed to] give any opinions.
TP: Yeah. If you don’t feel comfortable we don’t need to talk about this, but you’ve touched a little bit about being the minority in the profession at that time. In terms of diversity, what was MLA like when you came into the profession in the late 1980s-90s? What was diversity like in MLA?
JT: Well, I [could] count the minorities on one hand, and that included two African-American men: one was Kevin Freeman, who [is now deceased], and the second was Vinny [Pelote]. Those were the only two, and no black women. Mimi Tashiro, Marlene Wong, and me [were the Asians]. I think those were the only people [of color] around then. That’s what it was like. Ruth Watanabe had already left, so that was it.
TP: Was there ever any talk about a diversity committee at that point?
JT: No. No one ever talked about that [then]. It [was] like, “We don’t need that kind of thing. We are so open.” The truth is that it was not; they didn’t acknowledge it. In [the research for] my talk “A Plan for a Diverse MLA”, [I was surprised to find that] MLA was the least diverse of all the societies that I looked at, and that included AMS, SAM [Society for American Music], SEM [Society for Ethnomusicology], [and] SMT [Society for Music Theory]. I was looking at comparisons. MLA was the only one that did not have a diversity committee. MLA was the least diverse. I felt like I wasn’t really [being] heard. AMS is certainly embracing it now with leaders who are advocates. [Of course, this is many years later]. I’m co-chair of the Committee on Race and Ethnicity right now [at AMS], and we are doing a ton of work to change the climate. [We tried to make sure inclusivity is not a fad but a way of doing business at AMS. Thus, every level of the infrastructure has been examined and changed when needed. An example is that all award committee and program committee members have to go through implicit bias training. It really made a difference in who have been receiving the awards at AMS since this change.]
TP: In terms of, say, professional mentorship… professional development, were there any programs at the time, when you were coming into the profession, through other institutions like ALA [American Library Association], that offered some assistance to minority librarians to help navigate a career path?
JT: None, whatsoever.
TP: That might have been before [ALA] Spectrum, right?
JT: Oh yeah, definitely before Spectrum. To be fair, the climate wasn’t right at the time, and most people didn’t see a need for it. You see, Kevin [Freeman] and Mimi [Tashiro], were both at Stanford, [I was] at Berkeley, [Vinny Pelote at Rutgers], and Marlene [Wong] at Smith, so all in good places. You can be at “good” places, but… your opinion doesn’t always count…
TP: [Changing the topic]. So, I want to follow up on the matching fund campaign. You had a successful campaign, which perhaps challenged Michael Colby to step up and have a second campaign?
JT: Well, I want to give credit to Michael [Colby], because Michael himself already had the idea of donating. We did talk [and decided] to let one matching campaign go first and then the second one. He’s very conscious of race, and equity. He’s like one of the best people.
TP: He’s a strong ally.
JT: Yes, definitely.
TP: We’re coming to the end of our interview. You’ve talked about this a little bit, but I wanted to ask: What is your vision for the future of music librarianship? I know that’s a big question to ask…
JT: I think music librarians have to make sure that they are valued for what they do. I see a lot of institutions hire general librarians to do music things. I may be old-fashioned to think that you have to have a music background to do music librarianship. I repeatedly get feedback from people, “Wow, I would never have gotten it from a general librarian.” A professional music librarian should not just know how to read music, or have played piano for ten years [but to also have a deeper knowledge in music history and theory]. People have to value that. On the other hand, I think music librarians are now finally catching up [with] technology. We didn’t used to do that and we were behind. We have to choose wisely what we want to do, how we are going to go forward. The technology part is very important, and how it applies to music librarianship. [We also need to] be proactive with our vendors, like the New Grove, and [RILM]. That’s how I got RISM [Répertoire International des Sources Musicales] to change [some things]. I [was outspoken and] talked to the RISM people. I may not have been popular with [the head of the RISM Office] for a while, but I [addressed specific issues. Another music librarian [at the time], John Howard, [formerly] at Harvard, who was technology savvy, was highly involved in changing RISM. They [i.e. RISM] finally invited him to help change the whole interface. We have to be more proactive; not just be on the Board, but to get vendors to do the right thing. Look at how other reference sources are, and what and how we can change. An example of being outdated was NISC. You probably don’t know NISC. NISC was the user interface for RILM and all the R projects for a long time. They were the only one. They did not move with the times, so they died a natural death. We can never not move with the times.
TP: Yeah, wow!
TP: Judy, it was an absolute pleasure. This was wonderful! I am so honored to have had this opportunity to have a conversation with you.
JT: Thank you for asking me to do this.