The MLA Citation, the Association’s tribute for lifetime achievement, is awarded in recognition of distinguished service to music librarianship over a career. Citation recipients become Honorary Members of the Music Library Association.
At its 2021 meeting, MLA announced three recipients: Beth Christensen, Jean Harden, and Vincent Pelote. Below is a summary of their responses after reflecting upon their participation in MLA.
“What has MLA meant to you?”
Beth Christensen: The Music Library Association has been essential to me at each stage of my career. When I began to work at St. Olaf College, I was just out of library school. I was the sole music librarian on campus – and found myself responsible for all aspects of a brand-new music library facility and its programs, while also serving as reference and serials librarian at the general library. I needed support and answers to questions that only fellow music librarians could understand or answer. I needed MLA. And it was and has always there for me with both unlimited generosity and abundant wisdom. MLA has been my touchpoint. I’ve always come away from chapter and national meetings feeling energized and uplifted by people and ideas. With MLA-L and other online forums, this support has been available even at a distance – an especially important factor during this past year. It has been the ability to meet and discuss with one another in person, however, that is MLA’s special magic. As an immeasurable bonus to gaining professional knowledge, I have made some of the best friends I could ever imagine. We share a passion for music, for libraries, and for one another. It simply doesn’t get better than that.
“What is your favorite conference memory?”
Vincent Pelote: There are way too many, but I will choose playing in the MLA Big Band at the Chicago 2009 meeting with Stephen Fry on piano since, the whole jazz band thing was originally his dream.
Beth Christensen: It is impossible to name just one memory from the many meetings I have attended over the years. MLA has given me the opportunity to visit cities and libraries throughout the country, and each conference has provided its own special memories. It is, however, perhaps the annual October Midwest Chapter meetings that remain closest to my heart. Within the Chapter, I have been lucky enough to share experiences as varied as: a riverboat cruise in St. Louis; shape-note singing at a Shaker community in Kentucky; and a tour of popular music artifacts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – all with an amazing coterie of friends. For me, Midwest Chapter meetings were the best way to get to know people quickly and well. I felt immediately embraced by this chapter, and from there it was easy to expand these relationships to the larger MLA organization.
Jean Harden: My history with MLA started with the Indianapolis meeting in 1991. This was the year after I finished library school, but I didn’t yet have a job, because the economy had crashed just as I finished my degree. The ending reception at that meeting gave me the strongest imaginable impression that this was, so to speak, my tribe. First, some context: Before getting a library degree, I had done degrees in musicology with a specialty in late medieval music. This year was the end of Suki Sommer’s term as President of MLA, and so the entire assembly sang “Suki is a-goin’ out,” to the tune of the 13 th -century round “Sumer is icumen in,” led by the Chicken Singers, of course. I was delighted to find that such a large group of people knew that medieval tune well enough to sing it by memory, to the new words that were handed out for us to read. Moreover, in the chit-chat that followed, I recall that someone made a joke about the MARC tag 245 and to my happy amazement the group I was in all understood the reference.
A few years later, perhaps at the convention in Kansas City, I was comfortable enough to join up with some friends. I remember hurrying through the halls to a meeting along with Lenore Coral, who had suggested library school to me in the first place. In inimitable Lenore style, her shoelaces were completely undone and threatened to trip her up. Without stopping, I timidly inquired whether she was aware of the state of her laces. She impatiently replied, “Yes, yes, of course, but I don’t want to be late to this meeting.” I apologized, muttering something about just being concerned for her, and she replied with a grunt. We rushed on and reached the meeting in time. She didn’t trip, much to my relief. I have no recollection at all what that specific meeting was about, but I remember vividly the hurry to get there, with Lenore’s shoelaces flying. Most of all, I remember feeling that I was with a friend – a prickly friend, but a friend.
I have many other memories of MLA meetings over the years, but those two embody my early impressions that this was a friendly group, in which I felt comfortable right from the start. It was my tribe, made up of my sort of people.