People in the library world regularly use the term rock star librarians to describe their innovative, dynamic colleagues, but plenty of librarians are rock stars in the literal sense at well.
Brooklyn Public Library children’s librarian Rita Meade incorporates music during story time, but she also performs at library functions as part of the all-librarian band Lost in the Stacks. The band found time to release a self-titled album recently, which they sell primarily in person at their gigs, but anyone interested can listen to it through their BandCamp site. “It was all done during after-work hours, which made for some late nights,” said Meade, “but the job comes first.”
Many musician librarians put their talents to work performing as part of their library’s programming and outreach. In addition to writing and singing, Julie Jurgens plays a plethora of instruments for her band, the Astrohillbillies. She’s also the kids’ world school services coordinator for the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, IL, where she always has a guitar on hand, using it during story time and outreach visits to other schools.
“Once I took my guitar to a middle school without a plan. Really, what could I play that middle schoolers would want to hear?” Jurgens asked. “I told them I could play a Bob Dylan cover or something I wrote, and they actually chose to have me play an original song.” To a group of kids, performing your own music automatically makes you a rock star.
Performing may have unintended benefits down the road. Amanda Mae Monson, adult services circulation librarian at the LaPorte County Public Library, IN, is primarily a solo performer but has met numerous bands that way. She draws on those connections for programming events at her library. “It’s nice to know someone in a Cuban or dixieland band who can come to your library for a musical program,” she explained.
For librarian rock stars, like most people, finding time to pursue their side project can be tricky, particularly with a band like Lost in the Stacks that boasts a ten-person roster. “Since most everyone in the band has a full-time job, it’s kind of difficult to find time to get together and practice, let alone play gigs. But we do our best!” Meade said.
Rob Sage, business librarian at Cal State Fullerton, has been in bands throughout his librarian career, including the Shallow Orbits, the Desperate Professionals, and Her Eleven Cats. The Killers opened for another of Sage’s bands, crushreality, in 2003. However, as he’s learned, the hours of a musician and a librarian often conflict.
“It is very hard to serve two masters, and, of course, it got worse as I got older,” Sage said. “When I was in my 20s, not getting home from a gig until 3 a.m. and then going to work the next morning was no big deal. I could even play an out-of-town gig and get to work the next day. Into my 30s and early 40s, it’s a huge deal. Not just because of being tired, but my responsibilities at work have grown over time and require me to be available and, of course, alert.”
Anne Heidermann, tribal education librarian for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, went by Anne Heathen when she played with the band SkateyEight. She pointed out that there are ways to work within time constraints. “When we recorded,” she explained, “it was in small studios that catered to folks like us with day jobs, so we were able to record in the evenings and on weekends.”
Sometimes, the scale tips in favor of the music. Peat, the one-named bassist from New York City instrumentalist band You Bred Raptors? has done stints at two college libraries in Pennsylvania and at New York Public Library but now is a full-time musician. “Music is one of the few things that makes sense. I can also easily say it’s one of the few things I actually excel at. All of my ‘real jobs,’ including the library ones, were just part-time distractions,” he noted. “But looking back, libraries were a very supportive atmosphere for me to continue to grow creatively.”
But for most rock star librarians, it isn’t all or nothing. Mariah Cherem, production librarian at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), MI, has been in many bands during her music career, including the Avatars and Van Houten, but isn’t interested in making it a full-time job. “I absolutely love my position at AADL and find it really fulfilling,” Cherem said. “I can’t imagine wanting only the musical facet of my life and not the other facets.”
Besides, librarianship and musicianship might have more in common than appears at first glance. Alex Tretiak, head of circulation and adult services at Glen Rock Public Library, NJ, thinks so. “You work a lot of nights and weekends, you encounter fantastically eccentric characters on a daily basis, you are regularly exposed to and inspired by the creativity of others, and it helps to be able to lift 25 pounds or more.” Maybe that makes all librarians rock stars.