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MPAL 65th Anniversary Reminiscences

A chronology of the Head Music Librarians of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

  • 1943-1960: JAY ALLEN
  • 1960-1965: THOR E. WOOD
  • 1961-1965: DESIREE DE CHARMS
  • 1965-1997: WILLIAM M. MCCLELLAN
  • 1997-2004: RICHARD GRISCOM

… ably assisted over the years by generations of librarians, staff members, graduate assistants, and student workers. This site is a tribute to all of them.

 Jay Allen (first music librarian)

(O.K., Jay Allen wasn’t around long enough to contribute to our 65th anniversary site. Here instead are some of his thoughts on the Music Library as he first encountered it, as extracted from his article “The Music Library at the University of Illinois”, in Notes: Supplement for Members nos 6-7 (1949), p. 3-7 .)

… in 1943 … I was called out from Queens College, Flushing, N.Y., as Music Librarian charged with the task of establishing a new Music Library in Smith Music Hall. When I reported for work on November 1st, I found that the Memorial Room on the second floor of Smith Music Hall had been selected for the new reading room, and the check room under the Recital Hall balcony for a stack room. Two alcoves with a workign capacity of about 1200 volumes had been constructed in the north and south entry-ways of the reading room, which was also equipped with three tables accommodating eight readers each, twenty-four arm chairs, and four coat racks. The School of Music faculty had submitted lists of music and books about music which they wanted transferred from the General Library. The Circulation Department had started to segregate this material in their closed stacks preparatory to sending it over to Smith Music Hall. The Catalog Department had for many years been sending to the School of Music office one card for each title classified in music (Dewey 780’s). And back of all this activity stood the excellent collection of some 15,000 volumes which the School of Music and the Acquisitions Division had been building up since “way back when.”

… The Music Library was opened for service on February 16, 1944, when the second semester classes began. The collection consisted of about 250 overnight reserves, a few basic reference books and periodicals, but no music. By May 31st, 1075 volumes were available, of which 38 were on the reference shelf, and 247 were music. During the first summer, the library’s capacity and efficiency were increased by the addition of a telephone; a book-drop into the stacks for the return of books when the reading room is closed; shelving installed in the stacks; an impressive bookcase on the west wall of the reading room; and three counter height cases equipped with removable partitions for vertical shelving of music. Thus the estimated capacity of the library was increased from 1200 to 8500 volumes. No further expansion of facilities was made until the spring of 1947 when we accepted the administration of the phonograph disk collection from the School of Music, along with the “Disk Room” in which to house them, and phonographs in half a dozen class rooms and studios to which we could send our patrons when the rooms were otherwise vacant. Our latest expansion took place in the autumn of 1947, when the new director of the School, Professor John M. Kuypers, made available to the Music Library two additional storage rooms. This enabled us not only to transfer from the General Library all the remaining orchestral and ensemble string music, but also to take over the administration of the School of Music’s orchestral and choral libraries.

Richard Griscom (former MPAL head)

One morning during my first week in the Music Library, as I was sitting behind my desk admiring Bill McClellan’s immaculate files and pondering my first steps, I heard a knock on the frame of my office door. I looked up and saw Bruno Nettl. He asked if I had lunch plans, and when I said I didn’t, he asked if I’d like to join him at the cafe at the Krannert Center.

It was the first of many lunches we would have together over the next seven years. He seemed to be someone who disliked eating alone, and whenever he showed up at my door I imagined he was there because two or three other people hadn’t been available to join him, and eating with me would be better than eating alone. Whatever the reason, I always enjoyed these lunches. They often occurred at Krannert, where Bruno’s meal was a cup of soup and a slice of pie. Occasionally we would go to cafeteria in Bevier Hall, home of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition–“The only place on campus,” according to Bruno, “where you can eat a student’s midterm.”

I remember this first lunch because a few minutes after we sat down, Bruno launched into a soliloquy that I now see as a preamble to my years at Illinois. I don’t remember the exact wording–he spoke at some length–but in a nutshell it went something like this: “People don’t come to Illinois for the climate. They don’t come here for the landscape. They don’t come for the nightlife or the shopping. They come here to be a part of a great university.” It was a lyrical, moving tribute that inspired the listener to imagine how he might contribute, in some small way, to the history of this grand institution.

I knew Illinois as a university with a music library rich in tradition and accomplishment. My predecessor, Bill McClellan, had been president of MLA and editor of its journal, NOTES. Richard Smiraglia had written his canonical books on music cataloging while working in the library in the early 1980s. And although Don Krummel was never affiliated with the music library (he was on the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science), he was perhaps the best known Illinoisian among music librarians for having written essential books and articles on music bibliography, filled with intelligent, witty prose that made the topic of music bibliography more entertaining than it perhaps deserved to be.

I was also aware of Illinois’s reputation as a hotbed of technological development. It was the birthplace of the Mosaic web browser and home to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The Library had been at the forefront of automation in the early 1980s with its locally developed FBR (Full Bibliographic Record) and LCS (Library Circulation System) mainframe applications. I’d started my career in the early 1980s at Northwestern, another institution that was a major player in the early history of library automation with its NOTIS system, and I looked forward to working once again in a technologically rich environment.

I soon learned that the cutting-edge technology of NCSA didn’t blanket the campus. During that first week at Illinois, I saw Leslie Troutman sitting before a Selectric typewriter with a box of perforated, accordion-folded, three-part order slips trailing out the back. For several hours, she typed out orders for the sound recordings she had selected and filed one of the two carbon copies in card catalog drawers behind the circulation desk. The LCS/FBR systems, which had been on the cutting edge in the early 1980s, were still in use when I came to Illinois, and Marlys Scarbrough had devised clever workarounds to trick a twenty-year-old system into releasing the information she needed.

When the library was constructed in the early 1970s, it was the largest academic music library facility in the country. (During the intervening decades, a few institutions–Eastman and Indiana among the more notable–built even larger libraries, but Illinois is still one of the largest.) The library building is typical of institutional construction of the era: cinderblock walls, linoleum tile floors, bright fluorescent lights. I remember when I first entered the library, it had a cold, industrial feel–a spacious warehouse for musical treasures.

The true character of a place ultimately is defined, though, by the people who inhabit it, and my dominant memories of Illinois are not of typed order forms, kludgy library automation systems, or concrete office walls, but of the people I worked with. They were warmly collegial, they believed that each patron deserved optimal service, and they were willing to make do with what they had at hand. There is nothing more rewarding than to be able to work alongside sharp, energetic, and compassionate people.

As I think back on my years in the Music Library, I realize that the real message behind that homily to Illinois I heard at the Krannert Center was that, yes, people come here to be a part of a great university, but that greatness has less to do with budgets and facilities and things that can be quantified than with the people who work there–what they manage to do with what’s available to them, how they support and encourage each other, and how they’re able to work together to help other members in the university community. There’s a great music library at Illinois, and I’m thankful I had a chance to be part of it.

Bill McClellan (former MPAL head)

(contributed May 18, 2009)

When I arrived at Illinois in the fall of 1965, to start my tenure as head music librarian, I was greeted by four names etched in stone high on the exterior walls of Smith Music Hall: Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, and Palestrina. This has always been the source of many jokes. Gordon Binkerd, professor of composition at the time, once said he was going to get someone to chisel Schoenberg’s name along with the others. The Music Library was housed mainly on the second floor in the Smith Memorial Room at the east end of Smith Music Hall.

The collection space was filled to overflowing, at a capicity of 100% and more, in a warren of closets, cubicles, and hallways. To shelve a thin score in a pamphlet biding sometimes required shifting items on several shelves to squeeze it in. Therefore, it was eventually necessary to create more shelving room. As soon as we could move the record library to the new Undergraduate Library, we extended the shelving into the second floor hallways (north and south), using single-faced shelving in cul-de-sacs (so as not to impede access to the balcony of the recital hall). The historical sets and complete works were housed in a storage closet next to the recording booth for the recital hall on the third floor. In this room a ladder was needed to reach the top shelves.

This was just one of the many safety hazards that were always a concern in these facilities. With no air conditioning, the only access to outside air was through the windows in the Memorial Room (study space for about 30 people). Over twenty fans were used to help circulate air — some pedestal fans on the floor, with other units parked on the tops of shelving units. The web of illegal extension cords used to keep all the fans operating did not come close to satisfying any safety regulations. A couple of times each summer one of the fans would give up and start to burn out. When the firemen arrived to check out the burning smell, they would shake their heads in disbelief at the situation.

Some of the stack areas were built under a sloping ceiling because the bottom of the balcony for the recital hall was above this area. It probably should have been a requirement for staff and library users of this area to wear hardhats with attached miner’s lights.

During the process of finally installing air conditioning in SMH, the library space was further reduced in the storage closet (room 214) that housed most of the choral collection. (This was another room that used a ladder to reach the top shelves.) They needed to create a large vertical shaft for the air conditioning system. Keeping the library operations going through all this construction was trying. It required patience and a large supply of medications to ward off migraines as the jack hammers banged away to create a dusty and dirty mess. During this precarious process one staff member almost fell through a ceiling and could have sustained serious injuries. We should have created a plaque to list library staff awarded the purple [library] heart.

More could be told about the amoeboid expansion of the music facilities until the move to its present building in 1974. Some of the crucial developments included a separate operation for listening facilities and a record library in the lower level of the Undergraduate Library and special collections housed in the basement of the Law Library.

Obviously, designing and moving into the new two-story Music Library in 1974 was the answer to a dream. The following are just a few of the emergency service calls that came to the Music Library during this period. A professional string quartet had arrived a couple of hours before they were to give a concert at the Krannert Center. Their luggage had been lost during the flight and they needed copies of the music for the performance. We were able to come up with all the sets of parts, including a set from Mozart’s complete works.

There was a desperate call from an Assembly Hall staff member who was trying to locate a recording of the South Korean National Anthem for an event at the Assembly Hall. Fortunately, someone had donated a set of audio cassettes of most of the national anthems to the Music Library after a Special Olympic Games event that had been held on campus. The State Library in Springfield sent an urgent request for a recording of the state song — a vocal rendition. An audio tape of a Men’s Glee Club concert contained the desired item. This was a case where the primitive card index to all the University Concert programs came in handy to answer an inquiry.

During the first few months of operation in the new facilities, a distressed student frequently came into the Music Library to inform us that several birds had crashed into the large windows on the north side of the building — first level reading area. There usually were five or six dead birds lying in the well area on a daily basis next to the windows. This was one emergency that the library staff had to refer to the avian experts on campus.

The stories of Music Library experiences during my 32 years could go on and on, but in the end I was most grateful to have served the university community.

Jean Geil(former MPAL Assistant Music Librarian)

(Contributed June 30, 2010)

Bill McClellan’s introduction to the library

When Bill McClellan interviewed for the position of Music Librarian, Dr Alexander Ringer brought him by the library to introduce him to me. (I was the Assistant Music Librarian). At the moment the two of them appeared at the door, the situation in the library could only be described as semi-organized chaos: the noise level was rising; readers were occupying all available chairs as well as three window sills; students were lined up and clamoring for reserve books at the circulation desk; the phone was ringing; and I myself was trying to calm down an important patron. In short, it was just a typical day at the Music Library. I waved at Dr Ringer and tried to extricate myself from the ongoing confusion. When I could finally turn around, Ringer and McClellan were gone! I said to myself, “Oh, no. After what he has seen here, Mr McClellan will probably never take the job!”.

However, Bill McClellan was a man of uncommon courage. He accepted the University of Illinois position and ushered the library through the next three decades, including a move to the new facility in the Music Building, as well as several major library renovations in both buildings.

Reserve listening during finals week

At Smith, students did not have direct access to LP recordings. Mrs Elaine Hill presided over the reserve listening desk, handing out individual records upon request. Her job was especially challenging during finals week, as a fair number of students never bothered with listening assignments until just before final exams, and at that point they often had to wait anxiously until other students had finished listening before they themselves could get their hands on any given recording.

It was about 15 minutes before all those Music 130 students had to go to their classroom to face identification questions on the final exam:

Panicky student: Mrs Hill, did The Messiah ever come back?

Mrs Hill: No, I’m afraid not.

Student: Well, could you just tell me how it goes?!

A young lady desperately in need of basic library instruction

Student: Where can I find a recording of Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the animals?”

Jean Geil: Look in that card catalog drawer at bottom right.

Student (later): I don’t get it. I flipped through every single Saint-Saens card, and the only piece of his you seem to have is “Camille”.

Smith Cat

A yellow tomcat decided Smith Music Hall was his kind of place. Everyone called him Smith Cat. I suppose music students fed him bits of their sandwiches, and whenever he was thirsty he would jump up on the water cooler and meow piteously until someone turned it on for him. He would stay around for weeks at a time. (The janitor hated him, for obvious reasons).

Having a well-developed sense of civic responsibility, I decided to track down his owner — someone on California Street, as I remember. The owner explained that the cat’s name was really Tartuffe (a la Moliere), and that he was a kitty with an extreme case of Wanderlust. Every two or three weeks he would reappear at home for proper cat food and vitamins. The rest of the time he would hang out in Smith Music Hall. One of his favorite places seemed to be on top of one of the library card catalogs, where people could pet him as they walked by. Most students loved him, but Bill McClellan, who was allergic to cats, barely tolerated him. Every time Smith Cat was banished from the library he would reappear shortly thereafter. Part of our evening closing routine was to make certain the cat was no longer in the library. Nevertheless, at opening time the next morning, Smith Cat was usually waiting on top of the circulation desk to greet the incoming library staff. We could never determine exactly how he managed to get in the library during the night.

False and not-so-false fire alarms

Smith Music Hall was not air-conditioned during most of the 1960s. During hot summers we used to try to keep the listening area cool with a motley collection of ancient floor fans. On at least one occasion one of the fans caught on fire, so I called the Fire Department. On another occasion I smelled smoke, couldn’t determine the source, and called the Fire Department. It turned out that someone had set a fire in one of the upstairs practice rooms. On yet another occasion I smelled something peculiar — not exactly smoke, but more like a strong chemical odor — so I called the Fire Department. I explained over the phone that it was just a funny smell, worth checking out, but they shouldn’t send the truck with the siren, because a piano recital was underway in the auditorium downstairs. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had no business telling the Fire Department how to handle their job. A moment later I heard the siren approaching. Firemen swarmed all over Smith Music Hall, poking into the auditorium and inspecting all three floors thoroughly. They found nothing, but they did agree there was a funny smell.

The next day I apologise profusely to the young woman who had been playing downstairs. She said she had been so intent upon what she was doing at the keyboard that she never even noticed the siren or the firemen.

However, a member of the School of Music administrative staff (not the director himself) took me aside to say, “You know, Jean, every time you call the fire department, I have to file an official report.”

Jill Shires

I was a music major from small towns in the South (mostly the Deep South), now at a university larger than any town I’d lived in. After one semester I was allowed to switch from Music Education to Flute Performance. While I didn’t know diddly-squat about libraries (I was practicing all the time, when not trudging through a blizzard), I was aware that U of I had the third largest university library in the country, and I was very proud to be associated with that. I certainly made much use of the Music Library. A good number of years later I changed careers to music librarianship. So: Congratulations, and I have very good memories of how useful and helpful the Music Library was for me. And I’m proud and pleased to be an alumna of that great university.

Charles Ghisalberti

I graduated from the U of I in 1959 with  B. Mus. Ed. and in 1961 with a B. Mus.as a piano major . I had a wonderful time at Illinois, and I owe a lot to the Music Library, where I had a part time job that helped me survive. I shelved scores, checked music and records and books out and in. I remember some incidents:  Near the entrance to the library there was a tiny room (at the left of a Mantelpiece  topped by a famous bust of Mendelssohn) in which the Denkmaeler der Tonkunst in Oesterreich were precariously shelved. One evening a tiny and revered elderly faculty member pulled them down noisily atop his celebrated self, to the alarm, concern and barely concealed hilarity of the evening staff. We dug him out sputtering and flustered, but unhurt, from under the pile. The event achieved a certain fame down the years among familiars of the then attendant staff. It was proposed that T-shirts be designed and printed up –  ” I survived the DTO vs Dr.********* incident” I recently attended a lecture by one of my then co-workers. He seemed to have forgotten all about it. There were other witnesses. I could name names.

The bust of Mendelssohn: Be it known that that bust was often removed after hours by mischievous part time staffers and transported in a laundry bag to various victims’ beds, bathrooms or front porches. One time at least, this was accomplished on a tiny bicycle, in a driving rainstorm. The bust was always returned the same night/morning before opening time. (There were keys.) One time Mr. Mendelssohn was featured, green circles painted about the eyes,  as the centerpiece of a food-laden table at a birthday party, after which, in haste to make the return, his nose was broken. A talented Sculptor/Architect student was found, who, at 2 a.m., puttily reconstructed and colored the nose – evidently no one ever noticed.

Also, there were beer parties in the library after midnight several times. The 5 or 6 participants hid in a faculty studio (purloined key) till *** the Janitor had made his rounds and was gone, then hightailed into the library, toting quarts of Budweiser, for the exciting candlelit wheeled-chair races around that center table and cavorting in the “stacks.” I remember the Music Library’s then Director,  Mr. Jay Allen, who was also the heart and soul of the University’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society. He conducted sold out performances each year in Lincoln Hall theater. He was a wonderfully nice man.

If you should feel like mentioning any of these incidents, I am using a nom de plume. Oh what a boon the Library was to us penniless students. We loved it.

David Hunter (now at the Fine Arts Library, University of Texas at Austin)

(Contributed July 27, 2011)

Ah yes, the dark and narrow corridor upstairs where we soldiers in the trenches of scholarly endeavor extracted vital information from microfilms of hymn books for the Hymn Tune Index project directed by Nicholas Temperley. Two years (1983-85) of almost solitary confinement due to the non-overlapping schedules and silent concentration in front of dimly lit screens typing code into a computer we never saw. Twenty hours a week and no time off except for public holidays. The joy, the joy.

Paul Jackson (of Trescott Research)

(Contributed July 15, 2011)

Hmm. I remember being at the library a few times. The first time was to visit with Archie Green our friend, and some of Violette’s (Krstich) Jackson’s friends. We met Thor Wood and several other MLA people there including Jean Geil. This was in the mid 60s. Later when our kids were enrolled there as college students, I would go by and talk sometimes when on campus with some of the folks from the 50s and 60s. One time we were there in a top floor (?attic) where there was a microfilm collection, some of which came from Europe…perhaps part of a musicological collection?

return to MPAL 65th Anniversary Exhibit Photos