Interview with IAML President Pia Shekhter • Intervalli 2/2022

Questions Maaria Harviainen • Answers Pia Shekhter

Intervalli • 1/2022Intervalli • 2/2022

When did you attend your first international IAML conference?

I attended my first IAML conference back in 1990. It took place in Boulogne-Billancourt, France and I will never forget the deep impression it made on me. I started my employment at the Academy of Music, Gothenburg University, in 1986 so I had only worked as a music librarian for four years at that time. The conference was a real eye opener and I am very grateful that I had this experience so early in my career. My participation was possible thanks to a grant from the Swedish IAML Branch (Svenska musikbiblioteksföreningen, SMBF). I take this opportunity to inform my Finnish colleagues that IAML offers financial support through the Cohen Family Charitable Fund: The Liesbeth Hoedemaeker-Cohen Fund & The H. Robert Cohen / RIPM Fund for IAML Congress Travel Application are both open to all members of IAML, with priority given to individual members who are attending their first or second congress.

Pia Shekhter koosti IAMLin 70-vuotisesta historiasta ai- kajanan, joka oli esillä IAMLin vuoden 2022 kongressissa Prahan kaupunginkirjastossa. Kuva: Jaska Järvilehto
Pia Shekhter koosti IAMLin 70-vuotisesta historiasta aikajanan, joka oli esillä IAMLin vuoden 2022 kongressissa Prahan kaupunginkirjastossa. Kuva: Jaska Järvilehto

What was it that attracted you to IAML?

The thing that attracted me most, and still does, is the camaraderie within IAML. It is a great comfort belonging to a friendly community with colleagues who share your values and beliefs. As a music librarian you often work alone, so it is a great support to communicate with people who know exactly what you are talking about and are happy to share their expertise. The fact that IAML is an international organization that includes music librarians from all kinds of libraries makes it truly exciting to be a member.

You have held many different positions in IAML. Could you describe which has been the most interesting one?

I must honestly answer that all of the different positions I have held within IAML have been equally interesting and rewarding, in different ways.

I have been involved in the work of IAML during my entire working life. At first as Secretary of the Swedish IAML Branch for ten years and then as Chair. As Secretary I had the good fortune to work side by side with Anders Lönn and Veslemöy Heinz, which was very inspiring. Both of them had been Presidents of the international Association, so Swedish members have had close ties to ”big IAML” for a long time. In fact, it goes back all the way to 1959, when Folke Lindberg from Sweden was President of IAML. Working on the Swedish board as a ”new professional” was instructive and, in addition, a lot of fun. I am, of course, still a devoted member of SMBF, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2023.

Due to the generosity of my employer at the Music Academy, I had the privilege of attending several international conferences, and eventually took on the role as Secretary and then Chair of the Libraries in the Music Teaching Institution Branch (now the branches are called ”Sections”). Further training of music librarians had always been close to my heart and in these two positions I had the opportunity to put together conference sessions that hopefully were useful for members working in conservatoires. Prominent issues during these days were artistic research and the Bologna process, which prompted librarians to become pedagogues. 

In 2010 I was elected Secretary General (SG) of IAML. It was a daunting challenge and I must admit that I was not quite aware of what was expected of me when I applied. I am so grateful for my eight years as SG, even if it was at times rather exhausting. I am sure our present SG, Anders Cato (also from Sweden), can testify to this! My time in office happened to coincide exactly with the years we were busy creating ”the Future of IAML”. The process stretched over a period of many years and involved plenty of members. The goal was to make IAML more agile and transparent which eventually led to restructuring of the Association. We also aimed to modernize it and introduced electronic voting, digital access to our journal Fontes and other things that the members had been asking for. As SG I was heavily involved in this work, which gave me a valuable insight into our Association. Being the Secretary General of IAML brings you into close contact with the membership, which is very nice. A former SG (later President), Roger Flury, used to call himself an ”enabler”, and that is how I perceived my mission, as well.

Since 2020 I have been the President of IAML, about which I feel deeply honoured. As President I am responsible for IAML’s strategy, together with the other Board members. It is a great source of satisfaction for me to be able to contribute the experience I have amassed over the years. I have two principal aims during my three years in office. The first is to focus on IAML’s twenty-five national branches – the backbone of our Association. There is so much to gain from greater communication and cooperation between the branches. My second aim is to increase IAML’s visibility, especially among other related professional associations. After thinking for a long time, I ended up with the following presidential motto: Together we advocate for the importance of our work and reach out with confidence and professional pride.  

There has been quite a lot of discussion within the Finnish Music Library Association about the future of music libraries. What is the future of public or city libraries and their music departments, and what is the role of libraries in music teaching institutions? 

Instead of a specialized music department, there is nowadays a more general media department in many public libraries in Finland.  University libraries in Finland rarely specialize in music only, about which my own University of the Arts Library is a good example. 

Has there been discussion inside IAML about the change in music libraries? Is the change somehow global? Has the change affected the work and activities in IAML in some ways?

PS: Many changes have taken place in the world around us that challenge how we work as music librarians. Several members have been affected in a tangible way. I can mention my own library as an example. It closed last summer and merged with the Humanities Library, within the Gothenburg University Library. I am not sure whether or not this is a global development (although I expect so), but it is certainly an unfortunate trend in Europe and in the USA. When it comes to public libraries, there has been a gradual dismantling of music departments, partly due to a decreasing demand for CDs among the patrons. There is regrettably often a lack of understanding within library managements when it comes to the particular needs of music materials and the importance of specialized staff. The IAML Board is fully aware of the many issues that need to be addressed and strategic matters are high on the agenda. We wish to get as much input as possible from the members and on 18 October we organized the first ever online meeting IAML Members Meet the Board. Important forums for discussions are also the Forum of Sections (and the Sections themselves), the Forum of National Representatives, as well as the Committees. The relatively recently established Advocacy Committee has a special relevance in this context.

If someone is interested in following your example and working with IAML activities or governance, what would be your advice to them?

I encourage all members who have thought about participating in the work on the international level to do so. I have always found it tremendously gratifying to be involved in the discussions and the decision making that make our organization and profession progress. Elections take place every three years for members of the Board: one President-Elect and four Vice Presidents. The next election happens in the spring of 2023. Officers of Institutional Sections or Subject Sections take place the year after, in the spring of 2024. Institutional Sections bring together members working in the same professional field or type of institution: Archives and Music Documentation Centres, Broadcasting and Orchestra Libraries, Libraries in Music Teaching Institutions, Public Libraries and Research Libraries. The Subject Sections focus on different types of library activity: Audio-Visual Materials, Bibliography, Cataloguing and Metadata, and Service and Training.  If you would like to start a little bit more cautiously you could volunteer to join one of IAML’s many Committees. Examples of Committees that have a special significance for the Association are the Advocacy Committee, the Membership Committee and the Outreach Committee. You can find a presentation of the different Sections and Committees here. Welcome to share and learn!

Intervalli 2/2022. Kansikuva: Tiina Tolonen
Intervalli 2/2022. Kansikuva: Tiina Tolonen


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