Music Library & Diversity: Topic Briefing

A close up of a record player

I researched and wrote a concise and compelling topic brief for the UBC Music, Art, and Architecture Library director arguing for the music division to contribute to diversity initiatives by implementing cultural events, programs, and exhibits that promote diversity.

Created for:
Kevin Madill - Acting Head Librarian & Music Librarian
UBC Music, Art and Architecture Library


The music division of UBC’s Music, Art, and Architecture Library can contribute to diversity initiatives by implementing cultural events, programs, and exhibits that promote diversity.



Diversity has become one of the buzzwords of the library and information field (Dali & Caidi, 2017, p. 88) and most institutions have at least one of its mission statements calling for greater diversity and inclusion (Williams & Stover, 2019, p. 215). The profession of music librarianship too has begun to address diversity more and more seriously (for example at the 2019 Canadian Association of Music Libraries conference and the 2018 and 2019 American Music Librarian Association conferences (Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres, 2019; Doan, Cleveland, Shaffer, Downey, & Colby, 2018; Duffy, Deemer, & Edmonds, 2019)). But, why should increased diversity in libraries, including music libraries, be a priority?

  • Universities’ student populations are becoming increasingly diverse and library administrators have a responsibility to make room for a variety of cultural expressions (Williams & Stover, 2019, p. 215).
  • When individuals in underrepresented groups see people like them in libraries, it sends the message that the space is for them (Doan, Cleveland, Shaffer, Downey, & Colby, 2018).
  • Including individuals by valuing their group can improve morale, encourage collaboration, and boost creativity (Smith, p. 256 in Sauceda, 2019, p. 6).
  • Diversity is a reality of life, and libraries should reflect this reality (Dali & Caidi, 2017, p. 9).
  • A more diverse library offers more opportunity for critical thought, on racism for instance (Hudson, 2017, p. 11).
  • Diverse places provide students with practical know-how to better negotiate diverse environments upon graduation (Sauceda, 2019, p. 5).

Music library professionals, as experts and advocates of the arts, are well situated to implement cultural events, exhibits, and programs to improve diversity in their libraries. Through these initiatives, music library professionals can promote their library and its services to a wide variety of students and allow library staff to develop relationships with individuals they might not otherwise meet. Working on these diversity projects, music library professionals can develop their library “…to serve as an intellectual crossroads, bringing together individuals from different regions of campus, increasing the quality of scholarship” (Sauceda, 2019, p. 5).

Current Status

The music division of the Music, Art and Architecture Library at UBC has not taken advantage of the opportunities brought about by developing cultural programs, events, and exhibits to increase diversity. Steps have been made to increase the diversity of staff and student-staff. The Music, Art and Architecture Library’s financial and staffing resources are limited, but other academic music libraries of varying sizes have shown that developing cultural events, programs and exhibits that contribute to diversity initiatives in useful ways and are doable.

Examples from other institutions

University of New Mexico, Music Library - Ann Jackson, Librarian
Flamenco Program

  • collaborated with dance department to create an exhibit highlighting diversity
  • created an exhibit of library offerings on flamenco (CDs, LPs, video resources) combined with costumes & castanets on loan
  • successful for reaching a segment of traditionally underrepresented population (Latinx) (Sauceda, 2019, p. 7)

Northern Arizona University, Cline Library
Wikipedia edit-a-thon

  • part of a larger outreach effort with Native American students and community members
  • three new entries were created and one was on Navajo musician and activist Klee Benally, who is represented in the library’s collection (Bishop, Pringle, & Tsosie, 2017, p. 246)

Kent State University, Performing Arts Library
Open Mic Lunch & Colloquium Series

  • monthly lunchtime informal performances open to faculty, students, and community members
  • series where performing arts students and faculty can present their original research in a formal yet supportive setting (Clark, 2012, pp. 161-165)

California State University Northbridge, The Learning Centre
Spoken Word Poetry & Hip-Hop Music events

  • performances led by a student group
  • incorporate a lot of audience participation including open-mic
  • is welcoming to students from underrepresented groups at the university for which oral culture is important (Williams & Stover, 2019)

Reed College, Music Library Annie Downey.
Trans identity & pronouns workshop

  • student-staff members, who represent more diverse groups than do staff, are given opportunities to lead workshops
  • created an exhibit of library offerings on flamenco (CDs, LPs, video resources) combined with costumes & castanets on loan
  • a student-staff member who is trans led a workshop on how to use pronouns and why this is important to trans people (Doan, Cleveland, Shaffer, Downey, & Colby, 2018)

Key Considerations → potential and opportunities


Relationships can be fostered with international students who, in turn, introduce their individual networks to the library.
Co-sponsorships can be made with staff from other disciplines that may have membership of groups missing from the music faculty or student body (Sauceda, 2019, p. 11).
Partner with senior Diversity & Inclusion personnel at the university who have an interest in the arts
Relationships with student clubs related to music can be made (for example, Bollywood dance club, LGBTQ Chorus, Canto Pop singing club).
Topics can be chosen that are interesting to faculty outside music, encouraging collaboration: First Nations hip hop (Indigenous studies, communications), Argentine tango (Latin American studies; dance), ancient African instruments (archeology).


Topics could be chosen from art music from non-western traditions (for example, Persian or Carnatic).
Women composers of western art music who have historically been left out of the canon could be chosen.
Composers from “peripheral traditions” that have been historically excluded from the canon could be chosen (Sauceda, 2019, p. 11).
Music of the western canon can be selected and then presented with diversity in mind (examples: are Britten’s compositions Queer?; how did Wagner benefit professionally from expressing his anti-Semitism?)
Topics can be chosen from popular music genres or forms that are popular in many regions and have different iterations, e.g., rap music or romantic ballads (Williams & Stover, 2019, p. 216)

Next Steps

  • Reach out to staff at the above libraries for practical advice on implementation.
  • Determine if funding is available for student-staff to be hired to help with or plan events, programs, or exhibits.
  • Find out what funding is available specifically for diversity initiatives.
  • Survey what events, programs, or exhibits exist elsewhere on campus that may overlap with potential initiatives at your library.
  • Consider incorporating participatory design with students from underrepresented populations when planning events, programs, or exhibits (Young & Brownotter, 2018).

To determine topics for events, programs, or exhibits:

  1. Define underrepresented populations at the library
  2. Survey well-attended events on campus and examine student clubs and organizations that are popular
  3. Take note of which classes relating to music are in demand (classes may be in the music department or outside it)

Weighing whether to act

Pros Cons
Do nothing ♦ No costs
♦ No need to train new student-staff
♦ No outreach is required
♦ Library remains western-centric
♦ Library users stay the same
♦ Library’s image does not change & risks becoming outdated
♦ Spaces available in the library continue to be used only for study
♦ Complaints, including formal ones, from students & faculty from underrepresented communities
Attempt events, programs, exhibits promoting diversity ♦ Low cost
♦ Flexible & short-term projects are possible
♦ Music knowledge & talent of UBC’s diverse student body is available
♦ Existing expertise from non-music faculty is available
♦ Expertise of music-faculty
♦ Funding needed
♦ Time taken to train student-staff
♦ Quiet study spaces unavailable during events
♦ Time taken for program development
♦ Music faculty members uncomfortable with diversity initiatives within music may give push-back


Cultural events, programs, and exhibits that promote diversity in music do not need to be long-term, expensive projects. The music division at UBC’s Music, Art and Architecture Library can try out an event, for instance, and not be locked into continuing it. This flexibility will allow the music division, without requiring great cost or effort, to experiment with:

a) promoting musics that are non-western
b) advocating for composers who were marginalized from the canon
c) considering diversity while presenting music from the canon

Overall, UBC’s Music, Art and Architecture Library’s music division can keep up with recent calls for greater diversity within the music library community while reaping the benefits of:

a) attracting diverse student users
b) improving students’ critical thinking on music
c) making new mutually beneficial connections with faculty
d) helping to update the image of music as a discipline


Bishop, N., Pringle, J., & Tsosie, C. (2017). Connecting Cline Library with tribal communities: A case study. Collection Management, 42(3-4), 240-255.

Cain, M., & Walden, J. (2018). Musical diversity in the classroom: Ingenuity and integrity in sound exploration. British Journal of Music Education, 36(1), 5-19. doi:10.1017/S0265051718000116

Canadian Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. (2019). Proceedings from CAML 2019: Music Connects: Building a circle of relationships between universities and communities. Vancouver: CAML/ACBM.

Citron, M. J. (2007). Women and the western art canon: Where are we now? Notes, 2, 209-215.

Clark, J. C. (2012). User-centred events in a performance arts library. Fontes Artis Musicae, 53(2), 158-167.

Dali, K., & Caidi, N. (2017). Diversity by design. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 87(2), 88–98.

Doan, J., Cleveland, S., Shaffer, A., Downey, A., & Colby, M. (2018). Diversity & inclusion through the lens of critical librarianship. Retrieved from Music Library Association Vimeo:

Duffy, M., Deemer, R., & Edmonds, A. (2019). A spectrum of music, or the question of diversity in our collections. St. Louis: Music Library Association Vimeo. Retrieved from

Hudson, D. J. (2017). On “diversity” as anti-racism in Library and Information Studies: A critique. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies, 1(1). doi:

Joseph, D., & Southcott, J. (2009). Opening the doors to multiculturalism: Australian pre-service music teacher education students’ understandings of cultural diversity. Music Education Research, 11(4), 457-472. doi:

Puente, M. A., & Cleveland, S. (2011). Variation on a traditional theme: The question of racial and ethnic diversity in MLA. Notes, 48-59.

Sauceda, J. (2019). Diversity, inclusion, and outreach. In S. Stone (Ed.), Outreach for music librarians (pp. 3-12). Middleton, Wisconsin: Music Library Association.

Williams, D., & Stover, M. (2019). Front and center: Hip-hop and spoken word poetry in academic libraries. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19(2), 215-221.

Young, S. W., & Brownotter, C. (2018). Toward a more just library: Participatory design with Native American students. Weave: Journal of Library User Experience, 1(9). doi:

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Learning Significance

  1. With this activity, I synthesized research that connects music librarianship to critical librarianship into a brief report and talk that presented background on the problem while offering practical solutions to stakeholders. I provided concrete examples for work that has been done in other countries and used critical thinking skills to give suggestions of collaborating on events and programming, which is a good way to get people into a library space who may not visit regularly.