Let There Be Music (And Art, Too) By Phila Rogers Special to the Planet

Tuesday October 18, 2005

A Lively Collection Awaits at the Berkeley Public Library 


Step off the elevator at the fifth floor, and you enter the main library’s world of art and music. Light flows down from the big skylight and in the background some fine Miles Davis is playing. At another time, it might be Hawaiian music or perhaps a Baroque quartet. 

In front of you are the long shelves with books on such subjects as fine art, architecture, design, crafts, landscape design, theater, film, entertainment and even sports—and, of course, music. Ahead are other shelves holding thousands of CDs and cassettes representing a music collection impressive breadth. 

On a recent day Andrea Segall, who is responsible for the books, was at the reference desk. Andrea is one of the two full-time art and music librarians. Coming from eight years at the downtown San Francisco library, she has been at Berkeley’s Art and Music Department for 15 years. 

Pointing out a new light table backed by a bank of small drawers, she said with obvious pride: “This is our art slide collection, the only one accessible to the public in Northern California. It’s an invaluable resource for both students and teachers who often are teaching where there are no collections available. Here they can check out 60 slides at a time to illustrate their lectures.” 

She led the way back to the corner cubby where head librarian, Pat Mullan, a 20-year Berkeley library veteran, has her office. 

“We think this is a wonderful place to work,” Pat said. 

Andrea nodded in agreement. 

“Because we are a small group which includes four part-time librarians we can make our decisions by consensus,” Pat continued. “Where else can you spend part of your time listening to music, reading reviews, and then have the budget to buy those things that we know will enrich people’s lives?” 

Pat said she was committed to the idea that art and music are an essential part of the human experience. 

Pat seemed to move almost seamlessly in conversation from her work at the library to her own personal musical interests. She is a big band jazz trombonist. 

“I play with one group which has been getting together every week since 1966,” she said. She’s also a member of the Montclair Women’s Big Band. They will be performing soon at the Oakland Museum as part of a benefit for Girl Inc. 

Helping patrons with research is also part of being a librarian, she said. 

“Sometimes someone finds an old painting in their attic and want to know something about it,” Andrea said. (So far nobody’s unearthed an original Van Gogh). “Or maybe a performer is looking for a particular piece of sheet music, and we’ll try to find it in our sheet-music collection.” 

Leaving the office area, we went back through a room that houses a collection of 7000 vinyl LPs and a shelf of folio art books, some of which look like they would require a handcart to move. 

And just who uses the library? These days it looks like a lot of people. Some are sitting at one of the tables with books spread out around them. Someone else appears to be listening to a CD on a tape player. You might recognize a musician like John Schott looking for a particular recording.  

John will be at the library Dec. 9 with “John Schott’s Dream Kitchen” to perform old time jazz with John on the guitar doing the vocals, along with a tuba player and a percussionist. They will perform at 8 p.m. in the main reading room—the venue of the recent jazz series. 

The Art and Music Department sponsors a variety of programs including shows like photographer Katharine Bettis current exhibit, “Single Moms: Invisible Lives” on display downstairs in the central catalog lobby. 

And then there are the noon concerts held upstairs where you’re invited to come and bring your lunch. You can call the library, check out the Daily Planet’s Arts Calendar, or go on the library’s website for the coming events. The honoraria for all the performers are paid by the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library. 

The Art and Music Room hasn’t always been in such elegant digs. When Bruce Munly started the collection in 1960, it occupied a space in the main reading room. As the collection grew, it moved into the downstairs west corner once occupied by the library catalogers.  

But when the main library was refurbished and a new wing was built, the Art and Music Department moved to the top floor under its lovely skylight with north-facing windows overlooking downtown Berkeley and the hills beyond, where good music and beautiful books await. 


Phila Rogers is a member of Friends of the Berkeley Library.i