Checking In with Jonathan Sauceda

As if starting a new job wasn’t already challenging, Sibley Library’s new head librarian did it during a pandemic.
Author: Matthew Cook
Jon Sauceda

Within the universe that Frank Herbert built for his science fiction novel Dune, there’s a dangerous ritual called the “Spice Agony” that a member of a specially trained sisterhood must undergo. If she survives, she gains all the memories of her ancestors, who have also held this title.

A “librarianhood” at the University of Rochester has embraced the spirit of the Spice Agony, only instead of drinking the potentially fatal “Water of Life,” the participants enjoy a sensible lunch.

Almost every month since August 1, 2021, Sibley Music Library’s new associate dean and head librarian, Jonathan Sauceda, has met with his predecessor Dan Zager, associate dean emeritus. The meetings have provided Sauceda with a gradual download of Zager’s Sibley knowledge and related wisdom, like the value of the library’s collection and the needs of the Eastman School of Music community. But the steady diet of these Sibley nuggets is only helping Sauceda acclimate to Eastman’s culture faster than he would on his own; as a librarian, he came in well-prepared for the job.

Sauceda earned master’s degrees in music history and vocal performance from Wichita State University and a master’s degree in library science and PhD in musicology from the University of North Texas. He then served as the music and performance librarian in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University–New Brunswick for nine years.

Last month marked the end of Sauceda’s first full academic year. He’ll say he’s still learning, but it’s clear he’s found his rhythm. In the following Q&A, Sauceda discusses, among other things, powering through the pandemic, his top priorities as head librarian, and his vision for Sibley’s collections and services.  

So—you have a full academic year under your belt. How does it feel?

It feels great! Like everyone, we had quite a few challenges thrown our way because of the ongoing pandemic. There were lots of staffing shortages that popped up unexpectedly, which required a lot of coordination. And there were also things like working with our vendors and the associated delays, which were frustrating for patrons who needed items for a class. It was really a Herculean effort to get to where we are now, but we weathered the worst of the storm magnificently and are stronger than ever.

Some people have a plan for their “first 100 days” when they step into a new role. What were your priorities?

My number one priority was to listen—to students, faculty, librarians, staff, and the community. It was and still is important to be available as much as possible for informal discussion, but establishing information networks was vital. To that end, I've worked to formalize communication by meeting regularly with the Eastman School administration and Sibley librarians.

I also drew on those discussions to develop the Sibley Advisory Committee, which helps keep me informed of the needs and concerns of faculty and students; it also serves to communicate Sibley’s needs to the Eastman community. We meet to discuss issues regularly, but I’m constantly trying to create more opportunities for information sharing.

As you said, you’ve spent much of this your time listening and learning. Has anything jumped out at you?

Some of my favorite moments of the job so far have been the conversations I’ve had with students. It’s clear they’ve given a lot of thought to the topics I introduced. What really impressed me was how many students genuinely value the collections and appreciate how robust our collection is.

I can’t say I expected to hear how much they love the library. They love what we have, but they also had ideas for how we could make spaces more inviting, functional, and flexible. They brought up things like making sure our tables have enough power outlets and spaces to allow for shared experiences, like listening to LPs together or screening a film.

What are you most proud of so far?

There are a lot of accomplishments that have come out of my first year here that I'm proud of, but by far, I'm most proud of and impressed with our team here at Sibley. They've been managing through disruptions, hardships, and personal tragedies, caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Yet, through it all, operations have continued, and services have proceeded with little to no impact on patrons.

In fact, they’ve used the difficulties presented as opportunities to find new ways to work together and do more with less. They are battle-tested and have grown considerably even during the brief time I’ve been here. Their dedication, skill, and intelligence are matched only by their empathy and patience.

Can you offer a sense of your vision for Sibley and what you would like to accomplish in the coming years?

I want to continue to build a flywheel of communication, where discussion builds community, and that community furthers discussion about the directions we need to go. This will center around three core services of the library: space, collections, and instruction.

We’re looking at our building to see how our spaces can continue to fulfill the mission of Eastman and the University of Rochester. We’ve been inspired by all the growth at the River Campus Libraries and elsewhere, but we need to keep in mind the unique needs of our community of musicians.

Regarding collections, we’re looking at digital offerings where they make sense and maintaining a robust print collection where that is what’s needed, always attentive to user needs and expectations. Instruction is another core service we provide. We’re always teaching our community how to use our collection, but we’re also providing them with the skills they need to gain the literacy they need to find and evaluate information on their own, wherever they are.

To finish up, let’s go back to the beginning. What brought you to Sibley?

Sibley is pretty legendary in music library circles. Anyone interested in music libraries or making an impact on the world of music and music libraries would have been interested in this job. I love Rutgers and the community I had there, but this was an incredible opportunity. And the more I learn, the more excited I am to be here.

For more information on Sibley Music Library, contact Jonathan Sauceda at jsauceda@esm.rochester.edu.

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