MLA Citation 2023

Mark McKnight, MLA citation winner 2023. Photo credit: James Procell

The Music Library Association congratulates Dr. Mark McKnight as the recipient of its 2023 MLA Citation, the association’s highest honor. His impact on the Music Library Association, the field, and the scholarly arena is exemplary. 

Mark has set a very high standard, one which has been a great inspiration to those who have been  privileged to know, work, or interact with him. The majority of Mark’s career as a music librarian has been at the University of North Texas, where he has served in various capacities from 1990 to his retirement in 2019. From Assistant Music Librarian to Head Librarian, Mark’s mastery of every aspect of music librarianship is evident. He excels in music cataloging, music reference work, collection development, supervisory and other administrative work, and service to the university. Emeritus status was conferred on him in 2020.

Throughout his illustrious career, he has been very active in the Music Library Association and also in the local Texas chapter. His distinguished service to MLA is evident on many levels. He has served as the editor of MLA’s Technical Reports and Monographs in Music Librarianship Series. In the latter series, he was instrumental in bringing in new voices whose work was timely and relevant to the profession. Mark was also an assistant editor for Notes, quarterly journal of the Music Library Association. His contributions to MLA’s Cataloging and Metadata Committee and, in its earlier form, the Bibliographic Control Committee, have helped document and build practice for music cataloging in such areas as genre/form and medium of performance.

Mark has served on the Board of Directors twice: once as Member at Large, and once as President; it is in this latter role, especially, that he made his most significant contributions. A challenging time during his presidency was when MLA was scheduled to meet in St. Louis but was faced with the moral dilemma of an NAACP travel warning for the state. Mark led considered and measured discussions to assess the benefits and perils of carrying on with maintaining plans for the meeting location. He was transparent in this decision and led the way in turning the meeting into the first that had an explicit theme of diversity and inclusion. Indeed, presentations on this theme were not only prevalent at the St. Louis meeting, but have continued to occur regularly at subsequent meetings, no doubt thanks to the education, communication, and openness in the St. Louis meeting. Further, Mark kept a calm and steady hand on the rudder for all of his presidential term and has led the Board and the organization through many difficult issues, his counsel navigating us through choppy waters with our values and mission as guiding star. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been a central focus of Mark’s career. During MLA’s participation in the ARL/MLA Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, he served as mentor and host to four fellows who have gone on to have successful careers. Further, Mark has been a great mentor to many current MLA members. He has taught many of them (both in music graduate courses and in music cataloging), encouraged countless students to enter the field, served as dissertation or thesis supervisor or committee member for several, and generally made himself available for advice and guidance long after they have left the University of North Texas. Those who have worked with him have benefited greatly by his confidence and belief in them. He is a natural mentor who guides delicately and sensitively, yet firmly.

Mark’s publishing record is as broad as it is deep. In librarianship, this includes the book Music Classification Systems, as well as significant articles on music cataloging. A musicologist as well as a music librarian, Mark has been active in scholarly organizations, such as the American Musicological Society and the Society for American Music. He has published extensively in his areas of scholarly interest, particularly in the music of New Orleans back to its pre-jazz era. Mark’s visibility in these scholarly arenas provides a vital link between the fields of musicology and music librarianship. He is a true ambassador for the Association.

Retirement has not slowed his passion for the work of the Association and related organizations. Currently, Mark chairs the Joint Committee for the RILM/US Governing Board, an important body that helps guide the direction of one of our most important reference resources. These accomplishments only scratch the surface of the many roles Mark has had in MLA, yet they still represent a strong record for someone to be deserving of the Citation. Even more important, however, is to note the attitude with which Mark has undertaken this work. He is generous of his time, his talents, and his expertise. He believes that opportunities should be available for everyone and is an advocate for those whose work he knows and for those whose experiences have kept them marginalized in the profession or the Association. He makes MLA and the field better than it could possibly be without him.

Reflecting on his career, Mark writes, “Forty years ago, I was a fairly recent Ph.D. graduate in musicology employed as a paraprofessional in the LSU Library, teaching piano lessons, and working as a church organist—perhaps a familiar path of many to our profession— when I decided to return to school to pursue my Library and Information Science master’s degree at the University of Illinois. I chose this institution for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to work and study with Prof. Don Krummel. After a year in the frozen wilds of central Illinois I was fortunate to return to my adopted state of Louisiana, MSLIS in hand, where I had landed a job as Music and A/V Cataloger at Loyola University in New Orleans. Six years later, on February 1, 1990, I began what would be a 29-year career in the Music Library at the University of North Texas in Denton, where I also had the privilege to teach in the College of Music, direct theses and dissertations, do research, and serve as a mentor to many in our profession. It was indeed the type of career that brought personal fulfillment and satisfaction, allowing me a breadth of involvement with music on many different levels.

One constant throughout my professional journey, from the time I joined in 1984, has been my participation in MLA. My first national meeting was that year in Austin, where we met at the infamous Villa Capri motel right off the University of Texas campus. Lifelong friendships were made there, and many memories remain with me from that experience. While I have missed a few conferences throughout the years, attending the MLA Annual Meeting has always been a highlight of each year. It was so good to be back again this year in person in St. Louis, even for the short time I was able to be there. It is encouraging to know that even though our association may not be quite as large as it used to be, there is still the same sense of camaraderie, collegiality, and spirit of friendliness and empathy that have always been at the heart of what we do and who we are. It was reassuring to see so many young, energetic members at the meeting and to know that the future of our profession and our association is in good hands. Whatever success I have enjoyed in my professional career is due in large part to my participation in MLA.”