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A History of The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre

A History of The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre

by Emmet Teran, Education & Library Intern 2015

The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre at Goodspeed is the only library dedicated solely to musical theatre in the world. The collection boasts more than 100,000 items and is an invaluable resource for academics and professionals alike. Dedicated to the preservation of musical theatre’s rich legacy, The Scherer Library maintains a comprehensive collection of scores, sheet music, scripts, recordings, playbills, photographs, and theatre memorabilia in a facility located on the Goodspeed campus in East Haddam, Connecticut. Scholar, patron, and collector donations are responsible for much of the Scherer Library’s contents. Also included in the collection are Goodspeed’s own archives, going back to its first production in 1963. Goodspeed staff and the musical theatre community-at-large utilize these reference tools in the revitalization of period musicals and in the creation and development of new works.  The library originated from modest beginnings some forty years ago.           

Despite facing serious threats of demolition in the 1950s, the Goodspeed Opera House opened as a functioning theatre and historic landmark under Executive Director Albert Selden in 1963. Goodspeed began to build a positive reputation during the regional theatre movement of the 1960s and 1970s with its productions of successes like Man of La Mancha in 1965 and Annie in 1976. In 1968, Michael Price took over the creative and managerial direction of the organization.  Goodspeed continued to establish itself as a pioneer in rethinking, reshaping, and revitalizing traditional American musical theatre, and by adding to the repertoire through discovering and nurturing promising new musicals.

Prior to 1975, Goodspeed received donations of musical theatre ephemera in small increments.  In 1975, Albert Selden and his grandmother Muriel Wiggin Selden donated their personal musical theatre collection of an estimated 5,000 pieces of sheet music and 200 complete vocal scores in forty overflowing boxes. The Muriel Wiggin Selden donation was tucked away safely in closet filing cabinets in the basement of the Opera House. With a push from Michael Price, that major gift sparked the beginnings of an integrated collection of donated works titled the Goodspeed Library of Musical Theatre.

Goodspeed appointed its first librarian in 1979: Library/Literary Manager Prudence Hoffman. Though unpaid and part time, the position provided the archive with a researcher who could perform basic library services for Goodspeed production-related inquiries. That same year, Mr. & Mrs. Tuit presented the Goodspeed Library with a major gift of 2,000 78 rpm and LP discs. The late 1970s and early 1980s brought an inundation of donations that stretched the Goodspeed Library to capacity. Added to this space crunch, several spring floods in the early 1980s threatened the collection’s existence. Finding a larger and safer facility to house the library became of paramount importance.

In 1982, Betsy Rosenberg replaced Hoffman in the new paid, part-time position of Music Librarian. Rosenberg, a hands-on manager with prior library science experience, helped to preserve and develop the Goodspeed Library. Sections of the collection were relocated to larger office space within the Opera House in 1983. However, large portions of the collection’s archival material failed to find room within the new office, and it was scattered in filing cabinets throughout the Opera House. At this point, library holdings totaled over 5,000 discs and an estimated 12,000 pieces of sheet music. The collection continued to grow, and Goodspeed sought out a larger facility.

The Goodspeed prop and scenery shop was in an old factory building located just a quarter of a mile from the Opera House on Norwich Road. The building, positioned in what is now referred to as Goodspeed’s middle campus, housed Goodspeed production facilities and the Goodspeed Music Department, as well as small business tenants occupying office space.  When the tenant leases expired, Goodspeed then had a place to move the collection.  Intern John Pike and Music Librarian Betsy Rosenberg transplanted the entirety of the library’s contents to its new home in the factory building in the summer of 1987.

In that 35 by 33 foot room, the Goodspeed Library welcomed educators, students, artists, dramaturges, and scholars.  In 1987, the Goodspeed Library Advisory Board was created to articulate the library’s long-term goals and to steward, maintain, and acquire new and relevant archival materials. Rosenberg facilitated the Board’s first meeting.

A wide variety of researchers began approaching the Goodspeed Library with inquiries. Library users represented a broad range of artistic disciplines, including a mystery novelist, musical theatre legends like famed composers Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, noted authors and current Library Advisory Board members Ken Bloom and Steven Suskin, and acclaimed musical theatre lyricist and librettist Tom Jones. As the Goodspeed Library became a recognized scholarly resource, the Goodspeed Opera House Foundation’s mission statement was updated to include stewardship of the library’s purpose.

In 1989, John Pike returned to Goodspeed as Assistant to the Executive Director. Betsy Rosenberg resigned that same year, and Pike was placed in charge of the Goodspeed Library, since he had prior experience with the collection. At that point, the Goodspeed Library was open one day a week for cleaning and organization, was closed to walk-ins, and was only opened by appointments for the public. Pike continued his involvement with the Goodspeed Library by overseeing it and its librarians throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

In the late fall of 1990, Max O. Preeo, founder and editor of the globally distributed magazine Show Music, moved the publication’s editorial offices from Las Vegas into Goodspeed’s library facility. Preeo was the first full-time and salaried Goodspeed Librarian. Show Music and Goodspeed formed a mutually beneficial partnership under Preeo’s leadership. The Goodspeed Library served as Show Music’s onsite research center, and, in return, Show Music promoted the Goodspeed Library’s name to its large audience of musical theatre fans. Donations of the most up-to-date musical theatre related materials and research inquiries greatly increased based on Goodspeed’s relationship with Show Music throughout the 1990s.

Although Preeo opted to leave his position as Librarian in 1993, he agreed to continue to edit and write for the magazine and allowed Show Music to remain operating at Goodspeed until 2002.

Kristen Johnson, Preeo’s Library Aide in 1992, was promoted to Librarian in 1993. Johnson, like Rosenberg, had a strong background in library science, but also the literary background necessary to run the publication. Johnson worked as the librarian for the next 3-year Show Music contract, which marked a time of great development for the Goodspeed Library.

In 1993, the Goodspeed Library received the complete collection of libretti licensed by the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation Library. Not long after, in 1995, expansion and reconstruction of the Goodspeed Library’s facility became necessary due to the incorporation of yet another major donation. Sam Sagankahn, friend of Goodspeed and representative for NBC Recording Studios, contacted Goodspeed and donated 35 filing cabinets filled with over 30,000 pieces of sheet music. The construction project that ensued involved the installation of waterproof flooring, increased security, fire alarm sensors, and listening room equipment. The project was completed in 1996 and doubled the size of the library to its present 2,150 square feet.

In 1997, Lisa Viall Mento took over for Johnson. The Goodspeed Library continued to grow in popularity. Regional theatres, major universities like Yale and NYU, leading talent agencies, and television networks such as PBS, HBO, MTV, and VH-1 began requesting research materials. In 2001, library holdings contained an estimated 40,000 pieces of sheet music, 25,000 records, 1,500 libretti, and 1,200 scores. Mento was unable to accept numerous donations due to a lack of space in the stacks, but remained committed to archival preservation.

Despite the lack of shelving capacity for archival material, the Goodspeed Library acquired a major gift in 2002, which Mento placed in storage. The Max Showalter Foundation made a gift that created an endowment for the Education Department and donated Max Showalter’s sizable collection of theatre memorabilia to the Goodspeed Library.  Max Showalter, a storied composer and character actor who performed on stage, television, and in film throughout the second half of the 20th Century, passed away in the summer of 2000. Goodspeed established the Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre at this time in Max’s honor. Goodspeed also created and dedicated the Max Showalter Room, located across the hall from the library, to celebrate Max’s decorated career as an artist and the Max Showalter Foundation’s generosity. Max composed the score to Harrigan ‘n Hart, the first new musical that Goodspeed produced at The Norma Terris Theatre in 1984. This project prompted Max to move from his home in California to Chester, Connecticut.  

In 2003, Will Rhys, who worked alongside Mento during his time as Education Director at Goodspeed, was promoted to Education Director/Librarian upon Mento’s resignation.  Rhys, an actor and former Artistic Director of the National Theater of the Deaf, worked with other Goodspeed staff to found winter season educational programs like the NYU Residency Program and the Festival of New Musicals.

In 2003, the Goodspeed Library was renamed the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre to honor the efforts and dedication of Susan and Henry Scherer. The Scherer family established an endowment fund at Goodspeed Musicals in support of the Library.  

In the summer of 2009, the Scherer Library of Musical Theatre underwent a transition of management from Will Rhys to Joshua Ritter, its current Education & Library Director. Ritter began formally promoting the Administrative Internship Program in 2010 and increased efforts to recruit new library volunteers. Some volunteers like Jessica Thompson and Neil Epstein have been offering their time assisting the Scherer Library for over a decade. Additional volunteers and interns assisted the Scherer Library through cataloging, preservation, archival reorganization projects, and general assistance with day-to-day tasks. The extra help allowed the library to deacquisition duplicate and unrelated materials, which enabled the incorporation of the Max Showalter Donation and the restoration of regular donation reception. In 2011, the full-time position of Education & Library Assistant was added to the Library staff. The addition of a second year-round employee helped facilitate the creation of Goodspeed’s Musical Theatre Institute and hasten work on major library projects. Currently, the Scherer Library is a resource center for Goodspeed’s Musical Theatre Institute, which is composed of nine nationally and internationally renowned educational programs.  

In 2009, Goodspeed’s Development Department introduced Ritter to Christine Donohue, dedicated Library Advisory Board member and former President of Donohue Group Inc.  Donohue mentored Ritter on library best practices and offered complimentary consulting services on numerous library projects. With the experience and guidance of Christine Donohue, Scherer Library staff undertook the landmark Catalogue and Digitization Project. In 2012, the Scherer Library applied for and received a grant from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Foundation, which provided the means to jumpstart Phase One of the Catalogue and Digitization Project—the digitization of the Scherer Library’s 500 most fragile and valuable items. Goodspeed Trustee David Frankel was instrumental in securing sponsorship from the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. The knowledge, hardware, and software gained from completing the project continues to allow for the modernization of the Scherer Library and enables a wider audience to access its contents.

As the most comprehensive musical theatre library in the world, the Scherer Library is an invaluable resource to artists, scholars, producers, Goodspeed staff, students, and educators on a national and international level. Goodspeed’s Education & Library Department utilizes the material in the collection to enrich Musical Theatre Institute programs, fulfill research requests, write the Program Notes in Goodspeed playbills, and to aid directors as they reinterpret musicals. The Education & Library Department also uses the collection to create extensive Teacher’s Instructional Guides, Student Guides, and Audience Insight Guides based on current state and national education standards for The Goodspeed and The Terris Theatre productions. To this day, the collection remains a hive of musical theatre activity and an invaluable center for promoting and propagating the art form.          

Scherer Library Leadership

Prudence Hoffman
Library Manager: 1979-1980
Literary Manger: 1981

Betsey Rosenberg
Music Librarian: 1982-1983
Librarian: 1984-1989

Max O. Preeo
Librarian: 1990-1992
Show Music Editor: 1993-2002

Kristin Johnson
Librarian Aide: 1992
Librarian: 1993-1996

Lisa Viall Mento
Librarian: 1997-2003

Will Rhys
Education Director: 2000-2003
Education Director/ Music Librarian: 2004-2008,

Joshua S. Ritter
Education Director/ Music Librarian: 2009-2010
Education & Library Director: 2011-2016

Education Manager & Library Director: 2016-Present

EDUCATION & LIBRARY ASSISTANTS

Katie Griswold
Education & Library Assistant: 2010

Christine Hopkins
Education & Library Assistant: 2011-2013

Kathryn Micari
Education & Library Assistant: 2014-2016

EDUCATION & OUTREACH MANAGERS

Erin Lafferty
Education & Outreach Manager: 2016-Present

CURRENT LIBRARY ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS

Ken Bloom, Author and Historian
Theodore S. Chapin, President of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization
Alvin Deutsch, Theatre Attorney
Christine N. Donohue, Founder and former President of The Donohue Group, Inc.
Brian Drutman, former Former Vice President Decca Label Group
Michael Kerker, Director of Musical Theatre for ASCAP
Attorney Robert Kimball, Author and Head of the Cole Porter Estate
Bruce Pomahac, former Director of Music at The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization
Bill Rosenfield, Recording Executive
Henry Scherer, Historian
Steven Suskin, Author

Thank you to the numerous volunteers, interns, and donors for making the Scherer Library what it is today!

 

*References:

The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre, former Goodspeed staff, and current Goodspeed staff 

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