Emily Cabaniss, 26, is Seattle Opera’s first company librarian. “I think working for Seattle Opera ties into kind of my interest in keeping the gate open, preserving access. Because I think that it’s really an essential part of our local history,” she says.
In a world in which millennials are blamed for “killing” just about everything — from the wine cork to light yogurt — Emily Cabaniss stands out. Cabaniss, who turned 26 in July, has dedicated herself to safeguarding two institutions that some her age might regard as outmoded: libraries and the opera.
As the first company librarian at the Seattle Opera, Cabaniss, who earned her master’s degree at the University of Washington’s Information School, catalogs and cares for mountains of media: books, DVDs, librettos, scores, Betamax tapes and more.
“I catalog. I answer reference questions. I get people what they need,” Cabaniss says. “I also do stuff like I preserve and digitize our videos, and I scan our photographs and embed metadata into them so we know who’s in the pictures.”
That description, however, only speaks to a small fraction of Cabaniss’ duties.
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During a tour of the music library at the Seattle Opera’s South Lake Union offices, Cabaniss opens the case of one of the company’s four Wagner tubas to check whether it has been appropriately oiled. Care for these instruments, she says, also falls within her jurisdiction. With the tuba in her lap, she inspects its parts like a mechanic until something breaks off in her hand.
“That’s OK; that’s supposed to come off,” she laughs.
The tubas are relics of a time before Cabaniss, a time when the library was an unofficial dumping ground for whatever someone once decided ought to be kept. Since arriving at the opera, Cabaniss has set to work remedying that disorder.
The opera’s library consists of a room the size of a large garage, a storage vault and a virtual database. Among the three, the Seattle Opera has approximately 12,000 scores, 1,100 VHS tapes and 7 terabytes of digital videos. All of it is neatly maintained by Cabaniss.
“The stuff has always been there,” Cabaniss says. “There’s just never been anyone there to take care of it.”
Even years after what might seem like tedious labor for anyone but Cabaniss (if she could have a sabbatical, she opines, “I’d like to make a reference book of music…