ROCHESTER, NY — Ruth Watanabe, librarian of the Eastman School of Music’s Sibley Music Library for nearly four decades and namesake of its extraordinary Special Collections department, died Saturday, February 26, 2005, at The Highlands at Pittsford. She was 88.
Born in California on May 16, 1916, Watanabe received a bachelor of music degree in 1937, a bachelor’s in English language and literature in 1939, and a master of music degree in 1942, all from the University of Southern California. Her studies were halted by the outbreak of World War II and the evacuation of people of Japanese parentage from the West Coast. Learning of her situation, Howard Hanson, director of the Eastman School, invited her to Rochester to work on a Ph.D.
She subsequently received a doctorate in musicology from the University of Rochester in 1952. But meanwhile, Ruth Watanabe discovered the Sibley Music Library, an institution that was to have a profound effect on her life ― and vice versa.
“Ruth’s contributions to the Sibley Music Library are immeasurable,” said James Undercofler, dean of the Eastman School. “Under her leadership, the library grew to become one of the finest music libraries in the world. The entire Eastman community is saddened by the death of this remarkable woman and dear friend who holds a special place in the School’s history.”
Watanabe began her career at the library as a student assistant, and became a full-time staff member in 1944. She was named librarian in 1947, and later recalled, “Dr. Hanson encouraged me to do anything I wanted … to bring the library into a position of leadership.” In fact, she built the Sibley Library into one of the world’s great collections of musical scores and research materials.
From the late 1940s to the 1960s, the rare-book market in Europe was wide open and the American dollar was strong. Watanabe took advantage of the situation: “There were such riches to be had,” she later recalled, “and it was simply delightful beyond words to spend the University’s money for such a magnificent cause.”
During Watanabe’s tenure, library hours were expanded, a microfilm service was added, a rare book department with its own reading room was established, and a conservation laboratory was created.
From 1946 to 1962, Watanabe also taught music history at Eastman. She was an adjunct professor of library science at the State University of New York at Geneseo from 1974 to 1983, and also took part in many professional activities. She won numerous awards, published many articles, and for many years was program annotator of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
By the time of Watanabe’s retirement in 1984, the Sibley Music Library was bursting at the seams. Although it fell to her successor, Mary Wallace Davidson, to oversee the planning of a new library and the transfer of the collection into its new home (in Eastman Place, recently renamed Miller Center) in 1989, Watanabe was on hand, as librarian emerita and also as the School’s official archivist. In 1996, the Sibley Library celebrated Ruth Watanabe’s 80th birthday by officially renaming the special collections department the “Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections.”
“Ruth Watanabe was one of the great music librarians of the twentieth century,” said Dan Zager, Sibley’s current librarian. “Her training as a scholar, her thorough approach to building research library collections, and her love of music resulted in collections of international importance, which continue to support and sustain music performance and research, study, and teaching at the Eastman School.”
Watanabe was predeceased by her family, and funeral arrangements are private. Gifts in her memory can be made to the Sibley Music Library.
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Note to editors : A photo of Ruth Watanabe is available.