01 March 2005

Music Cataloging Resources: A Bibliographic Essay

by Dorothy Hemmo

If cataloging is a specialty, then music cataloging is a singular field within that specialty. For the general cataloger who catalogs the occasional score or sound recording and for the experienced music cataloger there are many useful resources to be found. Most music cataloging resources assume that the user will have some previous knowledge of general cataloging rules.

The foundation for all cataloging rules in the United States is the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition (1986), or AACR2. Chapter 5 contains the rules for the description of published (printed) music. Information on sound recordings and video recordings can be found in chapters 6 and 7, respectively. Chapter 21, “Choice of Access Points”, offers advice regarding music in rules 21.18-21.23. And the all-important rules for uniform titles for music appear in Chapter 25, rules 25.25-25.35. Anyone interested in the field of music cataloging should first become familiar with the general cataloging rules for monographs, and then learn the rules for music cataloging.

Music Cataloging by Richard P. Smiraglia (1989) is an excellent resource for the student of music cataloging or music librarianship. It offers the reader an introduction to the concept of bibliographic control, and an historical overview of such subjects as authority control, subject analysis, classification, and MARC, both generally and as these subjects relate to music cataloging. Each chapter has a list of suggested reading for the student who wants to investigate a topic further. Though this is a great introduction to the descriptive cataloging of music, it is not an up-to-date resource for cataloging rules. Also, the author assumes the reader will have a knowledge of the history, theory, and performance practices of Western art music. The work includes a glossary of music related terms, a selected bibliography, and an index.

A second book by Smiraglia, Describing Music Materials (1997) is a more up-to-date resource for rules governing the cataloging of music. This book is an exhaustive, detailed, step-by-step how-to for the beginning music cataloger. (Knowledge of basic cataloging rules is assumed.) Smiraglia covers printed music, sound recordings, video recordings, multi-media packages, and archival collections of musical documents. He includes discussions of access points in music bibliographical records, and uniform titles.

One notable feature of this book is Chapter 8, “A Music Cataloger’s Reference Collection”. It gives the reader lists of print resources for the following subjects: general cataloging, archival description, general music reference, sound recordings, biobibliography, popular music, and thematic indexes. The author also includes a list of useful web sites for finding publisher information, composers’ dates, general music reference, and music cataloging rules. The book includes a glossary and an index.

Music Score Cataloging Basics is the text version of a presentation given at the OLAC/MOUG 2000 Conference in Seattle, Washington in October 2000 by Ralph Papakhian. This document is a primer for the general cataloger already familiar with AACR2 and MARC, who finds she must catalog music. The focus is definitely on practical applications such as, when to input a new record, and what MARC codes are used where. There are many examples given and the author includes a list of definitions to help the non-musician.

Another useful and practical document is “The Core Bibliographic Record for Music and Sound Recordings”, a report from a Working Group of the IAML Council (1998). The document takes on the problem of a lack of standardization for minimal-level cataloging for music materials. It defines what a core bibliographic record should be, and spells out which fields are needed to generate usable records without the time and expense of full cataloging. This document will keep the cataloger conversant with current standards for the core bibliographic record in music.

Sheet music is often found in a music library’s collection and can be difficult to catalog due to a lack of standard publishing information on the item. Cataloging Sheet Music (Schultz, 2003) is an excellent resource for the experienced cataloger. It contains many examples and explains certain conventions unique to sheet music publishing. Special attention is given to title pages, and determining the chief source of information. This book is meant to be used in conjunction with AACR2, and can be seen as an expansion of those rules.

The next book, Cataloger’s Judgment: Music Cataloging Questions and Answers from the Music OCLC Group Newsletter by Jay Weitz (2004), is a resource for the working music cataloger. Prior knowledge of AACR2 and MARC is necessary to make heads or tails of the questions and answers in this compilation. The book is organized by subject; for example, sound recordings, titles, subject analysis, fixed fields, and so forth. Each question deals with a very specific problem encountered by a cataloger, but the author’s answers and explanations are very thorough and often include rules that can be applied generally.

There is a Topical Index, but this book is also indexed by the rules discussed in the questions, and also by OCLC-MARC field. For instance, if you have a question about AACR2 rule 25.25, or a particular MARC field, you can consult the respective index to find questions and answers that deal with that rule or field. Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI) and Music Cataloging Decisions (MCD) rules are included in the AACR2 index.

Stephan Luttman’s short article “Good Enough for Jazz” (1999) offers suggestions for print and web resources for the non-musician cataloger who must catalog music. In discussing print resources he specifically mentions as essential Smiraglia’s Describing Music Materials. Luttman also recommends joining MLA-L, the Music Library Association’s list serv, saying that questions from beginning music catalogers are welcome. If music cataloging is likely to remain a large part of your workload, Luttman offers suggestions for continuing education opportunities such as a music bibliography course at a local university, or Indiana University’s one-week summer workshop on music cataloging for the non-musician.

The Music Library Association’s journal, Notes, is an excellent resource for articles and information on the current state of music cataloging thought and processes. In “Cataloging”, Ralph Papakhian (2000) summarizes the history of cooperative cataloging as it relates to music. He discusses current difficulties in the field such as, the disappearance of graduate programs in music librarianship; the lack of personnel due to budget constraints; the fact that cataloging music is often seen by administrators as too difficult and time-consuming, and therefore many materials are left without adequate records; the need for enhanced descriptions to provide adequate access; and the cataloging of special collections such as sheet music.

It is never explicitly stated, but the author is certainly advocating for more resources to be applied to the field of cataloging, especially in music. On the future of cataloging Papakhian says, “The costs of human activity in cataloging…are unlikely to disappear.” (p. 589) He also sees the lack of standardization of OPAC and cataloging software as problematic. A future goal should be an easier-to-use catalog.

Smiraglia, in “Musical Works and Information Retrieval” (2000) discusses the difficulty, in cataloging music, of distinguishing among different instances of a musical work; for example, a full score, a miniature score, a reduction, a sound recording, and so forth, of the same work. The author discusses what a musical work is and what it is not. He discusses the historical and current use of uniform titles, and the limitations of the same. Smiraglia wants the future of music information storage and retrieval to be shaped through the use of empirical studies, epistemological studies, and taxonomic definition.

Closely related to the article above, “Beyond the Score”, co-written by Smiraglia and David H. Thomas (1998), discusses the limitations of current cataloging rules when cataloging scores, sound recordings, and video recordings. The main point of this very interesting article is that a musical work as an abstract concept constitutes the entity, and that its instantiations (different forms or instances) should be cataloged as manifestations of the musical work. Bibliographical families built around the abstract work are used to create greater access to musical works by guaranteeing collocation within the catalog.

The final article from the MLA journal Notes is “On Degressive Music Bibliography” by D. W. Krummel (2000). The author begins with a definition of the degressive principle in cataloging: the more important or interesting the item, the more complete its description in the catalog should be. Krummel gives an historical perspective on the use of the degressive principle in music bibliography, and more importantly, presents an in depth discussion on what makes some works more important than others. The author advocates the use of the degressive principle in music cataloging to make more important works easier to access.

Our final print resource is Bibliographic Relationships in Music Catalogs by Sherry L. Velluci (1997). This book contains an empirical study analyzing existing relationships among bibliographic entities in a music catalog for the ultimate purpose of creating a better catalog. In the introduction, the author discusses the functions of a catalog, and the nature of musical bibliographic entities. Examining this study is a good way for the cataloger to begin to understand some of the complexities inherent to the cataloging of music.

Let us now turn to two Web resources, Music Cataloging at Yale (www.library.yale.edu/cataloging/music/musicat.htm) and Indiana University Music Library Technical Services (www.music.indiana.edu/tech_s/manuals/ts.htm). Both sites are great resources for the practical “nuts and bolts” of music cataloging. IU’s site contains tables of MARC codes, guides to thematic catalogs, a necrology file, LC’s Cyrillic transliteration table, and a link to OCLC’s Cataloging Internet Resources. Yale’s site contains so much information it is almost overwhelming. There is information on AACR2 rules (both general and music specific), cataloging sound recordings, MARC tagging, subject cataloging, authority control, uniform titles, and much more. The site also has a lot of general music reference help especially useful to the non-musician. For example, there is information on vocal ranges, song cycles, parts of the Mass, definitions of musical terms, and the names of keys and instruments in five different languages. This site also has links to OCLC, Library of Congress, U. S. academic libraries on the web, and National library catalogs worldwide.

The difficulties inherent in the cataloging of all formats of music are manifest. In a perfect world, the music cataloger would have a firm grasp of the principles and rules of cataloging, and a background in the history, theory, and performance practices of Western art music. The world is not perfect, and thankfully, there are many resources out there to help the beginning music cataloger, and even the non-musician who gets stuck cataloging music. The resources presented here are just a small sample of the authoritative information being provided by the music library community to further the goals of ease-of-use and accessibility of information for our users.


  • Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR2. (1986). Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Ed. Revision 1985. Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Krummel, D. W. (2000). On degressive music bibliography. [Electronic version]. Notes, 56(4), 867. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac Web General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Luttman, S. F. (1999). Good enough for jazz; or, successful music cataloging for non-musicians. [Electronic version]. Colorado Libraries, 25(2), 48-49. Retrieved September 24, 2004, from the Wilson Select Plus database.
  • Papakhian, A. R. (2000). Cataloging. [Electronic version]. Notes, 56(3), 581. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac Web General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Papakhian, A. R. (2000). Music score cataloging basics. Retrieved October 2, 2004 from http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/units/cts/olac/conferences/2000/scores.doc
  • Schultz, L., & Shaw, S. (Eds.). (2003). Cataloging sheet music: Guidelines for use with AACR2 and the MARC format. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (2000). Musical works and information retrieval. [Electronic version]. Notes, 58(4), 747. Retrieved September 11, 2004, from the InfoTrac OneFile database.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (1997). Describing music materials: A manual for descriptive cataloging of printed and recorded music, music videos, and archival music collections: For use with AACR2 and APPM (3rd ed.). Lake Crystal, MN: Soldier Creek Press.
  • Smiraglia, R. P. (1989). Music cataloging: The bibliographic control of printed and recorded music in libraries. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  • Thomas, D. H., & Smiraglia, R. P. (1998). Beyond the score. [Electronic version]. Notes, 54(3), 649. Retrieved September 4, 2004, from the InfoTrac General Reference Center Gold database.
  • Velluci, S. L. (1997). Bibliographic relationships in music catalogs. Lanhan, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
  • Weitz, J. (2004). Sheehy M. (Ed.), Cataloger's judgment: Music cataloging questions and answers from the music OCLC users group newsletter. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Working Group on the Core Bibliographic Record for Music and Sound Recordings. (1998). The core bibliographic record for music and sound recordings. [Electronic version]. Fontes Artis Musicae, 45(2), 139-151. Retrieved September 24, 2004, from the Academic Search Premier database.


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