As the semester comes to a close, I am starting to look back over the semester. Chuck and I have covered a lot of information – copy cataloging, original cataloging, authority records, authorized access points, how to deal with foreign language items, dissertations, online resources, and much more. We have also gone over readings and resources, including multiple databases. Some of it has been review of the cataloging class and my job with the Latin American Music Center, which has resulted in both a solidification of my knowledge base and a better understanding of the importance of music cataloging. For the most part, however, this semester gave me a chance to learn more about the principles of music cataloging and how those could be applied. I have become familiar with the Library of Congress Policy Statements for music cataloging, as well as the Music Library Association’s Best Practices for Music Cataloging. I’ve had a chance to use my ‘cataloger’s judgement’ in creating records. Plus, Chuck has answered countless questions from me on how things work and what we are trying to create as catalogers.
Now that I am a semester away from graduating, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about my employability as a librarian. At this point, it is hard to be worried. I have spent the last five semesters growing my skills in tech services, and this internship in music cataloging is not an isolated island. It is built on previous classes, job experience, and years worth of compiled musical knowledge. Even better, cataloging with Chuck has shown me that cataloging is not a stagnant area of librarianship, and offers new challenges that will continue to evolve in future decades. It’s an exciting time to be alive.
In other words – why is music cataloging important? Why do people specialize in music librarianship at all?
I was talking to one of the librarians in public services the other day about being a music librarian. She told me that the music library here circulates more items than any of the branch libraries at IU. Partly, this is because we have the Jacobs School using the library to do things like research, score study, and explore new music. As music librarians, we support the students, alumni, faculty, and researchers that are doing those things.
The Music Librarian Association website lists seven total degree programs that offer a dual degree in librarianship and music, only three of which appear to be coordinated double degrees. There are, of course, other ways to become a music librarian, like being in the right place at the right time, or by taking a music specialization in library school. However, over the course of my time at Indiana University, I have had a chance to work in one of the biggest music libraries in the country. While it is rare that so many music librarians are able to concentrate on a single area (sound cataloging, score cataloging, public services, etc.), I have been struck by how specialization can make a difference in what librarians can do.
Music cataloging, although out of sight of the public, makes accessibility possible. Being specialized in music means that when I create records, I can recognize the details that make a difference to musicians. Is an item a full score or a vocal score? Is the ‘timbales’ in the title referring to a timpani or a timbales salsa drum? Does a tape recorder count as a performer? Especially after this semester, I can work through those questions while cataloging, and make a record that reflects that. In turn, the user of our catalog can find exactly what they need.
Seems to me that providing that service for a patron is a very good reason to be a music librarian.
Over the semester, I’ve used a lot of digital and physical resources, like the Manual of Foreign Languages or the M schedule of Library of Congress call number classification (both in digital and book formats). I’ve read through sections of the RDA Toolkit, explored Cataloger’s Desktop, become familiar with the Music Cataloging at Yale, as well as an overview of a lot of other resources.
Most of my readings, however, came from Jean Harden’s Music Description and Access: Solving the Puzzle of Cataloging, and Robert L. Maxwell’s Maxwell’s Handbook for RDA: Resource Description & Access.
Harden’s book does not focus on individual fields or machine readable language structures. Rather, her book focuses on the why and how of cataloging, with historical asides that trace developments in cataloging, and problem solving in general. As she says in her introduction, examples are presented to “model a way of thinking through an issue that will lead toward a reasoned solution of a newly encountered difficulty (p. xiv).” Her writing style makes conceptual ideas approachable, but even with the solutions she offers, she recognizes that there may be other options.
Maxwell’s book, on the other hand, supplements the current standard of RDA (Resource Description and Access) that has replaced AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules). RDA is still regularly revised, some of them major. The application of rules can be tricky as well, and Maxwell’s book addresses specifics of individual rules. Included are a lot of examples, which are in standard MARC formats.
Both of these books have been excellent resources for understanding how to apply the rules of cataloging. Added to the other resources I’ve examined this semester, I feel much better prepared to step into the job market as a cataloger.
Earlier this week, a music librarian was showing me her collection of pins she had picked up from various library conferences over the years. My favorite was one that read simply, “It’s in the notes!” Nonsensical to non-catalogers, I suppose, but the notes fields (the 500 field, mostly) is a catch-all field for anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. This includes things like bibliographic history, physical description enhancements, and program notes. In music, we see information like composition dates, instrumentation, if the composer wrote any notes at the end of the piece, and the language of the libretto (and if it has been translated).
500 notes can be seen by users of the regular catalog, and for the most part, the notes help users decide if this is the item they need. Some of the notes, however, are there to justify other information in the record, making them more useful for catalogers who are trying to match the item in their hand to a record in the national file. Rarely does a catalog user need to know if the title was taken from a caption or from the cover – but these distinctions are meaningful to catalogers. We can also create local notes in the 590 field that are retained even if a local record is overlaid with an update. These usually indicate things that don’t apply to other libraries, like whether the copy is signed by an author, or who donated it.
Of course there are some guidelines for what to put in the notes (I am looking at a book titled Notes for Music Catalogers right now), but the content is generally flexible. This is in large part because the 5xx fields are designed to be read by humans rather than machines, unlike most of the other fields. It’s great – all the weird things about an item have a place to go: In the notes!