Printer Friendly

Directions in Music Cataloging.


Directions in Music Cataloging. Edited by Peter H. Lisius and Richard Griscom. (Music Library Association Technical Reports Series, vol. 32.) Middleton, WI: Music Library' Association and A-R Editions, 2012. [xi, 173 p. ISBN 9780895797193. $50.] Illustrations, index.

The Music Library Association Technical Reports Series, despite its rather dry title has encompassed a broad range .of titles, from those intended as practical manuals, to those describing the state of the art in various areas of music librarianship. and even to a few of a more philosophical nature. The present volume fits comfortably into the latter two categories, and is the first in the Festschrift format (though it is not explicitly identified as such). In fact, MLA has issued only a handful of such honorary publications, and this is the first to honor a music librarian celebrated for contributions to technical services. As such, and as a broad-ranging--if somewhat brief--monograph on current issues in music cataloging, its appearance is long overdue.

The dearth of recent literature of a similar nature notwithstanding, the timing of publication of this compilation is opportune and its impetus is extremely fitting: the passing of beloved music cataloger Arsen Ralph Papakhian (1948-2010), formerly of the William and Gayle. Cook Music Library at Indiana University Bloomington. As a leader of the profession and mentor an entire generation of music catalogers, Papakhian at once engendered respect for authority, practicality, and tradition, and encouraged skepticism, innovation, and bold questioning of assumptions. The latter, as observed by H. Stephen Wright, who furnishes the introduction to the volume, can be en encapsulated by Papakhian's frequent monosyllabic utterance: "Why?" Indeed, this simple query serves as a sort of mantra that many of the authors of the volume invoke.

As. befitting a Festschrift, all contributors were close colleagues or former mentees of the late Papakhian. (In the interest of full disclosure, I wish to identify myself as vet another former student, and his penultimate cataloging intern at IU in 2008.) Due to Papakhian's long career, the authors span multiple generations. IU colleague Sue Stancu, who writes the closing commemoration, worked with him from 1979 until his untimely death. Conversely, Michelle Hahn and Damian and Beth Iseminger entered Papakhian's orbit only within the last decade. Within this time span, there are, no doubt, countless others who could offer complementary insights. Still, the editors have craned, from this ample pool of possible contributors, a fine cross-section of diverse insights.

The book's nine main chapters are divided into three parts: "The Foundations of Music Cataloging Today," "Cataloging Theory in Transition.," and "Current and Emerging Standards of Practice." This tripartite division of three chapters each forms a loose chronological axis along Which the reader may contextualize Papakhian's own contributions to music cataloging. However, perhaps a better method for evaluating the content in total is by examining the function of each respective chapter and its authors' intent. Thus, for the purposes of this review, the nine contributions are divided into the following categories: historical treatments, reports of the results of research or experimentation, description of current cataloging practice, and essays of a philosophical or speculative nature.

In the .category of historical treatments are two brief yet dense chapters. Jaw Weitz offers a concise chronicle of the Music OCLC Users Group, the organization arguably most closely tied to Papakhian's career and legacy. The group began file as a task force to aid OCLC in implementing the new Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) music format, and has evolved over its thirty-plus year lifetime into a vital professional organization that provides support to an international community of Music librarians. Weitz's chronology 'piles no detail, naming all past officers (including their affiliations), annual meeting locations, and specific projects undertaken. Such depth of treatment not only lends the chapter fundamental value to MOUG's institutional memory, it also provides a most edifying read for anyone who has been closely involved with the organization.

Beth Iseminger contributes an equally detailed history of a group with a much shorter yet no less rich history. The Genre/Form Task Force of the MLA Bibliographic Control Committee was formed hi 2009 with a formidable charge. In collaboration with the Library of Congress, the task force is working to design and implement the music portion of the newly-issued thesasurus Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials (LCGFT). Historically, the genre, form, and medium of performance of musical works have been described in library-catalogs using "subject" headings, phrase-like text strings that conflate several distinct attributes. Effective music retrieval requires such data to be encoded in a more granular fashion. Accordingly, MLA and LC undertook the genre/form project to lay the groundwork for this reimagined environment. Beth Iseminger, as chair of the task force, gives thorough insider's look into the work thus far completed. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the music portion of LCGFT, and the corollary vocabularies required to improve access to other bibliographic facets currently handled in subject headings, are still years away from completion and implementation. Nevertheless., while her article cannot serve a practical function (as Susanne Mudge's, described below, can), it more than adequately conveys the immensity of. the tasks at hand, as well as the promise of the highly anticipated final product.

The first two chapters of the volume belong to the second category, as they report results of experimentation and research respectively. Richard Smiraglia is the only author to contribute more than one chapter. However, given his stature and name recognition ill the music cataloging community (indeed. on par with Papakhian's). this is something of an asset to the compilation. Papakhian's own research is the common theme uniting these chapters. The first is a replication of a study Papakhian and Smiraglia undertook in 1981 to determine the level of coverage of music materials in OCLC's WorldCat bibliographic database. The present study, completed by members of Smiraglia's music cataloging course at the University of Wisconsin-Milwankee, found that coverage in 2010 had significantly improved over 1981's rates. Smiraglia takes a different approach in his second article. Rather than comparing an older study with present-day results, he compares Papakhian's 1985 study, which challenged assumptions about author name frequency in library catalogs, with similar contemporaneous studies. Neither of Smiraglia's contributions here are groundbreaking, though they do adequately set the stage for the rest of the book by highlighting Papakhian's uncommonly prescient inquiries.

The other two research /experiment-based chapters are much more relevant to present-day readers, specifically those grappling with one of the most vexing issues facing librarians today. Music in digital formats has become ubiquitous for library users, and vet remains a challenging content type for libraries. both in how it is managed from a technical and legal standpoint. and in how it should be discoverable for end users. As more and more digitized audio becomes available through streaming services and personal audio players, the unit of description (the starting point for cataloging) becomes increasingly ambiguous. If users are not consuming music in whole "albums," ought libraries to continue to provide access at that level? Peter Lisius examines the challenges of applying traditional cataloging methods to digitized music on the iTunes and Windows Media platforms. Through a creative approach, he was able to encode library catalog-esque data into a limited set of fields with mixed success. In her article, Jenn Riley considers the potential of the suite of conceptual models anchored by Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which holds some promise for more precise retrieval of the musical works (e.g., Mozart's Die Zauberflote) and expressions (e.g., specific recorded performances thereof) embodied in library resources. She then illustrates a test case for this promise, the Variations/FRBR project (, accessed 28 June 2012), whose proof-of-concept search interface whimsically named "Scherzo" allows users to search musical works directly.

The implementation of the new cataloging code Resource Description and Access (RDA) is fraught with controversy, not least in the music cataloging community, which has taken the opportunity to question long-standing practices for providing access to musical resources and the efficacy of this new cataloging code for doing so. RDA, though based on the entity-relationship model of FRBR, is also designed to be somewhat backwards-compatible with the previous cataloging code, Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition (AACR2), Which came into being in a card catalog environment. This dichotomy has invited strenuous criticism from two fronts: those who believe RDA does not sufficiently break free of the limitations of past practices, and those who believe RDA is too innovative, based on an untested conceptual model whose costs of realization outweigh the it benefits. The present volume in hides contributions by practicing music catalogers that betray both of these sentiments.

Damian Iseminger belongs to the first camp. In his essay, he delineates several specific criticisms of RDA as applied to musical resources, specifically the works and expressions they contain. For example, he argues that RDA as currently written carries forward too many assumptions and limitations of previous practice, namely the overreliance on, and insufficiency of textual access points (e.g., "Beethoven, Ludwig ran, 1770-1827. Symphonies, no. 5, op. 67, C minor") for identifying music. RDA ostensibly does not require the use of access points allowing instead, say. numeric identifiers linking to "work records"), but in his estimation substantial revisions will need to be incorporated before alternative methods are tenable.

Michelle Hahn expresses criticism of the latter type. In her view, a wholesale rewrite of cataloging code is not economically viable (a view shared by many), and instead attention should be given to overhauling the methods for encoding bibliographic data, to allow for more granular input and retrieval. This, she posits, could be accomplished with incremental updates to current cataloging rules (AACR2). These two contrasting articles showcase the ardent philosophical disagreements currently taking place in the cataloging community as a whole. Unfortunately, they do not as a pair constitute two sides of a single debate (nor, admittedly, are they necessarily intended to). Damian Iseminger's essay is matter-of-fact, somewhat emphatic, and includes specific suggestions for improvement; Hahn's, on the other hand, takes a more personal .and conversational tone, containing, according to the author's own disclaimer, "ideas ... to be developed over the course of a lifetime" (p. 79). The authors Share at least one underlying premise: that the cataloging practices for music must continue to evolve to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's users.

Susanne Mudge's article is the only one of he group to elucidate specific music cataloging practices. Ethnographic field recorditigs present distinctive challenges to catalogers, owing to their unpublished, unique nature. Their robust attributes are of sufficient complexity to transcend the codified .wisdom of standard cataloging practices, specifically AACR2 and Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS). Mudge succinctly summarizes the practices of two leading institutions (Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University and the Archive of Music at Harvard University), paying special attention those issues which are insufficiently covered in the above tools.

Directions in Music Cataloging may not present itself as a Festschrift, but the reverence For Ralph Papakhian is inherent in the publication, and unequivocally so. The verso of the title page bears not only a photo and dedication, but also (and perhaps more importantly) the respectfully-crafted subject heading "Papakhian, A. Ralph (Arsen Ralph), 1948-2010--Influence." Certainly the lineup of authors, all of whom enjoyed close ties to him, is alone evidence of his lasting legacy.

This compilation, while fairly dense in content and varied in scope, is woefully brief. A more thorough collection, more fully exploring the depths of this peculiar, wonderful profession, could easily contain two or three times the content. In particular, the vast potential and perilous uncertainty surrounding the implementation of new cataloging practices and tools such as RDA warrants broader and deeper treatment, including more thoroughly fleshed-out arguments on all sides. As it happens, this book went to press just as wide-scale implementation of RDA became even more certain, what with LC's announcement of both its implementation timetable and its new "Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative" (, accessed 28 June 2012), which strives to make library data infrastructures more amenable to RDA's benefits. Papakhian may not be present to witness these efforts coming to fruition, but the music cataloging community is better prepared to face them thanks to his leadership and guidance; this penetrating yet accessible volume is a testament to that. An enlarged, updated edition would .be a welcome follow-up, and ought to appear sooner rather than later.


Stanford University
COPYRIGHT 2012 Music Library Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Mullin, Casey A.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Previous Article:Notes for notes.
Next Article:Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |