Music Discovery Requirements

IV.D Other Aspects of Music Discovery: Searching, Alphabetical and Keyword

Historically, alphabetically filed left-anchored “browse” listings have been indispensable in library information retrieval, beginning with the card catalog, and continuing in “traditional” OPACs. OPACs introduced the additional functionality of keyword searching. Discovery layers and “next-generation” catalogs added faceted browsing, but many simultaneously ceased to provide alphabetical browse searching.

Alphabetical listings have been particularly important to music librarianship. “Known-item” queries are more common in music searching than in general searching; this is true of both “classical” and “popular” music.[1] However, users do not always “know” a lot about the entity they are seeking. Transcribed title is a notoriously unreliable access point, especially for Western art music. “Subject” is a problematic concept because much music is arguably not “about” anything. Perhaps because of these difficulties, personal names are frequently used as an access point in music searching.[2] However, many composers are very prolific, and their works exist in many versions, making personal name alone an insufficiently precise access point.

Because author, (transcribed) title, and subject were not sufficient to find, identify, and select musical works, music librarians exploited left-anchored title and subject card catalogs to provide access beyond personal names. They developed complex uniform titles (especially generic uniform titles) and subject headings (which commonly covered attributes of form, genre, and medium of performance and only occasionally reflected true “aboutness”) to allow informed users to reliably find and browse musical works, as well as to quickly ascertain when pieces represented a part of a larger work or selections or arrangements of a work. These complex uniform titles and “subject” headings persisted even when catalogs moved online and keyword searching was introduced, and alphabetical searching remained vital because few users possessed knowledge to determine the complex vocabulary in advance.

More recently, facetable, linked data-friendly controlled vocabularies including the Library of Congress Genre/Form Thesaurus (LCGFT) and the Library of Congress Medium of Performance Thesaurus (LCMPT) have been developed to encode a piece of music’s genre and medium of performance separately from its subject. Similarly, RDA focuses on recording discrete, machine-manipulable data elements. LCMPT, LCGFT, and RDA were created at a time when keyword searching had become the default search strategy of choice, in contrast to LCSH and AACR2, which were developed in an era when alphabetical searching predominated.

However, the need to determine complex vocabulary in advance remains a major weakness of most current keyword searching, which rarely exploits alternate forms found in LC/NAF authority records. See IV.B for further discussion of authority records and keyword searching.

Recommendation: Consider carefully the options for alphabetical and keyword searching. Current keyword searching has significant deficiencies for music. However, the needs which have historically been met through alphabetical listings might be met through other means, particularly faceted browsing based on attributes important to music. Recommendations have been given throughout the document. Alphabetical searching has particular value for librarians and staff, especially with regard to authorized access points and controlled vocabularies, and should be retained in back-end interfaces even if it is eliminated from public interfaces.



[1] Beth Christensen, Mary Dumont, and Alan Green, "Taking Note: Assessing the Performance of Reference Service in Academic Music Libraries: A Progress Report," Notes 58, no. 1 (September 2001): 52. Jin Ha Lee, “Analysis of User Needs and Information Features in Natural Language Queries Seeking Music Information,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61, no. 5 (2010): 1037.

[2] David M. King, "Catalog User Search Strategies in Finding Music Materials," Music Reference Services Quarterly 9, no.4 (2007): 17.