Magazine article American Libraries

Librarian Hopes Song Index Evens the Score for Musicians

Magazine article American Libraries

Librarian Hopes Song Index Evens the Score for Musicians

Article excerpt

Ellen Luchinsky is constantly singing and humming during her shifts as a reference librarian in Baltimore, often choosing among more than 150,000 entries she's been compiling into a song database and index for the last 13 years.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library's directory of songs, which, when completed, could possibly be the largest in the United States, includes everything from ballads to blues, love songs to lyrical pieces, symphonies to swing, children's music to cha-chas, folk music to foxtrots.

With the final work now being started, the database has begun to allow Luchinsky and her assistants to quickly draw on the thousands of pieces of sheet music and anthologies collected by the library over more than 110 years.

"There are a lot of song indexes out there, but not with this scope," said Luchinsky, who is head of Enoch Pratt's Fine Arts and Recreation Department.

The song index began as a chore, assigned to Luchinsky in 1983 by a supervisor, to be completed when people weren't asking for help finding books or other resources in the Fine Arts section of the library.

It has been a slow process and one that left Luchinsky occasionally questioning herself. "Why do it? People have been asking me that, and I have no answer," said Luchinsky. "I guess I just believe in this as a reference source that will make a librarian's life easier in finding songs."

The index will also help anyone in search of song information. Maybe it's the exact words of the song they played for the first dance at a wedding, or a parent's favorite piece of an opera, or the always-annoying tune and partial lyrics that have been in the mind for weeks. What song is it? I can hear it in my head.

The song index will be published in book format within the year by Garland Publishing. Although it won't be placed online on the library's home page, Luchinsky said librarians can e-mail queries to her at eluchin@epf12. epflbalto.org. "We're more than willing to look anything up for librarians who we can help with this index," she said.

Portions of the index date back to the 1880s, when a relatively simple collection of music was amassed at Enoch Pratt. Between 1910 and 1920, the first song index was created at the library, although Luchinsky has been unable to determine who began it.

When Luchinsky arrived in the Fine Arts section in 1980, she couldn't believe the condition of the index.

"It had been neglected," Luchinsky recalled. "I don't think anybody realized the resource we had here and its potential. It was so old and hard to use nobody was using it."

When Luchinsky started, she found 110 catalog drawers of index cards. Each drawer contained between 1,100 and 1,200 cards conveying information about the song, including its writer or composer and its title. There is also a reference to the thousands of pieces of music the library has collected from donors, sellers, and philanthropists.

What the index cards refer to was always in much better condition. Sitting in the low-hanging pipes feeding water and heat to the upper two floors of the library. is every kind of music imaginable--a Jim Croce anthology; old operatic sheet music; off-Broadway musicals; soldiers' songs from all the wars dating back to the Revolutionary War; school songbooks from the'30s, '40s, and '50s; even a Bing Crosby biography, with words from some of his songs.

The process of compiling the database has been slow and tedious. Because it was just a chore, Luchinsky could only work on it in her spare time. …

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