Online Music Symbol Retrieval from the Access Angle

By Henigman, Barbara; Burbank, Richard D. | Information Technology and Libraries, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Online Music Symbol Retrieval from the Access Angle


Henigman, Barbara, Burbank, Richard D., Information Technology and Libraries


The symbols for sharp and flat in music notation present special problems for the retrieval of music materials from online catalogs. The authors surveyed music technical services librarians to determine how these retrieval problems are dealt with in the confines of individual online catalogs, while noting parallels with their earlier study of the same problem from the perspective of online catalog vendors. The results of the study revealed that there is much variation in the music symbol retrieval capabilities of individual online systems, and that music technical services librarians are only somewhat satisfied with the manner in which different online systems deal with this problem.

In our 1992 article we surveyed vendors of online systems to determine whether or not, during the systems design process, vendors considered problems posed by music symbols in online catalogs: "Since the inception of online catalogs, librarians and patrons have discovered that trying to retrieve various manifestations of musical works containing music symbols in their titles can be an extremely frustrating experience."[1] Our conclusions indicated that vendors and designers of online systems do not always consider music symbols within the context of system design, or special retrieval needs presented by their presence in bibliographic and authority records.[2] As a result of our findings, we decided to survey music technical services librarians to find out how these retrieval problems are handled within the confines of individual library online catalogs. We hypothesized that there is a large degree of variation in the way that music technical services librarians rate various online systems in terms of music symbol retrieval. As with our earlier study, we defined the problem in terms of the musical sharp (#) and musical flat (b) symbols, because these symbols commonly occur in the music cataloging process and often pose serious retrieval problems.

The questionnaire for this survey was designed to encompass several issues (see appendix B). Librarians were asked to indicate how musical symbols were treated by their system during the search process. Sections of the questionnaire were devoted to searching for bibliographic records in the online catalog, as well as authority records in the online authority file. Librarians were also asked to indicate how they rated the effectiveness of their system in retrieving records containing music symbols and the effectiveness of the system supplied documentation. Survey participants also indicated whether or not they participated in discussions of their system with other users.

Because many music technical services librarians work with online systems designed by the same vendor, a population was established that would be large enough to reflect the circumstances and considerations of individuals who deal with this problem in the course of their original cataloging work, and who use online systems designed by many of the vendors surveyed in Music Symbols and Online Catalogs: A Survey of Vendors and an Assessment of Retrieval Capabilities.[3] Of particular interest was identifying any parallels within a broad grouping of music libraries. We also sought to identify parallels between the data reported by vendors in the earlier article and music technical services librarians who are confronted with this problem on a regular or frequent basis.

A Survey of Librarians

The population pool was designed to include a wide variety of music libraries within the United States. The population consisted of the following groups: (1) music libraries that are part of an ARL (Association of Research Libraries) library; (2) all institutions listed in the Gourman report of graduate and undergraduate programs in music[4]; (3) conservatory libraries[5]; (4) United States institutions identified as having important music collections in the noted article -Music Libraries in North America"[6]; (5) a list of music libraries considered by OCLC contributing music catalogers to perform excellent OCLC Enhance work on music materials. …

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