Cataloging Music Sound Recordings in the United States: An Evolution of Practice and Standards

By Strader, C. Rockelle | Notes, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Cataloging Music Sound Recordings in the United States: An Evolution of Practice and Standards


Strader, C. Rockelle, Notes


ABSTRACT

The bibliographic control of sound recordings has been an issue ever since libraries began acquiring them. The description of recordings is generally more difficult than that for print materials, due to the prominence of both composers, as creators of the works recorded, and the performer(s) of these works, and also to the anthology-like nature of many recordings. One of the foremost problems with recordings is whether to catalog each work on the recording separately or the entire recording as a unit. The variety of ways in which works have been packaged has necessitated changes to cataloging and description standards over the years in order to consistently display information to users to support their decision making. This account looks back at how the cataloging of sound recordings has been handled over the decades, to provide a historical context in which to place the development and adoption of Resource Description and Access (RDA) as it relates to description and access of sound recordings.

INTRODUCTION

The bibliographic control of sound recordings has been an issue ever since libraries began acquiring them in the 1920s and 1930s. It quickly became apparent that the description of (and access to) recordings is generally more difficult than that for print materials, due primarily to the prominence of both composers, as creators of the works recorded, and the performer(s) of these works, and also to the anthology-like nature of many recordings. As Gordon Stevenson noted in 1963, "We are not classifying monographs, but 'bound withs.'" (1) One of the foremost problems with recordings is whether to catalog each work on the recording separately, or the entire recording as a unit.

The purpose of this account is to look back at how the cataloging of sound recordings has been handled over the decades, including the issue of unit of cataloging, in order to provide a historical context in which to place the development and adoption of Resource Description and Access (RDA) as it relates to the cataloging of sound recordings. Analysis and comparisons of early local practices, the evolving standards, and their interpretations will be presented primarily chronologically, in order to reflect changes in sound recording technologies and cataloging practices.

It is hoped that this project will contribute to research in library history and the development of cataloging standards. This paper will follow the outline below:

* Introduction: The beginnings of sound recordings and their use in libraries

* 1930s-1950s: From local practices to national standards

* 1960s-1980s: From scores and recordings to consolidated treatment of formats

* 1990s-2010s: From description to access

* Conclusion: The more things change....

INTRODUCTION: THE BEGINNINGS OF SOUND RECORDINGS AND THEIR USE IN LIBRARIES

In 1877, Thomas Edison constructed the first device capable of capturing and reproducing sound. This marked the beginning of the development of a nonvisual technology for the recording and dissemination of information. For the first twenty years or so, however, it was mainly a novelty. It was only after 1898 that mechanical refinements to the phonograph, in addition to the stability of wax cylinders and plastic discs, led to a rapid increase in its popularity.

Around 1910, libraries began to recognize public interest in nonprint formats. One of the earliest published mentions of sound recordings in libraries was by Arthur E. Bostwick in his book, The American Public Library (1910), in which he cites the use of phonograph records in his support for the circulation of music in any format, which was seldom done at the time:

   Music, in the average public library, is probably of more value as
   part of the circulating than of the reference collection, yet the
   largest and best collections in the United States are held for use
   in the library, where they are of value to no one but the student. … 

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