Ultimately, many libraries’ music collections are designed to be “browsing collections,” divided into genres so that library users can stumble upon similar sounds. But with less and less borrowing taking place in the library branch itself, we have to make our music collections easily browsable and discoverable online as well. Part of this involves assigning subject headings to each music catalogue record.
Most public libraries in Australia take their subject headings from the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). LCSH tends to focus strongly on classical music, and in a particularly academic way. Cataloguers can specify if the recording they’re describing includes concertos, sonatas, symphonies, etc., and can pick from an almost endless range of options for including instrumentation and arrangements:
At Digitales we mainly focus on popular music of all kinds, and we find that there are some areas where LCSH can’t quite describe the diversity of our libraries’ recorded music collections. Here are some of the issues I’ve encountered when working with music subject headings:
The one term you can’t use for Classical music under LSCH is “Classical music”. It will redirect you to “Music,” where you have to subdivide by century, instrument, etc. Sub-classifications based on time period, such as “Early music,” “Baroque” or “Romantic” aren’t allowed terms, which in a non-academic context makes some beautiful and distinctive styles of music much, much harder to find in a catalogue because you need to know which century they were written in.
The “Popular music” conundrum: This subject heading can be fairly useless on its own, because it covers anything from Doris Day, to Lady Gaga, to a variety of world music. Rock music is just as diverse. Even a genre like rap varies enormously, especially in its regional variations, e.g. Southern hip hop has a character of its own, but has no allowed subject term in LCSH. Cataloguers can qualify broad music genres such as these with geographic and chronological subdivisions to distinguish different styles or sounds, e.g. Britpop isn’t an allowed term, but you could use “Rock music – England – 1991-2000”.
Speaking of hip hop, there is an LCSH subject term for Hip-hop, but it’s not really intended to cover music. “Hip hop music” redirects back to “Rap (Music)”. In my humble opinion, the term “rap” doesn’t adequately describe all hip hop, and certainly doesn’t cover the diversity of “urban” music genres. “Rhythm and blues” doesn’t necessarily cut it either, depending on the artist.
There are plenty of Heavy Metal subgenres available in LCSH:
But there’s no term for Symphonic or Operatic Metal, which has a unique sound compared to other heavy music. I find the classical fusion of bands like Nightwish, Epica and Apocalyptica to be really interesting listening, and feel this genre deserves its own heading.
Electronic dance music is a bit of a minefield, in my opinion. I have a couple of particular pet peeves with electronic music cataloguing:
The comprehensive LCSH term for this kind of music is “Underground dance music,” rather than the more commonly used EDM. I don’t think anybody outside the library profession would search for this term.
The LCSH term “Dance music” is often used in electronic music records, but this heading actually refers specifically to ethnic folk dancing. Yes, this distinction is a bit pedantic, but on the other hand, Swedish House Mafia doesn’t really fit into the same category as traditional Nordic folk dances. I’ve also seen a fair amount of records using “Techno” as a blanket term, when it’s actually a very specific sub-genre.
For better searchability, and to help borrowers to make a decision without actually listening to the music, I think a good summary field is very useful in a music catalogue record. These are often not included, but can be helpful in describing whether, for example, a rock album is heavy or laid back, features distorted, jangly or driving guitar sounds, etc. etc. Even if these descriptions don’t help with the searching itself, sometimes having a description of the mood of a particular album is a really useful way to choose what to listen to. Tell your borrowers that this is great music for a cocktail party / knitting circle / romantic evening / whatever.
Now if you need me, tap me on the shoulder. I’ll have my headphones on…