Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Dewey Decimal System And Musical Scores

-->Today, December 10, 2008, is the 157th anniversary of Melville Dewey’s birth. Libraries and their users of course owe a great deal to Dewey and his Dewey Decimal System that has existed since 1876. (Dewey is also reputed to have invented the vertical file, a method that we continue to use).

The Dewey Decimal System ideally allows library users to browse the shelves and find related material on the same subject. This works particularly well with musical scores. We have created a webpage that enumerates the Dewey Decimal numbers used for the score collection at the San Francisco Public Library.

Using this list allows musicians to scan for scores on the shelves by form or instrumentation. It is also possible to scan the contents of our collection through our online catalog. The library catalog has a query window for searching by call number. Every call number consists of two, or sometimes three parts—the call number proper, the cutter, and sometimes a number for the year or edition of the work.
Here are some common call number searches:

782 – Piano/Vocal scores of operas

782.7 – Piano/Vocal scores of musicals and operetta

784.5 – Piano/Vocal scores of popular songs

786.4 – Piano solos

787.11 – Violin and Piano solos

787.61 – Guitar solos

788.51 – Flute solos

The call number proper is a three digit number, sometimes followed by digits after the decimal point. The cutter starts with a letter, usually followed by some numbers that denote the primary author of the work followed by an additional letter or letters to refer to the exact work. The third line, when there is one, is employed to differentiate editions of a work by their year of publication.

Take the following call number for a piano reduction of the Nutcracker Suite (called Shchelkunchik in the original Russian) by Tchaikovsky.


The Dewey Decimal number 782.9 is used for piano scores of ballet music. “T219” is the cutter for Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. The following “s” refers to the official title (known in library circles as the uniform title) of the work, Shchelkunchik. Finally 1968 at the end distinguishes this Tschaikovsky Foundation published in 1968 from other editions in the same format.

The San Francisco Public Library score collection has some long standing idiosyncrasies in its application of the Dewey Decimal System. Many scores continue to have what is called a “partial cutter”—a now obsolete method of saving time in cataloging where the first two or three letters of an author or composers last name is used instead of the preferred combination of letters and numbers. In our example above, Tchaikovsky would be given “Ts” instead of “T219.”

We also use a number of specialized prefixes to cutters. The letter “M” in front of the cutter for the call number 785 (the number for full scores) is used for miniature or study scores. The letter “O” used on the cutter of the same call number refers to sets of parts for orchestral works. The letter “X” on the cutter of a call number is used for a category of scores in our collection known as “x-class.” This practice that has been used at the San Francisco Public Library for nearly 100 years allows scores in softer bindings to be shelved together. These are often works containing multiple parts. A final cutter prefix to consider is the letter “Z.” This is used to distinguish books about musical forms or instruments from scores. 782.9 without a “Z” is a piano reduction of a ballet score. A “Z” in front of the cutter is used for books about ballet music.

If you are visiting the Library for the first time, the score collection is located in the Art, Music & Recreation Center on the Fourth floor of the Main Library. Circulating scores are shelved separately from the book collection and are located directly behind the Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk. Please visit or call the reference desk if you have any questions.


andy said...

How many scores does you library contain?

San Francisco Public Library, Art, Music and Recreation Center said...

It's hard to know the exact number. We have approximately 29,000 titles listed in our catalog, but there may be an additional 1,000 titles that haven't yet been included in the online catalog. We have multiple copies for many of our scores, so there are at least 45,000 actual items. Our Dorothy Starr sheet music collection has 32,000 title records.