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Tips for using the Music Division
of the Library of Congress

[This web page originally appeared as an article in the Washington Guitar Society newsletter No. 37, March 1998. As long as LC is not crazy enough to change its classification system, the advice given here should remain valid. I hope... DS, Oct 2019.]

All the links in this Table of Contents are internal:

We're off!

The Library of Congress (LC) is a treasure trove, but you probably know that it isn't a lending library and that you can't poke around the stacks yourself. As such, it doesn't make such a great tourist stop for book lovers and/or - in our case - music lovers. (For anybody with eyes, though, the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building is a knockout.) But when you have a project in mind - and that could be something purely recreational - the Library of Congress is one of the most fantastic places to be.

I know a few of the ropes - not all of them, by any means - but some are useful and nonobvious enough to pass on to other potential users. These remarks are geared toward the use of the Music Division. Further, they are geared toward the music division's "old stuff". By this I generally mean the holdings which are cataloged in the old-fashioned way - on cards in wooden drawers. (I never fully understood what happens with music received after about 1980, when computer cataloging took over. My current best guess is some sort of sheet music purgatory.)

Suppose you have a project in mind, where do you start? Well, first there's the mundane stuff like getting a library card, signing in, etc. See Appendix 1.

Ok, that's out of the way.

Now you're standing in the music division reading room without a clue. No big deal - that's how everybody starts. The librarians are more than happy to help. So you just walk up to the information desk and ask for assistance.

Still, wouldn't it be kind of nice to be self-sufficient? That's what these tips are all about.

Rewind... You're standing in the music division reading room - but not without a clue. You know the name of the composer, or the piece, or the subject you're interested in. Suppose you're a guitarist with a cellist friend and you're looking for music for that combination. We'll make this our running example. If you have a specific piece or composer in mind, you could go directly for it, but I suggest this isn't the best - and certainly not the most fun - way to proceed.

My advice is to generally request a larger batch of material that should include the thing(s) you think you want. This approach is akin to browsing the stacks, and I think of it as the "browse mode" of requesting material. It is perfectly ok to do - necessary, in fact. The librarians understand that the card catalog doesn't show everything, and if we limit ourselves to catalog entries, there are items which would never be found. Moreover, it is actually easier for them to just haul up a whole box for you rather than root around in it for your specific request. "In the old daysh, Shonny," (into the 1980s) they would roll a cart filled with boxes of material right up to your desk. Nowadays they let you have one box at a time, but that's ok.

This is where the excitement is - looking over the things that you didn't explicitly request. You may find other pieces by the same composer, or pieces written for the same instruments by composers you've never heard of. Neat! But we're ahead of ourselves.

Rewind... You're standing in the music division reading room with a few words bouncing around your head - guitar, cello, duets... Now what?

The best self-starting point is a set of four big, red books called Library of Congress Subject Headings. (See Appendix 2 for their location.) These books list a staggering number of subjects (everything that's ever been thought about?) - and they are thoroughly cross-referenced. The main thing you need to know is that the term "USE" means "see" or "go to". For example, if you look up "Cello", you will be told to "USE Violoncello". If you look up "Duos", you will be told to "USE Duets". No matter what you choose as your starting point - guitar, cello, violoncello, duets, duos - you will eventually be led to the official LC subject designation "Violoncello and guitar music" and its classification numbers M294-295.

What is the meaning of these two classes? What is the difference between them? At the information desk ask for the notebook called LC Classes. This notebook has the same information as a book I call Gale's Class M for short. The book is much handier, though. After visiting the music division for more than 10 years, I stumbled on a copy of "Gale's Class M". Thumbing through it, I had a glorious sensation of the brain clouds lifting. It finally became clear what all those classification numbers were about. I think the music division should have copies of "Gale's Class M" lying everywhere. As it is, you can find a copy in the reference section. The call number is "Z 696.U6 G357 1996 Class M", but that's not even on the spine. Just look for a book labeled Super LCCS on the bottom shelf in the reference section numbered "27".

When you look up M294-295 you see those numbers designate the more general "One string and one plectral instrument" (which is a subclass of "Music for two or more solo instruments", which is a subclass of "Instrumental music", and so forth, up and up the line.) So the guitar/cello duets will be mixed in with guitar/violin, harp/violin, banjo/viola (if anybody's written such a thing), etc.

Gale's Class M also tells us the distinction between M294 and M295:

              Class here original compositions and arrangements
        M294    Collections
        M295    Separate works  

This is generally the case when you see a consecutive pair of class numbers. Each of the two classes may contain original works and arrangements. The second of the pair may be the most self-explanatory: a "separate work" is a publication containing a single piece, what we usually call "sheet music". The first class of the pair, "collections", is for anything else. A collection may be a book or booklet containing multiple pieces, or a set of separate pieces of sheet music that are all related. See Appendix 5 for more discussion of collections and how they are filed. (Besides this 2-class breakdown, there is another common breakdown which uses 5 consecutive class numbers. This will be described later.)

In fuzzy terms, you would expect the second class of the pair to have "higher brow" material, BUT... Once you get a feel for that distinction, ignore it. You may find gems in the first and clunkers in the second. It'd be unnatural if you didn't, actually.

So, we're ready to submit our call slips, right? Hold your horses. The next thing you need to know is that there is the potential for "bound" and "unbound" material in every class. Bound items have hard covers; unbound material means boxes full of sheet music and thin booklets. While the distinction sounds completely superficial, bound and unbound are stored separately and you need to specify your choice on the call slip - in this browse mode, at least. Nowhere that I know of is this issue of bound vs. unbound explained, or even mentioned, to the users of the music division.

Now you are ready to "browse" the guitar/cello area of the stacks. You could theoretically do it with 4 call slips. Where the call slip asks for "Book/Serial/Music Title", write "guitar and cello", or "string-plectral duos" or anything along those lines. You may leave the "Author/Composer" blank. In the "Call Number" spaces on the 4 slips, you would write:

        M295 A-Z  (ALL boxes) 
        M295 A-Z  (ALL bound)
        M294 A-Z  (ALL boxes)
        M294 A-Z  (ALL bound)  

This is the order I would suggest - roughly highest to lowest brow, most to least material. In most, if not all, of the classes I've worked with, there is a lot more music in the boxes than is bound. This is not surprising, since much (most?) of the music at the Library of Congress was given a class when it was received, but not otherwise cataloged, and the uncataloged music just goes into the boxes. (This does not mean that only uncataloged pieces are in the boxes.) "Boxes" is clearer than "unbound" since "boxes" is what they will be hauling up.

Tip: save the carbon copies of all your call slips. They come in handy if you ever need to submit the same, or a similar, request.

The first time around, you'll have no idea how much material is in a class, of course. Talk with the librarian; he may or may not have an idea. Ask yourself how much material you can deal with on your visit. Not only would you not submit all 4 call slips at once, you might break each one down further.

A sensible plan is to request "first 3 boxes" or "first 5 boxes" instead of "all boxes". That may cover everything, A-Z, but if not, submit a slip for the "next 3 boxes" (starting at the next point in the alphabet) as you're finishing up with your first batch of material.

After bringing up however many boxes, they will only dole out one box at a time to you. Within a box the pieces are ordered alphabetically - by composer in a separate works class; and by some important word or name in a collection class. Make sure you keep the contents scrupulously in order. Return that box to pick up the next box.

Tip: keep a record of the alphabet range shown on each box. This is very handy for calling up just the box you want in the future.

With the bound material you can, in fact, request a "whole cart's worth". They will roll it right up to your desk. Again, keep everything in perfect order. If at all possible, pull off only one book at a time. Use a stiff cardboard or plastic sheet to mark where it goes back on the cart. Inform the librarian when you find something misfiled or misclassified. You'll feel really important! When you've exhausted that cart, submit another request. Note the call number of a book at or near the end of your last cart of the day so you can submit a request starting at that point on your next visit.

In addition to the bound and unbound regular material in both classes, there is still the possibility of rare material to be considered. The LC music division uses the word "case" for rare material, because it is, or was, kept in a secured case of sorts. Don't be intimidated by the words "rare material"; you (yes, even you) can request it without fear of the third degree and with only a few more procedures to follow. Don't be surprised, though, when you find things in the regular boxes which are as old and precious as the case items. (Better yet: be surprised!)

You could submit 4 more call slips as shown below for the case material,

        M295 A-Z  case (ALL boxes)
        M295 A-Z  case (ALL bound)
        M294 A-Z  case (ALL boxes)
        M294 A-Z  case (ALL bound)
but I would suggest talking to a librarian first. He might know in advance that it would be wasted effort. See my web page on guitar music at the Library of Congress for a list of all the solo guitar case items. There are only about 13 items, so you can see how exclusive it is. I understand that all items published prior to 1800 are "case", but for various reasons (or maybe for no good reason) some more recent items are designated "case".

So there you have it: 4 call slips (and maybe 4 more for the rare items) will bring up everything in the 2 related classes. For a variety of reasons, though, there may be straggler pieces of the sort you are looking for filed in other classes. Tracking them all down may not be feasible, but one thing you can do is flip through the M294-295 cards in the Classed Catalog. (See Appendix 2.) That catalog shows some cross referencing - specifically, where you see a telltale, red, handwritten class number. As an example, there may be a piece for bassoon or cello and guitar which is filed with the "bassoon and guitar music". A considerate cataloger may have taken a duplicate of that card, written a red "M295" on it and filed it among the M295 cards in the Classed catalog. See Appendix 6 for some more classes to consider searching.

If you know you are only interested in a specific composer - Nathanael Diesel, say - and not interested in browsing the whole class, I would still recommend a similar "umbrella" approach. Don't ask for just M295.Diesel - ask for "M295 D (whole box that would contain Diesel)". Make it clear you want the box whether or not it has any Diesel in it. The point is, you have a lot more time to go through the box carefully than the LC technician does. They can miss things. You are actually making it easier on them. Plus, it's so much fun rooting through the LC collection.

Try the same umbrella strategy even for a specific item. Suppose you found a guitar and viola da gamba duet by Diesel in the card catalog. (It's not there, actually.) On the call slip, make a note to the effect: "plus nearby items by Diesel". It might snag other pieces, or different editions of the same piece. Or it might not snag anything, but you tried.

The other class breakdown you will encounter uses 5 consecutive numbers (as opposed to the pair in the above discussion.) For example, there are 5 numbers assigned to "Guitar music": M125-129. LC Classes describes them as follows:

        M125   Miscellaneous collections
        M126   Original compositions - Collections
        M127   Original compositions - Separate works
        M128   Arrangements - Collections
        M129   Arrangements - Separate works

All of the preceding advice for the 2-class subdivision applies to this 5-class subdivision. It would take 10 call slips, nominally, to pull all the solo guitar music up (disregarding the rare material.) There would be bound and unbound material in each of the 5 classes. Again, you probably wouldn't ask for everything in one class at once. And again, don't apply great significance to these subdivisions. M127 is the most "high brow", but important things like a Giuliani Rossiniane might be found in the "lowly" arrangement class, M129.

I'll wrap up with two more points of interest. First, the music division leaves out a cart or two of new acquisitions which can be quite mind-boggling - things you'd never see in a book or music store. In fact, I wonder that there aren't folks who keep continual tabs on it, both in the pursuit of their own musical interests, and for the fun of discovering other neat things. As a personal example, I see no end to new books which have references to the Beatles, but which would never be found by searching a library database for "beatles". The other day (May 2001), I found a wonderful book on mechanical singing birds - something that would never even have occurred to me to look for. Once a book leaves the new books cart, it has little chance of ever being stumbled on by old-fashioned browsing (and probably not much more by new-fangled electronic "browsing".) This should bring a tear to an old-time book-lover's eye...

Lastly, since the LC is not a lending library, they have been thoughtful enough to provide rooms for playing music from their collection. Three of them are large and have pianos. If you play a portable instrument, such as a guitar, you are more than welcome to bring it in and set up in a piano room or one of the smaller listening rooms.

Appendix 1 - First Steps for LC Readers

The Library of Congress now requires you to have a library card. Go to the Reader Registration room in the Madison building, down the hall to the left from the public entrance. The music division might let that slide for out-of-towners on a lightning visit, but the best plan is just to get one. It doesn't take long. For more precise instructions, I'm sure you can find them on the Library of Congress website.

The Music Division is located in the Madison building, the newest one, just across the street south of the Jefferson building. The official name of the room is the "Performing Arts Reading Room". It's on the same level as the main entrance on Independence Avenue. From the main entrance, you walk counter-clockwise 1/4 of the way around the hallways, which make a big square.

When you enter the music division, sign the logbook and present your card. Most people scribble a perfunctory "research" under "Purpose of visit". Be bold: proudly proclaim "guitar and cello", if that's what you're doing.

Select a desk. Note that some desks are reserved for the use of rare material. Now you are ready to get down to serious work. Or is it play?

By the way, if you want to use the main reading room, it is in the Jefferson building. This is the old, domed building. (The formerly green dome was scrubbed down to copper in the late 1990s.) The "Researcher entrance" to the Jefferson building is at the back of the building - the side away from the Capitol. This and the music division are open on Saturdays.

Appendix 2 - LC Music Division Card Catalogs

The card catalogs are "complete to 1980", whereupon computers took over. The 5 most important card catalogs are the "Name", "Title", "Literature about music", "Music theory" and "Classed" catalogs. For instance, if you want to look up a composer, go to the Name catalog. If you're interested in guitar methods, the Music Theory catalog incorporates "musical instruction and study".

A musical piece of any sort is called a "score". Its call number starts with M. Items in the Literature catalog start with ML. Items in the Music Theory catalog start with MT. That covers everything in the music division.

The card catalogs are in numbered rows. The Name catalog starts in row 3. The Title catalog starts in row 4. The Literature About Music catalog and the Music Theory catalog start in row 6. The Classed catalog starts in what would be row 7, if row 7 had a number, which it doesn't.

Rows 1 and 2 are shelves of reference books. For instance, you can find a set of Grove's there.

The set of big, red Library of Congress Subject Headings books used to be on top of a small, metal file cabinet against the wall opposite the entrance. I don't know where they are now. If they are no longer accessible, I suggest starting your search with the first few drawers of the Classed catalog. Look up "cello" or "guitar", etc., alphabetically, and the cards will tell you the associated class numbers. This catalog makes no claim to completeness, and certainly hasn't been kept up to date, but it can be useful. It should guide you to the right place in Gale's Class M, which is very (if not absolutely) up-to-date and complete.

The Classed catalog makes no attempt to include all the scores in the LC collection, but is interesting and very useful nonetheless. It includes the "most important" works, and gives an overview of what the LC music collection contains.

Suppose you want to see a Vivaldi Concerto for flute. You could find it by looking up Vivaldi in the Name catalog. And maybe you could find it in the Title catalog. But if you check flute concertos (M1020-1021) in the Classed catalog, there may be interesting discoveries on neighboring cards. In this example, you would find another concerto for piccolo or flute or recorder by Vivaldi that maybe you didn't know about, and concertos for flute by other composers. Flipping through the Classed catalog corresponds to browsing the stacks.

In May 2001 I discovered another valuable function of the Classed catalog: it actually shows more classes than Gale's Class M or the LC Class notebook. For example, I found cards in the Name catalog for M1563, a class not listed in the aforementioned books. M1560 is for secular/vocal/male voices/piano accompaniment. The next class listed is M1570, secular/vocal/treble voices/piano accompaniment. With a few more pieces of evidence, I eventually figured out that the last digit, "3", indicates the number of parts. Then it was pointed out to me that the Classed catalog would have told me this. Just look up M1563, and the first card specifies what that class is for.

Appendix 3 - LC Music Division Copy Machines

There are 3 self-service copiers in the music division. They can only be operated by a copy card. The cost of copies was jacked up (June 2001) to 20 cents for both sizes - letter (8.5 x 11 inches) and ledger (11 x 17 inches). Also, one machine is loaded with legal-size (8.5 x 14 inches) instead of ledger-size. Since there's no price advantage now, I hope they'll replace the legal-size paper with ledger. (The legal-size paper was there mostly at my instigation, I think.)

The copy card costs 40 cents and can be used forever. You have to get it from the Newspaper and Periodical reading room, which is exactly half-way around the Madison building from the music division, on the same floor.

The current machines are Xerox and were installed in late 2000. They are very disappointing. The auto-exposure mode gives a slightly dark copy - and very likely streaked, as well. If the background on the original is very clean, I use one step lighter than the median. That eliminates almost all of the streaking, too. If the background is not so clean, I go to the lightest setting. (There are only 2 steps down.) These machines do NOT do a good job taking out background. When you go to the lightest setting, black areas on the original will start to turn gray. This is in heartbreaking contrast to the previous machines (Ricoh) which were astonishing in their ability to leave very, very fine black lines perfectly intact while turning coffee-colored background snow white.

On the plus side, these Xerox machines do the best job I've seen of copying way up into the crook of an opened book. The material is distorted, of course, but sharp, and you get an acceptable light gray background instead of the very dark gray, or black, that I always figured was a basic law of nature.

These machines are set up to keep your settings for a nice long time - several minutes, I think - so you hardly have to worry about the machine resetting itself between copies.

Appendix 4 - Copyright concerns

Copyright has expired on everything 75 or more years old. [Note, Oct 2009: I'm not sure this is still true. I think the protection was extended further forward and maybe further back a few years ago in the wake of various very valuable works, such as owned by Disney, getting close to entering the public domain.] Also, copyright has expired[?] on everything which was originally copyrighted before 1964 but wasn't renewed for a second term (at the end of its first 28 year period.) That can be determined with the help of the copyright office (in the same building as the music division), but it's painful.

I don't know about you, but I can only gnash my teeth at this insane system of copyright which works against both the copyright holder and the potential users. The user can't have a copy; the owner gets no money. You can stay legal by playing copyrighted music at the library, but is that morally any better than making an illegal copy and playing it at home? In both cases the copyright owner gets nothing.

Wouldn't a compulsory license fee make more sense - where you could go ahead and make a copy and send a few bucks to the copyright owner or a collection agency? How come it's always up to me to solve these problems?

Appendix 5 - Collections vs. separate works.

Once again, here is the standard 2-class breakdown. Specifically, M294-M295 are the classes for duos made up of 1 plucked string instrument and 1 bowed string instrument. Whenever we see 2 classes with consecutive numbers the interpretation is the same. For example, M276-M277 are guitar and piano duos, and M1105-M1106 are works for guitar with string orchestra.

              Class here original compositions and arrangements
        M294    Collections
        M295    Separate works  

And once again, here is the standard 5-class breakdown. M125-M129 are the classes devoted to solo guitar, but 5 consecutive class numbers will always mean the same thing. For example, M365-M369 are guitar trio classes, and M465-M469 are guitar quartet classes.

        M125   Miscellaneous collections
        M126   Original compositions - Collections
        M127   Original compositions - Separate works
        M128   Arrangements - Collections
        M129   Arrangements - Separate works

In both the 2- and the 5-class breakdowns, we see a distinction made between "collections" and "separate works". What does this mean? I don't know how the library officially defines them, but here's what it means to me based on my "digs". (My guitar friend Bob aptly refers to my activity at the Library of Congress as "archaeology".)

For the sake of cataloging, the most "well-behaved" music publication is a single piece (perhaps multi-movement) with an identified composer in a separate edition. This is a "separate work". It could be an original composition for the instrument(s) in question, or it may be arranged for the instrument(s). In either case, the "separate work" is filed by the composer name.

In the 2-class breakdown, original and arranged "separate works" get tossed in the same box (filed by composer.) In the 5-class breakdown, original compositions have their own boxes, and arrangements have theirs.

"Collections" are the editions which are not so well-behaved. Commonly, a collection may be an edition which contains pieces by more than one composer. That could be a thick anthology - or a single-pager that happens to have 2 pieces by different composers. (If a booklet is fat enough, it would probably be bound with hard covers and stored with the bound material in that class - not in the boxes.) Also, a booklet containing multiple works by a single composer is considered a "collection".

No surprises there, but there is another sense to "collection" - a more literal one where a publisher puts out a bunch of editions in some sort of set. Each edition in the set may lend itself perfectly to cataloging as a "separate work", but the librarian felt a stronger pull to keep all of the editions physically together in a box rather than break up the set and file each piece by composer.

Typically, all of the pieces in such a set would have the same, or very similar, cover art and text. There's probably some sort of a name for the set, such as "Gems of the Season arranged for the Guitar by W. L. Hayden", or "Brainard's New & Popular Songs for Guitar", or simply "Guitar Pastimes".

How are collections filed? The answer is: any way you can imagine. The collection may be filed by the title, or a key word in the title; or the arranger's name (whether or not it's in the title); or the composer's name (such as for a booklet containing only one composer.)

Here are just a few examples taken from the M128 B- box. There were editions filed under "BAROQUE music for guitar"; "BARTOK for the guitar"; "BEHREND" (arranger); "BEST of Bream" (not "Bream"!); and "BRAINARD" (publisher).

A collection of individual guitar duos published as "20 choice melodies from the operas", all arranged by Justin Holland, was filed under M128.TWENTY. (Duos in a solo guitar class? There are reasons why things like this happen.) A booklet called "25 solos for guitar" was filed at the beginning of the M125.A- box, I suppose because the librarian who handled that one figured numbers precede letters.

What's the point of all this? That there is absolutely no hope of knowing for sure where something is filed in the collection classes. For example, if you are looking for arrangements of Chopin's music for solo guitar, you would start by checking under M129.Cho- for the "separate works". Going to the collection classes, you might have some luck looking under Cho- in M125 and M128. BUT... you would still need to go through every item, A-Z, in those classes. (And don't forget the bound material.)

If for some reason you are interested in the work of a particular arranger for solo guitar, you might find something filed under his name in the collection classes, but, again, there is no way around checking every item, A-Z, in those classes. (Researcher beware! Long before you find all of what you set out to find, you are likely to be sidetracked by lots of other neat discoveries.)

Appendix 6 - More searching tips

More than a year after writing the main body of this article, I am still discovering things about the music division at the Library of Congress. Some classes are dedicated to a time frame of publication, and thus may include works for any and all instrumental and vocal combinations imaginable.

One class, M1.A1, includes scores published in the U.S. before 1820. Another class, M1.A13, includes scores published in the U.S. between 1820 and 1860.

M1.A13 is a huge class. I've told the anecdote elsewhere in my web pages of looking for guitar pieces by Justin Holland in the M1.A13 class. Using my "browse mode" described in this page, I naively submitted a slip for M1.A13 Ho- "whole box". Well, they brought up a whole cart of boxes! Nothing starting with He- or Hi- or Hanything else! Just composers starting with Ho-!

Thus, you can see it would hardly be feasible searching through the whole class. If you hope to find hits in this class, submitting a slip for M1.A13 followed by the name of a composer or arranger is about the best you can do. For example, M1.A13 Holland will bring up a few pieces, but if there are pieces arranged by Holland filed under a composer's name, I'd say you're more or less out of luck. You could guess at potential composers - but be careful. Calling up M1.A13 Bellini, for example, would bury you under a mountain of boxes!

My understanding is that the earlier class, M1.A1, is not nearly so gargantuan.

Then there is the rest of M1.A to M1.Z. I'm not sure what the criteria for inclusion in this range of call numbers is. In fact, it's not described - or even mentioned - in the LC Classes notebook. (I haven't checked Gale's Class M.) But I'm told there is a variety of material filed there. I believe the call numbers here act like those we've seen in the "collection" classes; that is, the letter following "M1." may be the first word of a title, or any other important word.

What alerted me to this class was a 19th century American publication I saw in the card catalog. The call number was M1.G88; the name of the publication was "Guitar Jewels". Much later, I started wondering, "What is M1.G? Is it be a repository for lots of neat, old guitar publications?" No, the "G" comes about from the title "Guitar Jewels". It might be sitting next to "Gulliver's Favorite Cornet Pieces", for all I know. If you wanted to unearth all the guitar publications, say, in M1.A-Z, you would have to go through it item by item.

Whew, is there any end?

Sorry, not yet. Let's suppose you have a specific, public domain, U.S. publication in mind. You have thoroughly checked all of the music division classes (bound and unbound!) where there is any reasonable chance of finding it, and it didn't turn up. Time to give up? No. It may be stored off-site with the copyright deposits.

To get at that, you need to know the title of the piece and the year of copyright. You should also know the publisher (if he is the copyright claimant.) Composer and arranger, as such, are not useful here.

Armed with this information, you head up to the copyright division on the 4th floor of the same building (weekdays only). You find the copyright card catalog which encompasses the year the piece was registered.

These card catalogs - at least, the one which goes up to 1897 - are a real trip. The cards are filled with tiny, neat handwriting. As an example, if you're looking for the title "In the merry, merry spring", you will find it entered on a card headed "In" - but not listed alphabetically. The titles were added to the cards in the order they were registered. And there may have been many titles registered in 1894, say, starting with "In". (The card catalog is for all copyrights: books, music, periodicals, etc.) The title would be written, "___ the merry, merry spring". They never rewrote the main word; always drawing an underscore where that word would appear.

The copyright office gave users one primitive search tool. They may have also listed the title under one other keyword, such as "spring", in this case. So on the batch of cards under the heading "Spring", you might spy the entry, "In the merry, merry ___."

Or, you can look up the publisher - again, presuming he's the copyright claimant - and, for the year in question, find the title you are looking for. Whichever place you find your title, copy down the Registration Number.

Then, back in the music division, get a form for pulling copyright deposits. For each piece, you supply just the title, registration number, and year - nothing else. Have a librarian fax it over, and... either it's found or it's not. One satisfying aspect of this procedure is that, if the piece isn't found, you can rest assured it truly is not there. This is in opposition to the music division, where you always have the feeling that, when a slip comes back checked "Not on shelf", that the item is down there somewhere.

I have had some success with pulling copyright deposits, so it is doable. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might come up empty-handed. You also might get something you didn't expect. The copyright card catalog doesn't necessarily tell you anything about the piece beyond the title and claimant. So you might think you found the guitar piece you are looking for, but what comes back is a piano piece!

It may be worth relating my first copyright deposit experience. I was looking for a piano piece called the "Rambling Ebenezer Cakewalk". I checked all of the likely music division classes (and there are many more classes for piano than for other instruments) and couldn't find it. Then I started to ask librarians for help. When you ask a reference librarian for help, the first thing he will do is turn to his computer and start tap-tap-tapping on the computer keyboard. I stand there quietly and patiently and politely while he does this, even though it has never turned up anything useful in all the years I've been going there. (Keep in mind, though, I'm only interested in "old stuff".) When they get that out of their systems, then we can get down to business.

In this case, though, no suggestions turned up anything. After several weeks, I asked a fourth librarian if he had any ideas. After suggesting something that was either a long-shot, or I had already tried, it hit him, "Try the copyright deposit! I'll bet it's there. I know it's there." And it was.

Why it had never occurred to me to check the copyright deposits was because I thought nothing was held back from the music division's collection until more recent decades. In other words, I had erroneously thought that all copyright deposits of music were added to the appropriate music division classes up until the music division started getting swamped in recent times.

I hope others might benefit from my experience. The point is, the librarians do not automatically think about the copyright deposits when trying to track down a piece, so you should be aware of this possibility.


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Helpful keywords not in the main text: LC is referred to as LoC by many outlandish folk.