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Music Division









The Music Division has custody of all material in class M, music copyright deposits, and special collections in music, theater, and dance. The class M holdings are organized according to the three major subdivisions of the class M schedule:

  • M--for music scores
  • ML--for literature about music
  • MT--for works on musical instruction and study
(See Library of Congress Call Numbers for a brief discussion of the Library's classification system.)


The division's card catalog reflects the class M organization with separate sections for the M, ML, and MT classes. The scores, or M, section of the card catalog contains bibliographic records for music scores cataloged before 1980. It is further subdivided into two alphabetical files, the first for personal names and the second for titles. A separate classed catalog, in call number order, is located at the end of the card catalog and provides subject access to scores. The ML and MT portions of the card catalog contain bibliographic records for books about music cataloged up to 1978. In each of these sections names, titles, and subjects are interfiled.

Scores and books about music cataloged after 1980 and 1978, respectively, may be found in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Searches in the online catalog may be limited by type of material; scores may be specified by selecting “music (printed)” as a search limit. There are, however, bibliographic records for older scores in the online catalog that would be excluded from such a search. If you are unable to locate a piece in either catalog, ask the reference librarian for assistance.3

Classified-only scores

The most important thing to remember when searching for music scores is that the card and online catalogs contain records for less than 20 percent of the Music Division's holdings. Most of the sheet music in the collection is classified only (assigned a classification number but not cataloged) or it is filed by its copyright registration number. To request a search for music by a woman that is not found in the catalogs, you must provide a composer's name and a description or genre of the kind of music sought. A reference librarian will then determine the appropriate call number. The researcher interested in the song repertoire of Carrie Jacobs Bond, for example, could submit a search request for music shelved under the call number M1621.B, where M1621 denotes scores of solo songs with piano accompaniment and .B relates to the composer's surname. Such a search, specifying “all” or “everything” instead of a distinctive title, would retrieve all the songs by Carrie Jacobs Bond classified under this number.

Copyright Deposits

Music copyright deposits are shelved by their copyright registration number. Those that predate 1978 are stored offsite and require two or three days to retrieve. The only bibliographic access to this material is through the catalogs of the Copyright Office. These catalogs are arranged in chronological segments by year of copyright registration: 1870-1897, 1898-1937, 1938-1945, 1946-1954, 1955-1970, and 1971-1977. Since 1978, registrations have been recorded in the online catalog of the Copyright Office. Entries are filed by title and claimant, which may be the composer or the publisher. The catalogs do not follow library filing rules, nor do they always allow for multiple access points through added entries. Researchers must be diligent in looking under every possible name or title in every possible time period related to their query.

Special Collections

Finding aids are on file in the reading room for special collections in music, theater, and dance that are processed and available for use. Researchers wishing to use special collections are advised to write or call before their visit to confirm the availability of the material they wish to see. At times, even processed collections are unavailable owing to additional processing requirements or conservation needs. Occasionally, individual items may be on exhibit and not accessible. It is the general policy of the Music Division that unprocessed collections are not served. When such unprocessed collections are in some semblance of order, however, it is possible to get special permission to see them. Such permission is granted on a case-by-case basis by the head of the Acquisitions and Processing Section in consultation with the head of the Reader Services Section.

A card index to selected correspondence is kept behind the circulation desk and may be examined upon request. Called the “salmon file,” for the color of the card stock on which it is typed, this index covers correspondence in special collections that were processed in the Music Division circa 1965-80. For correspondence in collections processed after 1980, the respective finding aids should be consulted. To find letters written by a particular individual, you must often search beyond that person's personal papers, unless the individual in question was meticulous about keeping copies of the correspondence she or he sent. The Martha Graham Collection, for example, contains little correspondence written by Graham. Many Graham letters are found in other collections, however, notably the Aaron Copland Collection, the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Collection, and a file known as Old Music Division Correspondence. These letters are all indexed in the salmon file.

Unpublished manuscripts, both music and literary, may require written permission from the author or composer, or their estate, before photocopies can be made. The Music Division maintains a permissions file with contact information identifying who holds rights to materials in many of its special collections and will share this information when available. It is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds rights and to obtain permission for use.

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