Wow, the blog has been lonely lately, hasn't it? It's almost as if there are too many things floating around in my head that I can't get any of them fully formed enough to even write about here.
One of those many floating thoughts has been subject headings for music. Many traditional schemes, like LCSH, make a distinction between headings used for works about music, and headings used for music itself. For example, "Symphonies" is used for music scores and recordings of symphonies. But "Symphony" is assigned to texts about symphonies.
Obviously at first glance the distinction between the two forms is subtle. Even if a user realized the potential for this distinction being made (!), it would be difficult for that user to determine which form to use in which case. In my library catalog, a subject browse on "symphonies" lists first an entry for 5407 matches, then second, "see related headings for: symphonies." Clicking on the latter yields a screen saying "Search topics related to the subject SYMPHONIES," but no way to actually do that. This is probably because the authority record for symphonies has no 550s specifying any related headings. Geez. Both because the system shows this anyways and because there are no related headings. [Yet another NOTE: the mechanism for specifying a heading is broader or narrower than another heading in the MARC authority format is ridiculously complicated. No wonder the relationships between LCSH headings are so poor.] This same screen is also where one would view the scope note for the heading "symphonies":
Here are entered symphonies for orchestra. Symphonies for other mediums of performance are entered under this heading followed by the medium, e.g. Symphonies (Band); Symphonies (Chamber orchestra). Works about the symphony are entered under Symphony.
OK. So to find out if "symphonies" is what I'm looking for, I need to click "see related headings for: symphonies"? Riiiiight. Sure, my catalog could handle this better. Not many do.
This distinction isn't always so obvious to specialists, either. I've been reading up on the topic for a project and I'm struck by how rarely it's made explicit. A huge majority of writings simply assume they're talking about one, the other, or both, but never say so. Many others indicate they're discussing one or the other but provide examples of both. I myself recently forgot the distinction at a critical juncture. :-)
I'm wondering if this distinction between headings for works about music and works of music is still needed in modern systems. [NOTE: I don't consider any of the MARC catalogs I'm familiar with to be "modern systems"!] We certainly now have mechanisms to make this distinction in ways other than a subject string. Most of me says this is an outdated mechanism. But in a huge library catalog covering both types of materials, the distinction does need to be made in some way. I'm still pondering over exactly which way that should be.