Cracking the code – the return

A cipher wheel designed by Orville Ward Owen. Public domain.

In my previous post on the complexities of music classmarks,  I looked at the classmarks found on the open shelves of Cambridge University Library. Now for a quick look at the closed shelf classmarks. Many of the “backstage” music classmarks are related to those on the open shelves. Items that are now too old to live on open shelves can sometimes be found at a similar classmark but on closed access, for example M310.a.85.1. The important figure to consider here is the “85”, this indicates that the work was published between 1850-1899. The score would have originally been available on the open shelves (hence the classmark) before being moved to closed access and becoming non-borrowable as it aged.

Closely related to this are the MR classmarks (think of these as Music Reserved). Our largest and smallest volumes can be found here, along with items from as far back as the early sixteenth century, and limited edition or fragile items published more recently. Virtually all MRs are bound. Related to MR are the MRA,B, and C classmarks. These contain similar material, although placed within a smaller range of classes, here again the A, B or C of the classmark refers to the size, hence MRA.310.75.8.

A vocal score of La Traviata from the Coates-Lloyd collection (MRS.5.86) including production notes and handbill; photographed by Sarah Chapman.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

One of the most interesting classes is MRS. This contains music and literature presented to the library by specific donors. So within MRS (for example) we have items from Harold Powell Lloyd and Edith  Coates’  library, a wonderful plethora of French and Eastern European music presented by Frederick Booth, and many more. The largest of our donor collections has its own name, “Picken“, presented to the University Library Music Department by the eponymous Laurence Picken.

The unimaginatively named MUS were the original open-shelf volumes when the University Library was at its previous site at the Old Schools. Following the move to the current site in 1934 a new system of classification for open shelf volumes was introduced (the current M-3figs classification). MUS remained on the open shelf as a discrete collection with no additional items being added to it until the increasing age of the collection prompted its move to closed access.

The last load of books to be moved from the Old Schools site to the new University Library in 1934.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

The largest section of unborrowable material is housed at A- and B-4 figs (eg A2001.24), this is commonly known as secondary music and literature, with A and B referring to the size of the item. It consists principally of unbound music and literature received under the Copyright Act that was either not considered (at the time of accession) to be “academic” enough for the open shelves (hence secondary), or (in the case of literature) is a paperback copy of a hardback that has already made it to the open shelves. It’s worth remembering if you’re looking for a composer, who has had substantial success as a popular composer – George Gershwin, for instance – that many of their works may be in secondary music.

A selection of Victorian music showing the social preoccupations of the time; photographed by Sarah Chapman.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

Victorian secondary material is often very popular with readers, not so much for the quality of the music, but for the sociological and historical information contained within the often beautifully illustrated covers. Much of our Victorian music has been catalogued online and can be accessed via Newton, secondary music from a later period can only be accessed via the secondary card catalogues in the Anderson Room. All music literature should be on Newton, but if you’re looking for a publication that the online catalogue suggests we don’t have, ask a librarian to do an uncatalogued book search.

The diversity of classmarks for “behind-the-scenes” music can be confusing, but don’t be afraid to ask. We’re happy to help.


About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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1 Response to Cracking the code – the return

  1. Pingback: Discovering music at MusiCB3 | MusiCB3 Blog

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