Guess the weight?

Guess the weight? By Stéphane Bortzmeyer  (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Guess the weight?
By Stéphane Bortzmeyer <stephane+wp@>
(Own work) [GFDL fdl.html via Wikimedia Commons

My mother was a great cake-maker. At least once a year she would bake a cake of epic proportions for use in a “Guess the weight” competition for a local fete. Why am I telling you this? Because I recently discovered the music librarians’ version of this venerable game.

Anderson Room regulars will already be aware of some of the pitfalls when trying to find uncatalogued music at the UL. You try the online and card catalogues and have no luck, you then ask a friendly music librarian for help, we go through our online and card catalogues, and find the work you want (hooray!).

Next stage is to work out whether the item is in a bound or unbound backlog, and to track it down. If it’s in a bound backlog it may be necessary to flick through multiple volumes before happening upon the work. Once found, if the item is bound the path to the reader should then be fairly straightforward. It will be catalogued, labelled, and an email can be sent informing them that the item requested can now be borrowed. Reader comes to the UL, and exits clutching their volume.

Part of the bound uncatalogued music backlog. Photo by Sarah Chapman.

Part of the bound uncatalogued music backlog. Photo by Sarah Chapman.
Copyright Cambridge University Library

But….sometimes it can take rather longer than expected. If you’ve requested a vocal score of an opera, it should be catalogued pretty quickly, as most volumes of operas only contain one or two items at the most bound together. But sometimes you can get a nasty shock.

A reader contacted us recently wanting to know if we had any of the works of Humphrey Clucas. We did, all were in the uncatalogued bound backlog. Finding the volumes was easy. Luckily there weren’t that many volumes of a comparable classmark and size to look through, and within about half an hour I had collected eight volumes containing Humphrey Clucas’ and other music. Next step catalogue them and get them on the shelf. And that was where the problem started……

Guess the number of items.Photo by Sarah Chapman

Guess the number of items.
Photo by Sarah Chapman

Look at these three volumes. How many items do you think they contain? Votes around the office ranged from between 6 to 15 items in each; and remember the “voters” are music librarians who are used to cataloguing tract volumes. In fact to my horror the first volume (M220.c.95.43) contained 29 items, the second 33, and the third a paltry 27. All of these works must be catalogued separately as they are completely unrelated except for the fact that they have ended up being bound together. They included a mixture of Magnificat settings, anthems, versicles and responses, and more…. Most were by twentieth century composers, but there was also a smattering of renaissance musicians. In total in order to get the eight volumes in a borrowable state 202 items must be catalogued! Hence why we will tell you that it may sometimes take a few days to find an item in a backlog but it may take longer to catalogue depending on how many items there are in the volume.

Just some of the items contained within M220.c.95.43.

Just some of the items contained within M220.c.95.43.

I’ve found working on these volumes a fascinating experience. Besides having the satisfaction of cataloguing material that someone was eager to use, I also catalogued a work by a former instrumental teacher of mine, and found an illustration of a place I knew very well. It was great fun, but also an eye-opener into the intricacies of cataloguing backlogged music; and, best of all, it provided a new game for the Music Librarians’ Christmas Party!



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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One Response to Guess the weight?

  1. Pingback: Getting to know you | IAML (UK & Irl)

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