How Do You Catalog Bongos?

I volunteer at the Welcome Desk at the Brooklyn Public Library, answering questions and telling visitors about programming. One of the programs that people are always most surprised and impressed by is the Musical Instrument Lending Library – since its inception last spring, it has inspired many questions and exclamations of “that’s so cool!”, and it has been so popular that most of the instruments have consistently been checked out. It wasn’t until I started this class, though, that I wondered, how exactly do they catalog the musical instruments?

Unlike with books, there doesn’t seem to be an established practice for cataloging instruments. While there are some instruments held by the Library of Congress, they are very specific, rare examples, and accordingly catalogued more like works of art, with an artist, date, and even a title – like this violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1699, referred to as the “Castelbarco,” which has a whole detailed history. And, although there are many guides to music cataloging, they all seem to be intended for cataloging recordings of musical performances in various media, and occasionally music scores, but not three-dimensional objects.

Looking into it, I found this list of musical instruments available for loan from the BPL Musical Instrument Library. The instruments are loosely organized by type (Percussion, String, and Electric String). Each type is listed by the number of instruments available and then the name (“Two Bongos,” “One Claves,” “One Cowbell,” etc.). From there, you can click on the individual catalog record for, for example, the bongos.

What I found most interesting is that they are listed as if each bongo is a copy of a book with the same title – they are grouped under one “title,” with each individual item listed, with its location, call number, and status listed. They don’t have actual call numbers, though, but instead “MUSICAL INSTRUMENT no. 1” and “MUSICAL INSTRUMENT no. 2” are listed. The call numbers seem to start over again for each instrument type, so that the call number for the Claves is also “MUSICAL INSTRUMENT no. 1.” The bongos record is quite complete, with a detailed notes section, a number of subject headings (including “Bongo – Instruction and study” and “Bongo – Methods – Self-Instruction”), and three alternate titles (“Circulating Bongos”, “CP CP221 tunable bongos,” and “Tunable bongos”). Aside from the fact that you can’t put them on hold (you have to make an appointment), the record functions quite similarly to that of a book.

So, thanks to the intrepid catalogers at the Brooklyn Public Library, now we all know how you catalog bongos (at least in this one instance)!

–Laura Indick, INFO653-01

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by Hugh McLeod

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Pratt Institute School of Information
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