Comparing Periodical Indexes

In my music bibliography course at Brigham Young University we regularly review the major periodical indexes. I start by handing out a matrix that lists five major music periodical indexes across the top and along the left side lists about a dozen key points of comparison. For the midterm examination I regularly include the following essay question:

In an essay: compare and contrast the following music periodical indexes: RILM Abstracts, RIPM, IIMP, The Music Index, and the Bibliographie des Musikschrifttums. Describe the relative strengths and weaknesses for each in the following categories:

years of coverage
number of journals indexed
number of citations
retrospective indexing
access to full text online
quality and/or presence of abstracts
coverage of foreign language sources
coverage of non-periodical publication types
coverage of scholarly vs. non-scholarly publications
quality of online search interface
coverage of reviews
distinctive or unique contributions or strengths

Be specific and cite current statistics when appropriate. Be sure to take into consideration both print and online versions of each index where applicable.

This semester one of my students wrote an essay I think is worth sharing. Here is her unedited essay, writing without access to her personal notes. Good work Jamie!

Jamie Teot
Music 500
Midterm Exam – Essay

It is easy for a novice researcher to become overwhelmed with the sheer vastness of available sources. This is particularly true today, when there are many different types of sources and technologies, each with different uses and each requiring knowledge of how to approach them. This essay will treat five major online music periodical indexes in an effort to clarify their respective uses, strengths, and weaknesses. These five periodical indexes are: RILM, RIPM, IIMP, The Music Index, and Die Bibliografie des Musikschrifttums (BMS).
In terms of year covered, some go back further than others. IIMP claims to have indexed back to 1874, though 70% of their citations really come from the more contemporary indexing (post-1995). RIPM, on the other hand, covers specifically the 19th century, with the entirety of their catalogue falling from 1800-1950, thus the indexing for that century is quite a bit more dense than from IIMP. RILM is a bit more modern; it actually picks up where RIPM leaves off, indexing from 1967-present. The music index lists from 1973 to the present online, but as a print index goes back to 1949. Though working to fill their gaps, BMS has splotchy print coverage from the 1930s to 1986, when their online index picks up.
From the years of coverage, it is easy to discern each journal’s level of retrospective indexing. RIPM, for example, is completely retrospective, while RILM does not focus much of retrospective indexing (with the possible exception of festschriften). IIMP and BMS both profess to be actively working towards more retrospective indexing. The Music Index does not cover retrospectively, but may begin to make their earlier print indexes available online.
In terms of the size of each index, the number of journals indexed does not necessarily correspond to the number of citations indexed (or the quality, for that matter). RILM and RIPM, for example, claim similar citation statistics (500,000 and 544,000, respectively), but RILM indexes some 10,000+ publications, while RIMP claims only 120. This is due to the manner of indexing. RILM indexes all scholarly articles pertaining to music, whether they appear in a music journal or not, moving from year to year. Meanwhile, RIPM indexes one journal at a time completely and comprehensively for the entire 150 year coverage of the index (or whatever portion of those years the journal actually existed). BMS indexes 600 journals, adding 10,000 citations a year, but is still the smallest index. By contrast, IIMP and The Music Index draw from 445 and 800 journals respectively, landing the largest numbers of citations, 760,000 and 1.5 million.
The reasons for these discrepancies lie in the manner of indexing as well as the material chosen to index. Some indexes focus on scholarly publications only – RILM, RIPM, and BMS. These indexes have fewer citations because they have fewer reviews and extraneous citations. Although RIPM does have the curious property that all of each journal is indexed, including reviews and advertisements, the focus is not so much towards reviews that they are found in mass bulk. IIMP and The Music Index, however, index huge quantities of reviews – as many as half of their respective collections are reviews! BMS does index reviews, but like RILM, they are neither the focus nor the bulk of the index.
Each index has a group of sources it chooses to include in its collection. This selection of sources either leads the index to be more scholarly or less scholarly, and either more focused or more diverse. RILM is perhaps the most scholarly index, steering clear of reviews (unless extremely substantial), and indexing an array of writings: journals, festschriften, dissertations, facsimiles, books, etc. BMS is also scholarly in focus, indexing some reviews but including more predominantly articles, festschriften, congress proceedings, facsimiles, etc. BMS, interestingly, does not index dissertations because of the security with which dissertations are kept in Germany. IIMP and The Music Index are less scholarly, generally. One will find interesting sources in each, but may, for example, have trouble sorting through all the reviews if they do not aid one’s scholarly research. Unlike more scholarly indexes, The Music Index and especially IIMP aren’t afraid to index more popular sources, and also (especially The Music Index) pedagogical sources.
For a scholarly researcher, abstracts can save crucial time. RILM, by far, has the best and most comprehensive abstracts. BMS does have some abstracts, but not for every citation and many are in German. RIPM does not, unfortunately, have abstracts, but does include the occasional editor’s annotations. IIMP has a few meager abstracts, while The Music Index has none – a serious weakness to the index.
Again, to save time, it is useful for the researcher to note which indexes offer full texts online. IIMP is the easiest for the researcher to access full-text, because it runs through its own interface – an advanced search engine with many useful tools for narrowing one’s searches quickly. RILM, RIPM, and The Music Index all come to BYU through a third party (host) interface, EBSCO. For RILM and The Music Index, this means that full texts are not available through the indexes themselves, but are available through EBSCO. The fact that three of the five indexes discussed here run through EBSCO is an advantage to the BYU student; the interface is fairly easy to use and a student can get a lot of information just from learning to navigate EBSCO well. RIPM regrets that their full texts are not yet available online, but their website claims that they are working towards having full texts online. BMS, as much as is yet available online (another work in progress) runs through a simple but effective interface (that remains unnamed on the BMS website).
Depending on the topic, the researcher may or may not want an index that covers many languages. RILM, by far, has the most comprehensive coverage of foreign language sources, claiming to include citations of 215 languages. RIPM covers major European languages, as does BMS. The Music Index has reasonable but not terribly large coverage of foreign sources (mostly English, but claims 22 languages from 40 countries), while IIMP has very little (the worst of the five).
Overall, the index a researcher spends the most time using depends largely on what he or she is looking for. One focused on very scholarly research would do best to start with RILM and also consider BMS. Of course, if the topic was treated heavily in the 19th century, it may be best to start with IIMP or RIPM, because of their years of coverage and retrospective indexing. One who uses dissertations and abstracts or needs many foreign language sources would also work most productively within RILM. One looking for trends through a specific journal might look first to RIPM (if the journal was printed in the years 1800-1950), as RIPM would have all of each journal indexed. RIPM would also be useful to an organologist or other researcher interested in viewing period advertisements. One looking for more popular articles or reviews would probably begin with IIMP and The Music Index, the latter also useful for its sheer size. The Music Index is also the best resource for one specifically interested in pedagogy. BMS is likely to host an eclectic mix of scholarly sources not available to other indexes.
In the end, a great researcher may use several or all of these online periodical indexes. However, knowing the background/focus of each can help the researcher know how best to navigate each index and where he or she will likely have the most success. This, of course, saves time, and anything that makes research more effective & efficient in a blessing!

2 thoughts on “Comparing Periodical Indexes”

  1. Kathleen Haefliger

    What an excellent, comprehensive and well written essay. It deserved publication, but of course having it here on the web, via a link I found on the VanderCook College of Music web page, is a broad form of publishing anyway. Thanks to Dr. David Day for teaching these Music indexing tools in such a comprehensive, and thoughtful way, so that true, valid comparisons could be made. Congratulations to both the essay writer (trust that individual made an A) and to the instructor, Dr. Day!

    From a fellow, Music Librarian

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