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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!

Susan M. Filler’s Gustav and Alma Mahler: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2008)

The second edition of Susan M. Filler’s Gustav and Alma Mahler: A Research and Information Guide (published by Routledge, 2008) intends to provide a representation of the current state of Mahler literature, which ranges from standard musicological publications by accepted scholars to novelty, nonprofessional explorations of Mahler’s symphonies via poetry. With her selection, Filler specifically hopes to interest literature specialists and also to show the wide range of literature available to all Mahler researchers regardless of nationality.

How to Contribute

We welcome your contributions to the development of the MusRef site and database. Please send your contributions and suggestions to

Let Us Announce and Review Your Publications

We welcome review copies of bibliographies and other reference materials. We also welcome information on Internet resources that fit the profile of a music or dance reference resource.

Tell Us about Your Online Reference Sources

If you are involved in the creation or maintenance of a digital collection, music e-journal, composer website, music portal, or other online music reference tool, not currently covered in our database, please let us know. We are eager to help publicize your efforts.

Help Us Locate Scans of Print Sources Available Online

We hope to provide links to all public domain reference tools scanned as part of the Internet Archive and Google Books projects. If we have overlooked any titles you are aware of, please let us know.

Share Student and Other Unpublished Bibliographies

If you teach the graduate music research course at your institution and have your students prepare bibliographies, we are happy to post examples of your best results. We also welcome submissions from independent scholars and librarians interested in sharing their bibliographic research with others.

Help Us Write Critiques

The online bibliography of reference sources includes critiques for more than 1,880 entries. We are looking for partners to help write critiques to improve the usefulness of MusRef.

Open Access Resources

There is a growing number public domain sources that have been scanned and made available on the Internet. The Creative Commons approach to licensing is also resulting in an increasing number of resources that can be accessed for free online. Please help us identify these resources and include them with their URL links in our bibliography.

Please send information to David Day at

Guidelines for Critiques

Each critique should include 6 categories or items: (1) A complete Turabian citation with the call number below it, (2) Use/Purpose, (3) Scope or Coverage/Criteria, (4) Organization, (5) Pros /Cons, and (6) Reviews. The necessary specific details for each of these categories are described below.

Turabian Citation and Call Number

The bibliographic style of these citations is based on the Turabian style manual and the Chicago Manual of Style. Some local preferences and variants will be apparent. We are working on guidelines to document these local preferences.


  1. Ask yourself, how or for what reasons would I or someone else use this source.
  2. Avoid vague statements such as “a guide to resources related to the piano” or “useful for the undergraduate or specialist.” Instead state the specific aspects of the resource and explain how an undergraduate or specialist would use it.


  1. Coverage should explain the scope of the content of the publication in terms of publication types, language, time frame, geographic region, etc.
  2. These aspects of coverage should be examined in terms of the criteria for inclusion. Most prefaces will explain the criteria the author(s) used in selecting the sources they included. Try to put yourself inside the mind of the author or editor. CRITERIA, CRITERIA, CRITERIA is the key for this category.
  3. Do not confuse organization with coverage.


  1. Think of organization on two levels: First, consider the broader picture or how the source is organized as a whole. Is the book (or site) grouped by chapters or sections? How is each chapter or section organized? Does it have special appendixes or indexes? Second, examine the nature and quality of the information provided at the level of each entry. For example, is the bibliographic information complete? How detailed is the description of each entry. How well is the information presented? In some cases the preface to the source will explain both these aspects of organization.
  2. When you state how the entries are organized avoid confusing or contradicting statements such as “listed alphabetically by author and title” or “listed alphabetically by author in categories of genre and date.” These statements must be perfectly clear.
  3. If the main method of organization integrates categories such as author and subject, then be sure to use the word “integrated.”
  4. In the case of dictionaries and encyclopedias focus mostly on the content of individual entries. Also comment on bibliographies, works lists, illustrations and articles on special topics. Ascertain any obvious editorial bias.

Pros and Cons

  1. Make judgements of coverage and organization. Comment on special features or lack thereof. Also comment on currency if appropriate.
  2. If a source is out-of-date, state this in a way that refers to the date of publication rather than indicating it as a matter of coverage.
  3. Avoid vague statements such as “clear typography.” Instead, indicate what specifically is good or bad about the typography, or how it is helpful, etc.
  4. Just because a resource has an index that is not necessarily a Pro. Only indexes of an unusual value should be mentioned as a Pro. If a book has no indexes, that is not necessarily a Con. You need to be able to explain what type of index is needed and why.
  5. Avoid describing a feature of the source’s organization.
  6. If an editorial bias is evident this can be mentioned, but be sure to explain the specific nature of the bias and why it is bad (or possibly helpful).


  1. Include a full citation for each source in the Turabian format. Include the call number beneath the citation.
  2. When describing the organization do NOT use quotation marks to designate chapter of section headings. Capitalize chapter titles and section headings.
  3. Compare your critique with the information found in Duckles.
  4. Search RILM Abstracts and IIMP to see if there are any reviews of your source. If there are reviews cite them below the critique in the following format: [Reviewer’s Last Name], [Reviewer’s first name]. [Title of the Journal the Review is Published In ] [volume number] ([Month or Season] [Year]): [pages].
  5. Always spell out states in full in the bibliographic citations.
  6. Unless a source gives library locations, use the term “identify” rather than “locate.”
  7. Do not use superscript for ordinal numbers.
  8. Do not use any bold or tabs.

About MusRef

Welcome to MusRef, a site devoted to music and dance bibliography and reference. The site consists of four main features:

  1. An online bibliography of music and dance bibliographies and reference sources (both print and online).
  2. A blog offering notices of music and dance bibliography and reference sources.
  3. Basic introductions to reference tools intended to help students understand how reference sources can guide them to appropriate research materials.
  4. The MusRef Bibliographie series. These annotated bibliographies

We welcome your comments and suggestions. We also invited interested music and dance bibliographers, librarians, and researchers to contribute to the development of the site. Unfortunately, our blog cannot accept direct comments. Please email communications to the site manager, David Day at

The Online Bibliography

At present the bibliography includes more than 13,000 bibliographies and reference sources (both print and online), approximately 2,200 of which are annotated with critiques on use, coverage, organization, and pros and cons (click here for guidelines on writing critiques). Many entries also list published reviews for the corresponding sources. The bibliography is growing actively with new sources and critiques added on a regular basis. The coverage of the bibliography was initially based on the music and dance reference collection at Brigham Young University, but many additional citations gathered from WorldCat and earlier bibliographies are entered on a regular basis. We have not copied or borrowed annotations or descriptions beyond basic bibliographic data from other sources.

The types of sources found in the bibliography include the following:

  • Anthology
  • Bibliographic Style Guide
  • Composer Handbook
  • Composer Thematic Catalogue-Bibliography
  • Composer Website
  • Dance Anthology
  • Dance Collection Catalogue
  • Dance History
  • Dance Index
  • Dance Notation
  • Dance Research Bibliography
  • Dictionary Musical Terminology
  • Directory
  • Discography
  • Electronic Journal
  • Encyclopedia-Dictionary
  • Exhibition Catalogue
  • Filmography
  • History of Music Publishing
  • Instrument Collection Catalogue
  • Instrument Manufacturer Catalogue
  • Internet Portal
  • Libretti Catalogue
  • Lyrics-Texts-Translations
  • Music Chronology
  • Music Collection Catalogue
  • Music Collection Online
  • Music History
  • Music Industry
  • Music Librarianship
  • Music Research Bibliography
  • Music Scores Index-Catalogue
  • Musical Settings Guide
  • Performer Bibliography
  • Performer Website
  • Periodical Index
  • Repertory Guide
  • Synopses and Analyses

The content of entries includes basic data from the MARC records (information found in library catalogues). The data from the original MARC records has been modified somewhat to provide uniformity throughout the database. For example, state’s abbreviations, author’s and publisher’s names, and statements of editions have been adapted from the original records for a more uniform presentation.

We are attempting to provide direct links to items in the bibliography that are available online. At this point in time we have provided links to online scans of print reference books in the public domain. These include books that were scanned as part of the Internet Archive and Google Books. We also provide links to articles and reviews found in JSTOR. Access to JSTOR resources requires authentication through an institutional license.

The MusRef BLOG

The blog will be used as tool to inform interested colleagues in all aspects of music and dance bibliography and reference. We will post reports of progress on the Database, the MusRef Bibliographies series, and other relevent activities. Other threads of commentary will relate to online resources, new publications, and solutions to reference questions.

MusRef Bibliographies

This component of the site will be devoted to highlighting independent research and works in progress. Initially it will feature outstanding bibliographies produced by students in the graduate research methodologies class at Brigham Young University. It is certainly not meant to be an exclusive club. We welcome submissions from other institutions and independent scholars. Send submissions to David Day at