The Music OCLC Users Group: You say you want an evolution

Jay Weitz

The Music OCLC Users Group (MOUG), the first and oldest of the OCLC cooperative’s user groups, has spent its 40+ year history working to improve access to music materials in libraries. Often that work has felt like an identity crisis as it sought to reconcile its cataloging-centric origins with its public services evolution. But the dedicated professionals associated with MOUG have kept at it over more than four decades because of the guiding notion that if you can make products and services function well for the complexities of music resources, they will work well for any resources.

1976: Here comes the sun

MOUG had its origin in an OCLC Task Force on Cataloging of Music Scores and Sound Recordings, created to advise OCLC on implementing the new “Music: A MARC Format,” published in 1976.  The task force had accepted a huge challenge, including the design of bibliographic work forms, indexing, printing of catalog cards, input standards, and related issues for musical scores and sound recordings. Before 1976 had turned to 1977, OCLC had somehow managed to publish its own version of the MARC music format in the form of “On-line Cataloging of Sound Recordings and On-line Cataloging of Scores” and had implemented those two bibliographic formats. The Library of Congress itself would not begin creating MARC records for scores and sound recordings until March 1984.

As you may surmise from its origin, MOUG has been pegged from its earliest days as an organization dominated by catalogers. Yet, MOUG started talking about music reference uses of WorldCat as early as 1981. Beginning in 1988, MOUG positioned itself firmly in the vanguard of music reference and discovery. That year, the MOUG Reference Task Force was formed in part to help OCLC develop its Search CD450 Music Library, a CD-ROM based subset of WorldCat devoted to scores and sound recordings. That was cutting edge in 1988.

RDCC: Turn and face the changes

Over the years, the MOUG Reference Task Force has gone through various changes of name, configuration, and activity level. But by 2016, it had evolved into the Reference, Discovery, and Collection Committee (RDCC) and the committee’s coordinator became an elected member of the MOUG Executive Board. This dual milestone at last formalized the vital role that MOUG has played, in the words of the MOUG Bylaws definition of RDCC, “to assist with investigating discovery, public, and collection service issues related to OCLC products and services, and associated advocacy in relation to those products and services.” At the same time, it was mandated that a member of the RDCC would also serve as an ex-officio member of the MOUG Program Committee, to assure that public and collections services would be amply and appropriately represented in MOUG conference planning.

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Since 1988, RDCC and its antecedents have worked closely with OCLC to develop and improve each and every reference and discovery product and service, from EPIC and FirstSearch beginning in the early 1990s, through WorldCat Local, to WorldCat Discovery today. Employing in-person and virtual discussions, the collection of actual examples, and participation in user testing, RDCC has been suggesting concrete and specific recommendations that have improved record displays and made labeling and faceting more user-friendly.

The widespread implementation of the new cataloging instructions embodied in Resource Description and Access (RDA) and the corresponding changes to the MARC formats have necessitated the frequent updating of many interfaces in order to accommodate new bibliographic, authority, and holdings elements. RDCC has taken on the challenge of translating the sometimes esoteric notions of RDA and the new fields and subfields defined in MARC into displays that make sense and provide accurate guidance to users. To get a sense of the work RDCC has been up to improving WorldCat Discovery, take a look at the “Discovery, Reference, and Collections” page of the MOUG website. The current RDCC Coordinator, Monica Figueroa (monica@unc.edu) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, encourages suggestions from the full spectrum of both libraries and librarians and welcomes your participation.

The beat goes on

Members of RDCC have also participated in the wider efforts to help solve some of the special problems that music materials pose to all discovery systems. A few of the more obvious are the multiplicity of performances of the same music work, differentiating various arrangements or transcriptions, noting the availability of many kinds and combinations of scores and parts, and giving logical access to musical compilations in both notated and audio forms. The Music Library Association’s Music Discovery Requirements, which are deeply informed by the work of RDCC, and to which several RDCC members contributed, is just one influential example.

If you are interested in more thrilling details of the MOUG origin story, see my essay, “Furthering Access to Music: A History of the Music OCLC Users Group,” in the 2012 Music Library Association/A-R Editions publication Directions in music cataloging, edited by Peter Lisius and Richard Griscom (OCLC #743432770 in paper, #878145048 online). For a less thrilling condensation, see the MOUG website or trace the full history of MOUG through the 40+ years of the MOUG Newsletter. The three-times-yearly publication is a trove of current news, reports, Q&A, and features on products and services, including how you can take part in the future of library access to music.

For another historical romp not to be overlooked, during the 40-day lead-up to MOUG’s 40th anniversary conference in 2018, daily year-by-year highlights of MOUG’s past were posted on social media and were eventually collected into “40 Days of MOUG.”

Musicians, composers, and music lovers are some of the most ardent supporters of libraries and archives and their needs are often some of the most particular. MOUG’s “identity crisis” of matching cataloging specifics with our public service purpose, therefore, may never really end. Which, perhaps, is not a bad thing.