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MUSIC: Read records

An introduction to music research for University of Redlands students

This page will help you...

  • Read records to determine whether a book is relevant to your topic


One item, one record

A fundamental principle of library research is that each item (a book, a score, a streaming audio file, etc.) has its own record.

Records serve two purposes for researchers.

  1. Records describe an item to help you know whether it will meet your needs.
  2. Records let you discover items by searching for a physical or electronic copy.

Technologically, library searching works the same way as searching online services like Amazon, Instagram and Google. However, the user experience of library searching is different because libraries are more upfront about how you are searching for records about something that you want, not the thing itself.

Commercial online services are designed to make searching as seamless as possible to get you to consume content or buy something. By contrast, library systems are designed to help you learn about a topic you're interested in, even when you don't yet know the right words to use. Putting the spotlight on records is one way that library systems are designed to help you "slow down" and focus on your own learning.

The rest of this page shows you how to read and interpret Armacost Library catalog records. You can use a similar process to read records in any library database or search tool, such as Worldcat, RILM or a newspaper database.

How to sight read a catalog record

Look at the title, contents and call number to obtain a physical book from the library.

To determine whether a book in the library catalog meets your needs, look at:

  1. The title, author and publisher
  2. The contents, description and subject headings assigned to the book, as well as special features such as an index or bibliography.
  3. The availability and the call number

How to tell whether a book has useful information

Once you've found a book that looks useful, you can confirm whether it has relevant information:

  1. Check the table of contents
    Table of contents of a book on opera
  2. Look in the index at the back of the book
    Index from a book that discusses opera recitative on pages 105, 122, 185 and 234
  3. Skim over the introduction, conclusion and other relevant sections
    Excerpt from a book discussing opera recitative.

When you find a book with information on your topic, you will want to slow down and read it carefully. Use these strategies to determine whether a book you found in the library catalog is worth spending more time with.

Key points

  • Every item in the library has its own record.
  • Records describe whether an item is useful and help you discover it (actually get the item).
  • Read information in library records to determine ahead of time whether an item you found will help you learn about your topic.