Origin Story

The year was 2005 and a young man started his tenure at Berklee College of Music.

Berklee College of Music

Spoiler alert: He was me.

Metal Band Photo
Yes, I was this cool.

I began my music studies and naturally that included going to the library. I found my favorite call number ranges (MP126 and MP136 [guitar transcription and bass transcription respectively]) and started worked my way through them. One day though — I found a guitar transcription of an Iron Maiden album, Brave New World in the MP128s.

Iron Maiden - Brave New World, guitar transcription

Why wasn’t it among the other guitar transcription books in the MP126s? There were other Iron Maiden guitar books there, why is this Iron Maiden different from all others?

I brought the tab-book in question to the circulation desk, and posed my query. The student employee didn’t know and so she brought in a ref librarian to help. The answer I got was sort of a shrugged, “the catalogers know what they’re doing, and this one is an MP128.” I don’t begrudge that ref librarian that answer. As a now cataloger, our decisions aren’t always clear and I certainly don’t expect every member of my current library team to be able to explain every decision that I’ve made.

That book stayed on the shelf where it was, orphaned from its friends.

Time Passes

I managed to snag a job at the Berklee Library, and for a while I was perfectly content to perform the basic circulation tasks and functions while I bade my time.

As I grew more comfortable in the library, and impressed the professional staff with my attention to detail, I started asking more questions.

  • “Why are these books here and those books there?” 
  • “How does the computer manage to collate all these different spellings of Tchaikovsky?”
  • “What’s a fire and why does it, what’s the word? burn?”

Eventually someone pointed out to me where the Big M Book lived and suddenly: the world opened up.M Class Library of Congress book

Here it was, a grimoire, a book of ancient and powerful lore. At long last, the secrets of the shelf were enumerated and laid bare. I knew that with this tremendous tome at my side, I would be able to unlock the hidden depths of the library and become its master.

What I found though, was more terrifying than I could’ve imagined. There was no MP subclass!

No MP subclass.

What did it mean?

The Berklee library had 5 sections:

  • M
  • ML
  • MP
  • MT
  • everything else from A-Z (not very big)

But this book, purporting to represent the entire M Class had three sections:

  • M
  • ML
  • MT

What sorcery was this?! Whence came the MP?

Dejected and broken, I finally did the unthinkable: I asked to speak to the cataloger.

A model castle with lightning flashes
Artist’s rendition

She agreed to meet with me though I had to stand on the other side of a veil of shadowy darkness, for none may gaze into the face of a cataloger and live. It was here I learned the dark secret held for so many years: they’d made up the MP section.

While the M class was sufficient for most libraries, due to Berklee’s unique holdings (ALL MUSIC ALL THE TIME) — they had determined some forgotten aeons ago that “popular music” ought not to interfile with “unpopular music”.

And lo, the MP subclass was born, squalling and hideous.

In theory, it had been intended to mirror the M class perfectly. Because M22 is given as

Music—Instrumental music—One solo instrument—Keyboard instruments—Piano, harpsichord, clavichord, etc.—Original compositions—General collections—One composer

you’d find Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier there. In MP22 you’d find a Dave Brubeck Anthology, a Ben Folds album transcription, etc.

Using this new-found understanding, I returned to the M Schedule to suss out the Iron Maiden question.

M126 is given as

Music—Instrumental music—One solo instrument—Plucked instruments—Guitar—Original compositions—Collections

MP126 would be its popular equivalent — not a bad place to put individual albums’ guitar transcriptions.

M128 is given as

Music—Instrumental music—One solo instrument—Plucked instruments—Guitar—Arrangements—Collections

(emphasis mine)

MP128 therefore would be its popular equivalent. Here you would find easy arrangements of guitar music (rather than a note-for-note transcription), music not originally played on guitar arranged for it, etc.

I summoned my courage and returned to the cataloger. I argued that under that logic, Brave New World should be an MP126, for after all — it was originally played on guitar, and wasn’t a simplified arrangement.

She agreed.

And here we are today: Brave New World is an MP126, sitting right next to the other Iron Maiden albums (for guitar) on the shelf.

Friends, Family, and the Library-Staff noticed that I seemed to talk more about the library than my classes. Eventually it was pointed out to me that I could pursue that interest as a career, that I too could learn the trade and become a cataloger myself.

The road was WAY longer than I make it sound — I left Berklee in 2009 and didn’t get my first job as a cataloger until 2015, but It all started with an Iron Maiden album.


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