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Using RILM

One of the primary databases of scholarly works on music.


The "RILM Abstracts of Music--Subjects" allows users to browse and search RILM's hierarchical subject heading indexing. Users may browse three levels of index term and choose to search terms at all levels.

Subject Headings are basically the "official" terms that the database uses to label the subjects of a given article. Not all articles in the database may be labeled this way, but it certainly helps when you need to make sure that all your results are relevant.

By browsing through, you can kind of deduce how certain topics are labeled. It is not a foolproof method, but it can be quite helpful.

The best way to approach finding relevant subject headings for your search is to do a basic search for the topic that of interest, and then looking at the record(s) that appear to be the most relevant to you.

For example, let us again look at this item:

An item in RILM.

The first subject heading is "politics--Bernstein, Leonard." If we wanted to find more results like this, we would take the first segment, "politics," and add that to our search as a subject, which would retrieve the following results:

A search for Bernstein and politics in RILM.

You could also just click on "politics--Bernstein, Leonard," but that would perform a slightly different search (looking for results that only include that exact strain).

Another good way to deal with subject headings when you know the broader topic is to browse through the Subject Index. To get to it, click on the "Subjects" tab at the top of the search page. Here is what it looks like when we search for "politics:"

A search for politics in the Subject Index in RILM

If we click on the first result, which is the one we want, we can see all of the sub-headings under that heading:

A list of sub-headings under politics in RILM.

Next to some of the headings there are options to "Explode" or "Expand."

  • "Explode" basically means use the heading the way it is. This is good when you want to browse the available literature of a larger area.
  • "Expand" lets you look at even narrower and more specific sub-headings under that particular heading.

This can be useful for approaching a subject from a certain angle, as well as limiting your results in a relevant way. If you realize at this point that these are too narrow, you can use the "Previous Level" button to go back to the broader topic area.

If you want to look for a person as a subject you need to click on the "Names" tab next to the "Subjects" tab at the top of the search screen. The principle behind searching the Names Index is pretty much the same as it is for searching the Subjects Index.

Something to be aware of when you are browsing the Names Index is that the spelling of names that have been transliterated in this database may not match the standard transliterations. One example of this is with the composer "Shostakovich."

If you look for "Shostakovich" in the Names Index, you will come up with no results. In order to find Shostakovich, we have to start by performing a basic search in RILM for "Shostakovich, Dmitri:"

A search for Shostakovich in RILM.

Then pick a high result that seems relevant:

A result for Shostakovich in RILM.

All you have to do is look at the subject headings to figure out how to spell his name. 

The accent marks (or diacritics) do not matter when you are searching the indexes, so you can search for "Sostakovic" in the Names Index and click on the first result to see every sub-heading nested under him:

A list of sub-headings under Shostakovich in RILM.

This type of search can be really useful when you want to make sure that the material that you find is as relevant to the topic of choice as possible. However, not all material that is relevant may be categorized the same way, even if it is dealing with the same subject, so be aware that some relevant results will probably be missing. That said, this can be a useful way of quickly finding material with a close focus on a particular subject.