Library catalogue records as a research resource: introducing 'A Big Data History of Music'

Sandra Tuppen, Stephen Rose, Loukia Drosopoulou

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Librarians and archivists are increasingly collecting and working with large quantities of digital data. In science, business, and now the humanities, the production and analysis of vast amounts of data (so-called ‘big data research’) have become fundamental activities. This article introduces the project A Big Data History of Music, a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London, and the British Library. The project has made the British Library’s catalogue records for printed and manuscript music available as open data, and has explored how the analysis and visualisation of huge numbers of bibliographic records can open new perspectives for researchers into music history. In addition to the British Library data (over a million records), the project drew on a further million bibliographic descriptions from RISM, which have also recently been released as open data. To show the challenges posed by the heterogeneous nature of the data, the article outlines the different structures of the various catalogue records used in the project, and summarises how the British Library data was cleaned and enhanced prior to its public release. Examples are given of how music-bibliographical data can be analysed and visualised, and how scholars and citizen scientists can engage with this data through hackathons, large-scale data analyses, and database construction. It is hoped this article will encourage other research libraries to consider making their catalogue records available as open data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-88
Number of pages22
JournalFontes artis musicae
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • big data
  • bibliography
  • visualization
  • metadata
  • library catalogues
  • British Library
  • RISM
  • Repertoire international des sources musicales

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