On the Importance of RILM to the Discipline

RILM – the International Repertoire of Musical Literature, but it’s easier to pronounce the French acronym – offers all musicians, including especially college teachers and students, a powerful tool for locating research on practically any topic in music. It indexes all kinds of resources: journal articles, books and monographs, essays in collective volumes, dissertations, proceedings of conferences, digital media and online resources, critical editions of music, technical drawings of instruments, and scholarly sound recordings and films. With over three quarters of a million items in its database and more added constantly, it’s a tool all of us should be eager to use.

RILM online is searched well over 1.3 million times every week. This clearly means that RILM is highly important both to professionals in music in higher education who employ this resource for their own research, as well as to those whose publications are listed and abstracted and thus investigated by other scholars and students.

RILM subscribers are primarily institutions, though there are some individual online subscribers, too. The overwhelming majority of institutions in the U.S. that offer graduate degrees in music subscribe to RILM, as well as a very healthy number of undergraduate, and even small liberal arts undergraduate, institutions. Public libraries represent a smaller proportion of subscribers, but certainly those with research branches and important music collections - and some others, too - subscribe. And RILM subscribers increase every single year, year in and year out, probably because RILM continues to be the only source that offers such breadth of coverage.

An exact count of institutions that offer RILM access is impossible to provide, partly because of confidentiality arrangements and partly because some subscribers actually represent multiple institutions. For example, the state of Ohio (through OhioLink) subscribes to RILM, meaning that every institution in that state (even nursing schools and business colleges) has access to RILM. Many consortia in the U.S. subscribe in large and small groups, as well, and not all provide lists of participating institutions. Internationally, RILM subscribers are all over the world. Institutions in many parts of South America and Africa, much of Europe, Oceania and Australia, and portions of Asia, for example, have subscribers to RILM.

Coverage and subscriptions go hand in hand. Those countries where RILM has a strong national organization, and therefore good coverage, often tend to be countries with high numbers of subscribers. The U.S. office, based at Cornell is excellent, and has always functioned absolutely on a shoestring. Their efforts help to ensure that the work of music scholars publishing in the U.S. on all musical topics and in all media are well represented in RILM: anything from Mozart to Motown, from liturgy to music therapy, from elementary music education to advanced music theory, all classical and traditional musics are equally within RILM's scope. All media are covered: books, articles in periodicals, conference proceedings, essay collections, reviews, dissertations, critical editions, sound recordings, and electronic resources. For the breadth of its coverage in terms of subjects and media, RILM is unique. It is also unique for its international coverage (thanks to our committees) and international readership.

Furthermore, because of its international coverage, the researcher can find out in RILM if someone is working on a similar topic of interest in his or her own country, or abroad, whether it be in the U.S., Europe, Brazil, Israel, Japan, or Nigeria. RILM serves people working on a topic limited to their own culture or their own national history, as well as those doing transnational work. And because the abstracts are in English, even if researchers find publications of interest to them in languages they cannot read or publications they cannot locate, if they can read English they will learn something about the published research on their topics.

The ever-increasing number of subscribers to RILM reflects the fact that RILM is increasingly relevant today, which in turn reflects the ongoing vitality of music research itself. Over the course of the past four decades the number of music and interdisciplinary journals, collected volumes and monographs being published - not to mention the quantity and importance of e-publications of all kinds - has grown at a tremendous rate. RILM's database has not only expanded in tandem with this growth (from 2500 published records in its first year to well over 30,000 annually these days), but the scope guidelines have evolved in recognition of the changing modes and topics of music research and the resulting changes in the documentary needs of the researcher. That is, coverage has also broadened to keep up with the expanding fields of music research, encompassing vernacular musics from all over the world, interdisciplinary studies, jazz and popular music scholarship, and perception and cognition, to name but a few examples. In addition, the types of documents RILM covers have expanded, reflecting the explosion of different publishing media, primarily on the internet. E-journals and some websites, as well as scholarly CD-ROMs, are now represented in RILM. 

The stronger RILM is, the better the music community as a whole is served. Ensuring that the publications of every scholar are well represented in RILM means that that scholar's work is visible and accessible to the entire international community of scholars, students, and musicians, letting that community know of the importance of the work being done in the U.S., both within this country and abroad. This careful and thorough coverage, of course, costs time/money, and all contributions that help RILM's worthy goal help all those doing any kind of research on music.

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Last modified on Thursday, 06/02/2014

Douglass Seaton

Douglass Seaton is Warren D. Allen Professor of Music at The Florida State University. He is the author of The Art Song: A Research and Information Guide (Garland, 1987), The Mendelssohn Companion (Greenwood, 2001), and Ideas and Styles in the Western Musical Tradition (3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010). He has prepared critical editions of Mendelssohn's Lobgesang, op. 52 (Carus, 1990) and Elijah (Bärenreiter, 2009). His articles have appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, The Musical Quarterly, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Journal of Musicological Research, Ars Lyrica, The Music Review, College Music Symposium, the Choral Journal, and Current Musicology, as well as in numerous collective volumes. In addition to his role as Chair of Forums and Dialogues, Douglass has served The College Music Society as Editor of the CMS Newsletter, Secretary of the Society, Chair of the Nominations Committee, representative to the US-RILM Governing Board, Program Chair for CMS and representative to the joint program committee for the millennial meeting in Toronto in 2000, President of the Southern Chapter, Board Member for The CMS Fund, and CMS President.

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