Soon after the New York Public Library was formed in 1895, its first director, John Shaw Billings, set about to determine a classification scheme for its holdings. Dissatisfied with existing systems, Billings created a unique and practical system that he felt reflected NYPL's needs. Known as the Billings classification, it divided the Library's holdings by subject, and within each subject, what he saw as a systematic progression of knowledge. For the Music Division, the Billings system was in use until 1972, after which newly-acquired volumes were classified by the Fixed order system. (Materials acquired prior to 1972 retain their Billings call numbers. Book or music sets that began prior to 1972 also retain their Billings call numbers for subsequent volumes.)
For books about and works of music, the Billings classification designated all volumes to have a classification beginning with an asterisk (usually called "star" by staff) followed by an M: *M
Successive letters subdivided the discipline into manageable sections. These are detailed on the tabs following this one.
While the base classmark for a Music Division item acquired before 1972 consists of an asterisk followed by M and other letters, there can be alterations added to classmarks.
Call numbers (or classmarks) can have a variety of suffixes. Some suffixes apply to only specifc classmarks; these are explained under the specific classmark on subsequent tabs. (The first three suffixes below apply to all the Billings holdings throughout the New York Public Library.)
Knowing the Billings classmark scheme enables one to browse the Catalog to view the collection as if viewing the volumes on the shelf. Using a call number search in the Classic Catalog (http://catalog.nypl.org/c) one can perform a search on a Billings classification classmark and browse through the Division's holdings. This holds true for any of the prefixes used by the Division.
Most Special Collections books, scores and periodicals acquired prior to 1972 also use the Billings classification system, with the prefix: Mus. Res. To browse Music Division Special Collections books, scores, and periodicals, one can begin one's search with: Mus. Res. *M.
Please remember that most of the Music Division's more than 100,000 scores acquired prior to 1972 are not in the online catalog and will not come up in a search. For questions and searches of these scores please contact the Division at: firstname.lastname@example.org.