Searching for Songs at the SFPL

The San Francisco Public Library has an extensive collection of popular songs including songbooks and sheet music from the Dorothy Starr Collection. Locating songs can be very simple or can require detailed research. Because no single approach is complete, a number of different strategies are offered for finding and verifying the titles of popular songs.

Using the Library's online resources:

In most cases, sheet music for songs in the library are found in song anthologies or collections. For this reason when searching for a song one should search by keyword, not by title. When searching online for a song, it is crucial to spell the standard title accurately. Online databases often will not recognize misspelled or incorrect titles. You can check these resources to Verify a Song Title.

Using the Online Catalog

From the library’s homepage ( select the link for More catalog search options. From this search page, you can limit your search by library location, and by type of search. It is almost always best to search for songs using a keyword search. A title search only will find the title of the song collection itself, not the contents of the collection.

Musical score iconIf you are certain of your song title, the most effective method of searching in keyword is to type your query inside quotation marks, for example "tea for two." (Searches in the catalog are not case sensitive). Entering the phrase within quotation marks limits the search to the words of the phrase in that order. Viewing the results, you will see that the results of this search come in many formats, as indicated by the icon on the left side of the list. The icon for a musical score is shown to the left.

If you wish to limit the search you have made to musical scores, follow the link to Modify Search from the results page. This takes you to the Advanced Search page. From here you can limit your search by library collection, date, or by language. Most importantly you can limit your search by material type. From the drag-down menu select "musical scores" and search the catalog again. The new results list may be shorter, but will only include scores. It is possible to perform an advanced search from the initial search screen. On that screen there is a link next to the "search catalog" icon.

Advanced Search

On the Advanced Search page there is a helpful list of Search Tips. This explains some advanced techniques of searching our online catalog. Here are some helpful tips for finding songs:

  1. To locate only musical scores and sheet music, click the dropdown box Material Type, select the category Music Score and click Search Catalog to execute the search.
  2. If a title is long, or if you are uncertain about a title, you can shorten the title string that you place within quotes. For instance typing "stairway to paradise" will find "i'll build you a stairway to paradise."
  3. If your title is a common keyword, try combining your song title with the songwriter or the performing artist. For instance a search for lennon imagine or lennon and imagine (no quotation marks) will find John Lennon’s "Imagine." A search for if bread or if gates will find among its results the song "If" written by David Gates and performed by Bread.

Other Song Resources

If your song search in the San Francisco Public Library catalog is unsuccessful, you can continue your search in the following ways.

  1. Use the Song Index - a card index file located in the Art, Music, and Recreation Center, on the Fourth Floor of the Main Library.
  2. Search in WorldCat - an online catalog database of thousands of libraries around the world. Select WorldCat from the list of the library’s Articles and Databases menu. The techniques used in an advanced search of the San Francisco Public Library catalog will work here as well.
  3. Search in the Library’s Fakebook Index.
  4. Search in the online database of the Library’s Dorothy Starr Collection.
  5. Search the following Online Song Indexes and Collections of Scanned Sheet Music.
  6. Use Printed Song Indexes at the Reference desk of the Art, Music, and Recreation Center.

Do not consider your search complete until you have spoken to a librarian in the Art, Music, and Recreation Center.

For additional help searching for popular songs, contact:

Art, Music and Recreation Center 
San Francisco Public Library 
100 Larkin Street 
San Francisco, CA 
(415) 557-4525