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Cataloging Services: Journals

What on Earth is a Serial?

Journals? Magazines? Periodicals? Serials? Let's start with definitions:

Periodical.  In library terminology, a periodical is any on-going  publication, other than a newspaper, that is issued in successive parts according to a regular schedule (monthly, quarterly, biennially, etc.). Each part or issue has a numerical (no. 12) or chronological designation (Spring 1998) and has no intended end point. Naturally, all such publications end sometime but that end has not been determined in advance.  

Serial. Serial is an even broader term than periodical and includes newspapers and other sorts of publications that don't fit the usual categories of magazine or journal like the proceedings of conferences that take place year after year.

Magazines. OK. You know what a magazine is. You've been reading them all your life. They have color illustrations, advertisements, and important information about what Brad and Angelina are up to ... not to mention Lady GaGa and her grandmother, Madonna. The majority probably come out either weekly or monthly.

Journals.  Journals are publication that contains scholarly articles written by experts in a particular subject area. Typically you will find at least a bibliography in such articles and you may find an abstract (a summary) at the beginnning of each article, as well. Most academic jourals are peer reviewed which means that the editor asked two or three known experts in the field to read articles submitted for publication,, evaluate their scholarship, and decide whether the article should be published or not. Journals are published on many different schedules. Some are published montly or quarterly.  Others are published once or twice or three times a year. Some are published quite irregularly.

Why are Serials so Complex?

Because serials are complex, so are the records in the catalog. Why are serials complex? Oh, dear, let us count (some of ) the ways:

  • The publisher doesn't publish the issues on time
  • The publisher decides to change the title
  • The publisher decides a year or two  later to change the title back to what it was originally
  • The publisher sells the serial to another publisher who decides, in the middle of the year, to publish a monthly journal quarterly or a quarterly journal monthly
  • The publisher decides to merge two titles into one and give them a new name. This  usually happens when the titles are on similar subjects, have low readership, and the cost of publishing two separate  magazines or journals becomes excessive.
  • The publisher decides to end the publication and start a new one related to the old one, usually under a new editor and with a changed subject focus

Trying to describe all these changes in a record in the catalog can be very difficult. If you would like some tips for uunderstanding serial records in the catalog, the next page (serial records in the catalog) will help!