Serials and Multiple Versions, or the Inexorable Trend toward Work-Level Displays

By Allgood, Julian Everett | Library Resources & Technical Services, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Serials and Multiple Versions, or the Inexorable Trend toward Work-Level Displays


Allgood, Julian Everett, Library Resources & Technical Services


The proliferation of multiple versions for bibliographic works presents numerous challenges to the cataloger and, by extension, to the catalog user. Fifteen years after the Multiple Versions Forum held in Airlie, Virginia, online public access catalog (OPAC) users continue to grapple with confusing displays representing numerous serial manifestations (i.e., versions) resulting from the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules' (AACR2) cardinal principle (Rule 0.24). Two initiatives offer hope for more coherent OPAC displays in light of a renewed focus upon user needs: the ongoing revision of AACR2, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) model. A third potential tool for improving OPAC displays exists within a series of standards that have developed to parallel library needs, and today offer a robust communications medium: the MARC 21 authority, bibliographic, and holdings formats. This paper summarizes the challenges posed by multiple versions and presents an analysis of current and emerging solutions.

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A dilemma confronts the Anglo-American cataloging community. Library catalogs display multiple occurrences of titles available in different formats as multiple hits for a user's search query, rather than clustering them into a single entry or hit. The variety of formats and versions of resources libraries collect continues to grow, yet the underlying manifestation level principles of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed. (AACR2) result in catalogs difficult for users to navigate. (1) This multiple versions (MulVer) problem represents a defining challenge of the automated catalog era.

This paper will examine the MulVer problem with regard to serial resources and will consider both the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (JSC) mandate to revise AACR2 and the growing influence of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) model. (2) As my conclusions are aimed at current and developing solutions to the MulVer problem, the literature I cite was written largely within the last fifteen years. The paper calls for online public access catalog (OPAC) displays allowing users to more easily understand and navigate the rich, complex collections librarians assemble.

Unless otherwise noted, the term "users" refers to external library users rather than to library staff members. For library staff members or internal library users, manifestation-level detail is necessary for ordering, record identification, check-in, and other library functions. That a given data element serves a purpose for internal library staff, however, does not necessitate its display to all library users. Much of the manifestation-level detail of AACR2 serial bibliographic records currently displayed in library OPACs is inconsequential for external library users. Users are more interested in obtaining the journal article content than in the manifestation-level details of the serial title in which the article is published. As indicated by Lubetzky, researchers typically approach the library OPAC with a citation to a specific issue of a specific volume of a specific serial work. (3) They simply need to know if the collection contains the serial title and issue containing the selected article. Library catalogs following AACR2 Rule 0.24 contain a separate OPAC record for each version or manifestation of each serial work or expression. For serial titles that many library catalogs contain in multiple physical formats, these separate OPAC records for equivalent versions further increase the likelihood for user confusion.

Antelman has illustrated that the core responsibility of librarians and library catalogs remains to guide users to the content they seek. (4) In the case of serial resources, users seek content at the article level more often than at the title or physical manifestation level. …

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