Serials Positions in U.S. Academic Libraries, 1980-1988: A Survey of Position Announcements
The future of the serials department and of the serials specialist has been the topic of much discussion and the subject of numerous articles. Underlying this interchange one invariably encounters the form-versus-function debate: are serials-related functions performed more effectively and efficiently when dispersed by function (i.e., into cataloging and acquisitions departments) or when centralized by form in a single, integrated serials department? If the former, what, if any, is the role of the serials specialist?
The arguments advanced by those advocating organization by function and the elimination of separate serials departments stress perceived problems of communication and coordination across the departments and emphasized the role of automation as a decentralizing force. According to Potter:
Specialized serials departments evolved in
order to consolidate the various functions
associated with serials control and to avoid
duplication of effort involved in maintaining
several separate check-in and holdings
files. With the introduction of integrated systems. it is possible for staff in any part of the library to review the same files, "obviat[ing] any lingering need for segregated processing." Stating that the integration of serials into function-based departments results in standardization of procedures, D'Andraia implied that serials specialists, as well as serials departments, have little, if any, future: "automation ends the era in which serials must receive special handling by a specialist."
Leonhardt, questioning the proliferation of technical services department heads when a serials department is created in addition to cataloging and acquistions, conceded that "someone does need to coordinate all serials activities and all monographic activities as well. That person ought to be the technical services administrator ...." He concluded:
As we continue to plan for and implement
integrated bibliographic library systems,
the logic of organizing along functional
lines rather than by form will become more
obvious .... The luxury of duplicates processing
will be ... much harder to justify.
Jean G. Cook, in "Serials' Place on the Organizational Chart: A Historical Perspective." traced the importance of serials and the organization of serial functions in libraries. She found that as early as 1935, J. Harris Gable, superintendent of the Serial and Exchange Department of the State University of Iowa Libraries, had concluded that the centralization of serial activities resulted in a number of benefits to the library, including the fact that "the work may be more easily and efficiently done where the records are kept [and] the work may be done by trained serials workers." These conclusions are reflected in the recent literature, as thsoe favoring organization by form assert that all aspects of serials work present special problems and require expert attention.
Collver defined the primary functions of the integrated serials department as coordination of "the reciprocal interdependence involved in management of the unique local serial collection ...." Likewise, Harrington and Karpuk noted that
The integrated serials department allows
for bringing of specialized knowledged to
bear in all aspects for consistency of information
and for collective problem solving,
and contributes to developing high-level
expertise in a serials department staff. Ezzel concurred:
It is possible for communication to take
place when the several serials functions
are separated into various departments
within the library, but it is not as natural
and easy as when they are joined into an
integrated serials department. …