Evaluating and Improving the Presentation of Serials Information in the Online Catalog

Article excerpt

Many factors should be considered when evaluating how serial publications are presented in online library catalogs. Both patrons and library employees utilize the catalog to locate serial titles and then must be able to determine which formats are available, as well as which issues are available in each format. Consideration of both the recording and display of serials data should be part of a thorough evaluation. This paper presents an outline for an evaluation focusing on meeting user needs. It also provides advice based on the experience of undertaking a successful project at the University of Wyoming Libraries.


Serial publications, including scholarly journals, are an essential part of any academic library's collections. The library's online catalog works in tandem with indexes, article databases, and OpenURL resolvers to provide access to serials information. Discussions about the role of the catalog and cataloging rules have been common in the library community within the past few years. Most people will agree that any feasible effort to improve upon library catalogs must build on the bibliographic and holdings data libraries have been creating and maintaining for decades. While library catalogs and cataloging evolve, librarians should be proactive in making their online catalogs as user-friendly as possible, using the integrated library system (ILS) technology and functionality currently available to them. They should also try to position themselves to take advantage of future enhancements to library system technology by thinking about data recording and data display as separate but complementary entities.

The goal of this paper is two-fold: it provides an outline for evaluating serials displays in the online catalog, referring to relevant literature, and provides advice based on the experience of undertaking a successful project at the University of Wyoming (UW) Libraries. The UW Libraries serve a population of approximately 13,000 students and support undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research. Holdings include approximately 41,000 serials in print and other physically held formats and access to more than 42,000 online serials.

An evaluation of how serials are presented in the online catalog can be guided by these key questions:

* How should a library represent serials owned or licensed at the title level?

* How should a library represent the specific volumes and issues owned or licensed for each title?

* What is the role of the catalog?

To address these issues, one must look at what data should be included, the source of the data, how it is recorded, and how it is displayed.

Literature Review

Literature on the subject of the presentation of serials information in the online catalog ranges from general works on the problems users face in finding and interpreting serials information to papers addressing specific aspects, including holdings information, information on volumes involved in internal workflows, online catalog displays, and issues related to online serials.

The Serials Maze

Serials are a particular area for confusion in online catalogs, as they were in their paper-based predecessors. A quarter century ago, Pinzelik described the confusion caused by the "serials maze," saying, "Patrons want to know if the library subscribes to a specific title, if the library's holdings include a certain volume and issue, where the issue is located, if the pages are intact, and if they can photocopy it, check it out, or sit down and read it." (1) She adopted a user perspective in outlining the process of finding information about serials, identifying up to twenty-four decision points for a user. Her solution was a serials information desk to help patrons navigate the complexities of serials. Additionally, she suggested reducing special locations, using shelf dummies, creating better signage, and creating clearer serials records. …


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