1.1 Background of the Study
Withinlibrary Technology, serial publications have been considered traditionally as a separately distinguishable library resource because there are differences in their contents, format, bibliographical relationships, and the methods of acquisition and service. Definitions of the term “serial” vary from authority to authority and from library to library, as A. Osborn makes clear in his study.’ For this article the term is used to include all those publications which are issued with varying frequency, with a title common to successive issues, but without a foreseeable ending. Within this definition fall periodicals, governmental serials, newspapers, series, annuals, proceedings, transactions, and other less easily delineated categories. This lack of clarity in definition is partly responsible for the absence of an authoritative quantitative analysis of the extent of serial publishing. UNESCO recently attempted a quantitative swey on a world-wide basis,2 but admitted the difficulties in obtaining reliable data and in arriving at definitions which are generally acceptable.
Serials are an essential and integral component of every major research library collection because the information they contain reflects the most current developments in all fields of activity. The basic nature of the serials publishing process insures that their "sequential products" are distributed in a timely fashion; timeliness is fundamental to their relevance. It logically follows that efficient processing of these materials is key to providing the necessary timely access to them.
Cataloging rules set only three basic criteria for a serial publication: 1) it is issued in discrete parts; 2) generally, each part carries a number or date that uniquely identifies it; 3) the publication has no predetermined conclusion. Within these basic requirements one finds material that differs as widely as one can imagine. Many government documents are issued serially and contain unique information that only such an agency could develop (e.g., CIA reports). On the other extreme one finds more ephemeral material that is generated by individuals with desktop publishing capabilities (e.g., family-specific genealogical information). From annual reports to car repair manuals, the serials cataloger typically handles a great variety of material that presents numerous challenges and also leads to an exposure to a wide body of knowledge.