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TL v57n4 Modular Serials Training at the University of Memphis
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 4 



Modular Serials Training at the University of Memphis

Elizabeth McDonald
Interim Head of Cataloging

Ned McWherter Library, University of Memphis


Providing accurate information to patrons is critical, and since the catalog is the primary resource to the libraries’ holdings, training for cataloging -- and particularly serials cataloging -- is important to the functionality and usability of the catalog.  Making sure that all staff involved in cataloging serials have the necessary background and understanding of the rules, processes, and uniformity of local practices is essential.  Though training is expensive and time consuming, library staff must understand the rules and how they interact with local policies, procedures and systems. 

At the University of Memphis, an urban university serving over 20,000 students, several factors precipitated the initiation of local training in serials cataloging.  The retirement of both the Serials Cataloger and the Head of the Periodicals Department had resulted in a long period without serials cataloging leadership.  Once these positions were filled, a training opportunity was identified by the new librarians. Serials cataloging at the University Libraries is scattered among three different departments in the library: Cataloging, Periodicals, and Government Publications.  The Cataloging Department catalogs all serials issued annually or less frequently which are shelved by call number in the regular stacks, as well as Tennessee Documents.  The Periodicals Department catalogs serials issued more frequently than annually which are shelved alphabetically by title on the second floor.  Government Publications personnel catalog federal documents and as of 2005, have been receiving the MARCIVE serials loads.  Additionally, three consorital members also contribute records.  

The three departments – Cataloging, Periodicals, and Government Publications -- have worked independently for years.  The advent of newer formats such as electronic serials was an impetus towards standardizing the policies and procedures in place, and provided a means of communication between people doing similar work.  In order to initiate better communication among these units and their respective staff and department heads, a Serials Cataloging Group, chaired by the new Serials Cataloging Specialist, was implemented.  There were to be at least two members from the three departments required to attend and report back to their departments, and anyone interested in serials or a specific issue could attend.  This group was to meet regularly to discuss any and all aspects of serials cataloging and its impact and interaction with other departments and processes.   

In the first meeting of the Serials Cataloging group, the chair realized that staff working in the three departments had received training at different levels, by different people, and at different times, some several years in the past.  For instance, several employees from both Cataloging and Periodicals, but not the Government Publications department had attended the Basic Serials Cataloging Workshop from the Serials Cataloging Cooperative Training Program (SCCTP) in 2003.  The Serials Cataloging Specialist and the Head of Cataloging decided to provide some basic group training.  This training was not meant to take the place of either the SCTTP training or more individualized training, but to ensure that staff involved in serials had the same fundamental understanding of the principles involved and a common vocabulary for participating in the Serials Cataloging Group.  We hoped it would stimulate questions for discussion and possible future training. 

The Head of the Cataloging Department and the Serials Specialist in the Cataloging Department met to determine the topics and format of the initial training sessions.  They designed a modular format with faculty and staff in Cataloging developing and providing the training.  This approach capitalized on the knowledge and experience of the new Serials Specialist, and incorporated the long-standing local expertise of Cataloging departmental members.  In addition, the burden of developing the training sessions and material would not fall on a single person. Training was envisioned as an ongoing process with changes occurring as the sessions were developed, with the expectation that some of the modules could be reused or revised later for other classes. 

The framework for the training established the first four sessions and the goals to be achieved in each.  Sessions were to be no more than two hours long, ensuring maximum participation by busy staff from other departments. In addition, shorter sessions would make it easier for participants to retain what they learned.  

The first four sessions were as follow: 1. Introduction to Cataloging Rules and Standards (taught by the Head of the Cataloging Department), 2.  Introduction to using AACR2r (American Library Association 2002), MARC (Marc 21 Concise Format for Bibliographic Data 2000), and Authority Work (taught by the Serials Specialist), 3. Introduction to Cataloging Monographs (taught by the Senior Copy Cataloger), and 4. Introduction to Cataloging Serials (taught by the Serials Specialist).  After some discussion it was decided that Authority Work would be covered in a separate session to be developed later.  These workshops paralleled departmental training, introducing the concepts in a practical manner, and covering monographs first to lay a better foundation to talk about serials and how the two differ.  Serials were then contrasted with monographs to clarify the issues involved.   

General guidelines for topics to be covered were outlined for the first two sessions.  The rest were outlined and fleshed out as the training progressed.  In addition to moving the authority work portion to its own separate session, the serials cataloging portion was divided further into two sections: the first would cover the basics, and the second, to be given later, would cover issues such as title changes.  The need for future sessions would be determined by needs expressed in the Serials Cataloging Group.   

The outline for the first session was basically a laundry list of cataloging subjects: descriptive cataloging, subject cataloging, and classification and the tools that govern their use: AACR2r, Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI’s) (Hiatt 1989), and Library of Congress Subject Headings (Library of Congress Subject Headings 1975), for example.  Session two was a list of topics from AACR2r and various standards such as MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging), and CONSER (Cooperative Online Serials).  The third and fourth sessions, originally conceived of as hands-on were to be developed and detailed by the trainers, were actually changed and adapted during the process.  

This original outline, comprising a list of tools and sources, was the starting point of our training.  By listing and examining the tools, we pinpointed what it was that we wanted to convey to the participants -- what could be treated with depth and what could be broken into separate sessions.  Each of the first two presenters built upon this, by determining the goals for what the participants would learn.  Brainstorming helped us to determine two main objectives. One was to create a basic foundation for serials cataloging.  The other was to address an issue that staff discussions and individual training had uncovered.  The role international and national standards and rules play versus local policies and practices in the cataloging of materials at the library was not well understood.  Identifying and solving serials issues requires staff to determine what the issue, question, or problem is and then knowing where to go to get the correct answers.  This necessitates understanding when a question is answered by a rule or standard versus one by a local policy or procedure.  Applying and changing policies and procedures calls for recognizing what is based on an international rule, local issue, or something dictated by our system.  Solving this issue meant including topics such as OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), and our local system history.  Four sessions is a limited amount of time, so we took a basic, broad brushstrokes approach, which we hoped would spark questions for future discussion.   

Session 1, Introduction to Cataloging Rules and Standards

This session started with a discussion by the Head of Cataloging of why we catalog and the need for rules.  We stressed that the ultimate purpose of cataloging is access to information.

      Topics covered:

      • Purpose of cataloging – Access to information
      • History, development, revision, and organization of AACR2r
      • Library of Congress Rule interpretations
      • Elements of a catalog record and the rules governing them
        • Description
        • Subject analysis
        • Classification
      • Transcription of data vs. controlled headings
      • International Standard Bibliographic Description punctuation
      • Relationship of AACR2r and MARC 21
      • History of OCLC and its organization
      • History of our local system

While the emphasis in training was on description, participants needed to understand that different rules and sources apply to different parts of the catalog record.    The critical part of this session was how the interaction of the different rules, standards, policies and procedures form the core of cataloging at the University of Memphis. Added to this is the impact of vendors, systems, and the historic legacy of procedures. This session took around one hour and forty-five minutes.  None of these issues was dealt with in depth; however, we wanted the attendees to see the complexity behind the decisions governing the cataloging of materials. 

Session 2, Introduction to Using AACR2r, MARC, and Authority Work

The Serials Specialist illustrated how to incorporate these rules and standards into serials cataloging.

       Topics covered:

      • CONSER creation, history, training, and documentation
        •    CONSER Editing Guide (Conser Editing Guide 1994),
        • CONSER Newsletter (Conser Newsletter)
        • Relationship to AACR2r
      • Notes for Serials Cataloging (Geer and Thomas 1998)
      • Serialist listserv (Serialist listserv)
      • NASIG, North American Serials Interest Group (NASIG (North American Serials Interest Group))
      • Tools for Serials Catalogers (Ercelawn 1995-)
      • Serials vs. monographic series
      • AACR2r chapters 21-26 on access
      • MARC record format
      • OCLC’s Bibliographic Formats and Standards (Bibliographic Formats and Standards 2002)
      • MARC documentation at the Library of Congress (Marc 21 Concise Format for Bibliographic Data 2000)
      • MARC record features displayed in both OCLC and local system formats
        • Fixed fields
        • Variable fields
        • Pairing of some fixed and variable fields
        • 1xx shorthand
        • Fixed fields which affect record selection
        • Shared characteristics of MARC tag groups

As in the first session, the influence of local policies and procedures was highlighted.  Since recognition that headings require a different process from description was the goal, training in local headings verification and creation was not covered in these sessions.  

Session 3, Introduction to Cataloging Monographs

This session started the practical portion of the training. 

      Topics covered: 

      • AACR2r definition of monographs
      • DLC copy cataloging, local processing, and order card details
      • OCLC Connexion
      • Local processing routines
      • Fixed fields showing record history

The Senior Copy Cataloger reviewed the cataloging process, using an actual title to demonstrate the prescribed sources of information and how they work in a record.  Attendees were given a copy of the title’s OCLC record, the local system record, and our local order card to follow along with.  Participants received a list of all the fixed fields with emphasis on their relationship to the content and accuracy of information in the record. 

The MARC tags for the body of the record were covered noting transcription fields, and fields under authority control.  The importance of note order in the monographic record, local holdings fields were discussed as well as which fields the University Libraries routinely deletes from the bibliographic record.  The goal of this session was to give an overview of the entire monographic copy cataloging process from the point of receipt until it leaves a departmental desk.  It was not expected that anyone would be able to catalog on their own after training, but it paved the way for differentiating the differences between monographic and serials cataloging.  Each attendee was then given a new book and a printout on which they could practice editing over the next week.  Fourteen handouts, which fell into two categories; those specific to the book used in the demonstration  and practical, departmental, processing, or coding handouts were distributed. 

Session 4, Introduction to Cataloging Serials

The Serials Specialist who taught Session 4 covered the basics of copy cataloging new records and showed the standard fields that apply to serials. 

      Topics covered:

      • Relationship of AACR2r and MARC 21
      • AACR2r Chapter 12
      • 2002 revisions
      • Continuing resources contrasting serials and integrating resources
      • Hints that a title might be a serial
      • Important aspects of serials cataloging
      • Description based on 1st available issue and its effects on coding
      • Describes entire run including run and local holdings
      • Rule variation through time
      • Prescribed sources
      • Record selection and editing
      • MARC fixed and variable fields unique to serials
      • Relationship between fixed and variable fields
      • Uniform titles for serials contrasted with monographs
      • Fields not used by the local system

Participants saw when to edit fields during copy cataloging, and how it differs from original cataloging.  The linking fields, 76x-78x were postponed to a later session, though the Serials Specialist noted their importance and the location of information about them.  At the end of the presentation, participants received a serial title for practice.  Six handouts detailed the basis of description, frequency, fixed and variable fields, and examples of caption titles and information in the masthead.  Attendees completed an exercise on use of the 362 field developed for the session. 

Areas identified for further training were title changes, linking fields, supplements, analytics, electronic serials, and integrating resources.  In addition, there could be sessions on authority control, subject cataloging, and classification, as well as specific training on Cataloger’s Desktop and Classification Web in the future.   

No formal evaluation of the training occurred.  In the future, as we present more sessions, this is something that needs to be explored.  We did, however, get positive feedback from several sources.  After the first session, staff from the Systems Department asked to join the training, having heard it was well done. Additionally, several catalogers attended the last session to learn more about the format.  The Periodicals Department head stated that this was the type of training she wanted.  While this is anecdotal evidence, it does indicate that the training was useful, worthwhile, and should be continued.  Next time, evaluations could be distributed at the end of the training or after participants tried implementing what they had learned. 

Sessions 1, 2, and 4 included PowerPoint presentations which were saved on our shared departmental drive so that they could be reused or adapted in the future.  One of them has already been modified since its initial use and the original version was not saved.  In the future, all iterations will be saved so that presenters can choose aspects of each to better tailor the training or start from scratch if they wish.  Also, the PowerPoints and handouts might be saved to a location where attendees from outside Cataloging could view them.  Session 3 was not done as a PowerPoint as the presenter had not used this software previously.  In the future, trainers might help each other with programs they are unfamiliar with. Using multiple presenters was very successful in that we were able to draw on the strengths of several people and not place the burden on any one.

Several other things could be done differently in the future.  The sessions could be held closer together.  This did not originally happen as the training was being created as it was presented.  Changing or eliminating the monographs section may need to be explored, as the intention was to provide a monographic framework to compare serials to, paralleling traditional one-on-one training as it is done in the department. It is not clear how much this helped in a classroom setting.  The handouts should be evaluated to obtain a better sense of their value and use to the participants.  The hands-on sessions did not have any mechanism for reviewing participants’ work.  In the future, a sample could be placed on the web and have participants could hand their finished work to the respective session leaders to review.  New sessions still need to be created, no doubt they will be improved by what has been learned here.

As has been said before, the end result was not to create serials catalogers, but to make participants aware of the issues and practices involved and encourage a common language about serials, furthering questions and discussion in the future. The sessions were very effective in doing this.  The training provided insight and experience into the complexities of the serials format and gave participants a better understanding of the broader issues of cataloging and how the international rules, vendor choices, and local practices inform the end result.  It has helped increase and improve participation in decision-making.  Follow-up sessions will help to cement what participants learned.  Better means to provide one-on-one training for cataloging serials in other departments still needs to be developed.  Though there was no formal evaluation, positive verbal feedback suggested that, overall, this was a successful venture into training staff from several departments using a modular format.


American Library Association. (2002). Anglo-American cataloguing rules. Chicago: American Library Association.

OCLC. (2002). Bibliographic Formats and Standards (3rd ed). Available from Revision history

Library of Congress. (1994). Conser Editing Guide. Washington: Serial Record Division. Distributed by the Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service.

Conser Newsletter. No. 1 (Oct. 1978)-no. 25 (June 1993). 25 v. ; 28 cm. Columbus, Ohio: OCLC, Inc.

Ercelawn, Ann. (1995-). Tools for Serials Catalogers. Accessed. Available from

Geer, Beverley, Caraway Beatrice L. and Nancy G. Thomas. (1998). Notes for Serials Cataloging. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited.

Hiatt, Robert M. (1989). Library of Congress Rule Interpretations. Washington: Cataloging Distribution Service, Library of Congress.

Library of Congress. Library of Congress Subject Headings. (1975).  Available from (Note: restricted to subscribers only).

Library of Congress. (2000). Marc 21 Concise Format for Bibliographic Data.  Library of Congress, Network Development and MARC Standards Office. Available from

Nasig (North American Serials Interest Group). Available from

Serialist listserv. Available from 

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