What is Series Authority Control

Last week we talked a little bit about the history of how series have been handled, but what is series authority control? Of all the types of Authority Control (Names, Subjects, Series) series is likely the most complex aspect and can be quite overwhelming for both newcomers and veterans of Authority Control. Our Authority Librarian, Karen, has once again come to our aid to help explain what a series is, and how Authority Control works with series.

A series is defined by AACR2 as a group of separate items related to one another by the fact that each bears, in addition to its own title proper, a collective title applying to the group as a whole.  A series under authority control uses a controlled or unique chosen access point for the collective title of a series in the analytic bibliographic records.

Series authority work is the process of controlling those collective titles through the use of authority records.  Series authority work is done for the same reasons as name authority work; that is first, to create a single form of the series title which will collocate records so that the user can find all the records related to that resource; and second to create a unique form of the series title which will distinguish records for one resource from those for a different resource.  Uniqueness is especially important since many series have the same or similar titles.

There are several decisions that need to be made to control a series.  These decisions should be based on a standard such as AACR2.

The first decision is to decide which form of the series title will be used as the authorized form.  A single, unique form of the title needs to be chosen often from among several variant forms.  Then that decision needs to be recorded.  Three possibilities for this include:

  • Use the bibliographic record for the resource used for the series data to record the authorized form.
  • Create an alphabetic listing of series in the library.
  • Use a Series Authority Record  (SAR)

The SAR provides the best method for access, and can also contain a lot of other valuable information about the series.  The authority record can be on a card, or most commonly now, a machine-readable record.  More on SAR’s below.

The second decision to make is how the series will be treated.  How will you handle the parts of the series that come in to your institution?  A couple of points to consider are:

  • Analyze or not
  • Class together or separately

The third decision is whether to trace the title or not.  This means deciding whether to use the access point in your database or catalog.

It is important that these decisions be recorded because not all series will be handled in the same way.  Actions taken for subsequent acquisitions need to be consistent.  The most common way to record series authority records is a MARC 21 record format.  Since MARC21 is a machine-readable format, the records can be updated at any stage in the workflow.  They are based on standards and can be easily shared with the greater library community.

A Series Authority Record (SAR) is the means to generate consistency in any database (or catalog) and allow the retrieval of all the series in a logical display.  The SAR should serve three functions:

  1. Provide a unique and authoritative heading.  The record reflects the chosen form that will be used as an access point for the series for all bibliographic records containing references to the series.  Uniqueness promotes consistency in the database and allows the retrieval of all analytics in a predictable display.  Several fields in a MARC format SAR provide the required information.  The 1xx field is used to record the chosen form of the series title.  This is the authorized heading.  Related to the function of the 1xx to record the chosen form, the 4xx fields are used to record variant forms of the heading (series title) that were not chosen as the authorized form.  The 642 field provides the style of numbering to be used with the series if it is numbered and also provides consistency.
  2. Provide identification – the record should provide enough information to identify the resource used in doing the authority work for a particular series, and distinguish this series from all others.  The 1xx and 4xx fields are also part of this function.  Other fields providing identification are:

643 –   contains the place and publisher of the series

670 –   contains the time period of publication

642 –   numbering example taken from the source listed in the first 670 field.

667 –   this is a note field that is used to record other information that is valuable,  but does not fit into other fields.

  1. Show the treatment – the SAR should be a record of the decisions regarding analysis, tracing, and classification.  It can have both local and other decisions.  Fields used for this function are:

050-090 –  These fields record the call number chosen for the series if the decision is to class holdings together.

644 –   this field records the analysis decision

645 –   this field records the tracing decision

646 –   this field records the classification decision (see fields 050-090)

One other type of SAR can actually be for something that is not a series.  Many resources have phrases or other character strings that will not be considered as a series.  Although a SAR is not required to record this conclusion, providing one with the documentation for the decision to not consider it a series will create consistency for questionable cases.  It will also save time in the future by avoiding having to make the same decision over and over again as other materials come in.

In a MARC21 bibliographic record the 490 field is used to record the transcription of the series from the item.  In this field, the series appears exactly like it does on the item.  A 500 note field may also be used for the series.  The 8xx fields (800, 810, 811, and 830) are used to provide a tracing for the series when needed.  These fields will contain the authorized form of the series title.  This demonstrates the need for the authority work to provide consistency.  The series on items do not always appear the same way so there could be different headings in the 490 fields for the same series.  But by having one authorized form, the 8xx fields for that series will always have the exact same heading.  Without this consistency, it could be very difficult to find all the parts of the same series in the catalog or database.

Series authority records can provide effective management for the bibliographic headings and can also provide physical control of series holdings in the library. By creating series authority records and maintaining a database of the records (an authority file) consistency will be maintained.  Time and effort will be saved in the future.  As new materials come in, the work on the series and the decisions regarding it will not have to be done over and over again.

For a detailed explanation of Series authority work see the excellent power point presentation by Judith A. Kuhagen of the Cataloging Policy & Support Office at the Library of Congress.  http://library.ust.hk/info/other/feb2005/series.html Although this presentation is from 2005 and some of the LC policies and MARC tags talked about have changed, the process of making the decisions needed for series authority work in gone into in great detail.

For more information on the changes to series policies and MARC tags see the article “A Brief History of Series Authority Work”

For more information on using the MARC21 standards, see the MARC21 Format for Authority Data http://www.loc.gov/marc/authority/ecadhome.html and the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data http://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/ecbdhome.html

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2 Responses to “What is Series Authority Control”

  1. Nate Cothran says:

    When we were hard at work on the rewrite of our authority control system, I remember the painstaking effort in order to make sure the series authority processing was working properly!

    Many of our clients helped us with the parallel processing and looking at their records with a fine-tooth comb.

    We realized the kind of parameters (i.e., options) we’d need to have in place for our clients re: series processing. There’s a lot of different ways we can handle this and we learned a lot about it.

    Chad, how many parameters do we actually offer for series processing? It seems to be one of the areas where we’ve tried to be as all-inclusive as possible.

  2. Chad says:

    Yeah, you’re right Nate. We definitely have spent a lot of time providing for almost any possible result regarding the series tags.

    In fact, we have approximately 20 different parameters that deal with series that allow you to set over 50 possible choices.