Foundations of Series

Dear Elsie

I know you wrote about series once before, but could you clarify how series and series tracings work? For example, if I want to find all the Harry Potter books, do I just enter “Harry Potter” in a series search?

A Muggle in Monmouth


Dear Muggle, 

We did discuss series several years ago, after MARBI discontinued field 440 and LC stopped establishing new series. But series are a tricky aspect of cataloging, so it's good to review them once in a while.

First of all, what is a series? The definition in both AACR2 and RDA is:

“A group of separate items related to one another by the fact that each item bears, in addition to its own title proper, a collective title applying to the group as a whole. The individual items may or may not be numbered.”

Strictly speaking, then, a book or other item belongs to a series only if we find on it a title shared by other titles. The seven Harry Potter novels are certainly related, but in their original British and U.S. editions they bore no titles besides their individual titles. Thus in terms of AACR2's and RDA's definitions they do not constitute a series.

So how are such related works brought together in a catalog? In this case, the seven titles all beginning with “Harry Potter and the ...” give us a convenient collocation, but related works don't always have such titles. A more reliable method for fiction, when multiple works feature a recurring character, family, place, or organization, is to establish and apply subject headings, e.g.,

650 _0 $a Potter, Harry (Fictitious character) $v Fiction.
650 _0 $a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Imaginary place) $v Fiction.

But back to true series. The first thing to realize is that a series has a dual character, bibliographically speaking. It is part of the bibliographic description, and it can be the basis of an access point (tracing).

Examples of True Series

Example 1: A book whose title page reads:

Jack Kerouac
On the Road
Introduction by Ann Charters
Penguin Books

On the cover is the title “Penguin Classics.” This is a title shared by other books published by Penguin, thus, it is a series.

Example 2: An audiobook on CD. On the surfaces of the discs we find:

Dance of the Gods
by Nora Roberts

And on the container insert we find the phrase, “Book Two of the Circle Trilogy.”

The first thing we do with these series statements is record them just as they are found (with one exception to be noted):

Penguin classics
The circle trilogy ; bk. 2

The second statement contains an exception. When the series numbering appears before the series title, as here, AACR2 instructs us to transpose it to the end and follow the normal rules for transcribing series numbering (use abbreviations; record numbers as arabic numerals).

So those are the series statements — part of the bibliographic description. What about the series access points?

Access Points

Unlike series statements, series access points come under authority control. It's like the difference between a person's name in a statement of responsibility and the same name as an access point. The first is part of the description, recorded as found because it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the edition (manifestation, to use the RDA term) you're cataloging. The second needs to be in a consistent and unique form, and in some cases that means you have to change it in some way.

The first thing we do when constructing a series access point is check the series against an authority file (commonly Library of Congress Authorities¹) and perhaps a local file as well. The first series turns out to be easy: Penguin classics is in the authority file; the record confirms that we've got the right series by telling us that it is published by Penguin Books; and the form of the heading is Penguin classics, just as in the series statement.

Under the MARC tagging conventions followed until June 2008, this series would have been recorded in a field 440, which would have generated data for both the description and the access point; now the statement and access point are in fields 490 and 830 respectively, with the same text in both fields:

490 1_ $a Penguin classics
830 _0 $a Penguin classics.

Author Headings

When we search “Circle trilogy” in the authority file, we encounter a new wrinkle. The form we searched turns out to be a reference directing us not to one authorized heading but to two, and both of them begin with a personal name heading:

Roberts, Nora. Circle trilogy
Roberts, Nora. Circle trilogy (Brilliance Audio (Firm))

Why the name heading? Because Nora Roberts wrote all the works in the Circle Trilogy. When one person is responsible for all the works in a series, AACR2 rule 21.1A2 applies: “Enter a work by one or more persons under the heading for the personal author (see 21.4A), the principal personal author (see 21.6B), or the probable personal author (see 21.5B).” We consider the whole series (or what we know of the whole series) when evaluating and choosing access points, so at this point in our deliberations we are treating the series as a work.

(Sometimes one author starts off writing all the works in a series, the series is established under that author's heading, and then other authors begin contributing works to it. When we cataloging types see that this has happened, we revise the series authority record to make the authorized heading a title heading.)

Why two authorized headings? Because these are actually two series: the first for the print edition of the trilogy, and the second for the audiobook edition, published by Brilliance Audio.

Remember that the series statement is recorded as we find it. The statement may be just the same on the print and CD editions, and in this case apparently it is.

Print and Audio

But the series access point is a controlled heading, and the heading for the audiobook series must be distinguished from the heading for the print series. Most often, we do so by making an addition to one heading or the other. There is no single correct way to do this. Sometimes you will find the place of publication added as a qualifier, sometimes a word or phrase such as (Compact disc), and often, as here, the name of the publisher.

Note that when you choose this last option, the publisher's name is in its authorized (authority-controlled) form. This publisher's name appears in Library of Congress Authorities as Brilliance Audio (Firm). This heading is added as a parenthesized qualifier to the series title to create the heading for this series.

In the bibliographic record for our second example, then, the series statement will be

490 1_ $a The circle trilogy ; $v bk. 2 and the access point will be
800 1_ $a Roberts, Nora. Circle trilogy (Brilliance Audio (Firm)) ; $v bk. 2.

Under RDA, some details of series treatment will change. Notably, terms used in series numbering (such as “volume,” “book,” or “number”) will be transcribed as they appear rather than abbreviated, and in series statements at least, the form of numbers will be preserved (so “volume VI,” transcribed as … ; $v v. 6 under AACR2, will be … ; $v volume VI under RDA). But the basic principles, including the important distinction between series statement and series access point and the use of authority control in establishing the access point, will remain in place.

Bibliographically yours, Elsie


Originally published December 2012 in the ILA Reporter

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