Basic Serials Management Handbook

Under the auspices of the IFLA Section on Serial Publications

Judith Szilvassy





1.1 Importance of serials
1.1.1 History
1.1.2 Number of serial publications
1.2 Definition of a serial
1.3 Types of serials.
1.3.1 Genuine serials
1.3.2 Non-serials (quasi serials)
1.4 Complexities.
1.4.1 Continuous publication
1.4.2 Problems in numbering
1.4.3 Variant titles
1.4.4 Changes
1.5 Identification of serials
1.5.1 Background
1.5.2 The ISSN
1.5.3 The key title


2.0 Organizational/functional aspects: Introduction
2.1 Acquisitions control
2.1.1 Principles of collection development and selection.
2.1.2 Co-operative acquisition
2.1.3 Procurement of serials
2.1.4 Financial control
2.1.5 Inventory (accessions register)
2.1.6 Statistics
2.2 Bibliographic control
2.2.1 The bibliographic record
2.2.2 Descriptive cataloguing
2.2.3 Subject cataloguing
2.2.4 Catalogues
2.3 Holdings control.
2.3.1 Stock-taking
2.3.2 Weeding (discarding)


3.1 Storage
3.1.1 Open versus closed stacks
3.1.2 Allocation of the call number
3.1.3 Shelf-reading
3.1.4 Shifting
3.2 Co-operative storage
3.3 Microforms
3.4 Conservation, preservation
3.4.1 Conservation
3.4.2 Preservation

Chapter 4 - SERVICING

4.0 Direct access to serials: Introduction
4.1 Readers' Service
4.1.1 Registration Service
4.1.2 Reading Room
4.1.3 Reference Service
4.1.4 Loan Service
4.1.5 Photocopying Service
4.1.6 Translation Service
4.2 Access to serials through secondary services
4.2.1 Current awareness service (CAS)
4.2.2 Abstracting and Indexing Services (A & I)
4.3 Access to serials through interlibrary loan
4.3.1 The international scene
4.3.2 The local scene
4.4 Access to serials through union catalogues


5.1 Importance and role of standards
511 ISO (International Organization for Standardization)
5.2 Role and achievements of international organizations and bodies
5.2.1 Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
5.2.2 IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions)
5.2.3 FID (International Federation for Information and Documentation)
5.3 International information systems
5.3.1 ISDS (International Serials Data System)
5.3.2 AGRIS and CARIS


6.0 Introduction
6.1 Small-scale automation
6.1.1 OSIRIS (Online Serials Information Registration and Inquiry System)
6.1.2 CD-ROM workstation
6.2 Library education and training
6.2.1 The local scene
6.2.2 Regional achievements
6.2.3 International assistance


Annex 1: Models of overriding slips for use in the Kardex
Annex 2: Filing rules
Annex 3: List of standards in all areas of serials librarianship and related fields
Annex 4: Location of Unesco field offices on five continents
Annex 5: Distributing bodies for Unesco Coupons throughout the world
Annex 6: PGI documents resource centres
Annex 7: Location of IFLA Regional Offices and Chairs of Regional Standing Committees


DEFINITIONS including GLOSSARY OF BASIC TERMS in the field of automation and computer technology



(D) : see Definitions
(R) : see References at the end of the Chapters and Annexes

Note: References are numbered by subchapters; the figures following the slash indicate their sequence within the subchapter (e.g. 511/1, 511/2, etc.)
*RL* : see List for further reading and consultation.


Serials constitute the single most important vehicle for global scholarly communication. The management, acquisition and preservation of serials create substantial challenges for librarians, in both the developed and least developed countries. It is extremely important that libraries throughout the world make best possible use of the serials resources they are able to acquire and this handbook is intended to assist serials librarians in the least developed countries in adopting best practice in serials management. The original concept of the publication was: assist non-specialists and beginners, particularly in countries without a national bibliographic agency, or lacking a library school, or having library schools which do not cover serials librarianship in breadth and depth. It is intended as an introduction to serials and to the various types of control systems. It is definitely not [meant] for those living in a realm of automation.

(Jean Whiffin: Introduction to the project outline, 1983)

The origin of the publication goes back a number of years. The original suggestion for the project was made by Ross Bourne, former Chairman of the IFLA Section on Serial Publications. It was prompted by experience gained at workshops initiated by the ISDS International Centre and organized with UNESCO support.

The aim of the workshops was to train isds staff who would be working in ISDS National Centres in the developing countries of Africa, in the processing and management of serials. Following the workshops, it became apparent that there existed an urgent need to assist librarians in these countries in acquiring a basic knowledge of serials management.

The original project suggested the preparation of a "handbook of serials house-keeping routines for use in developing countries". This proposal was then refined by Jean Whiffin, Head of the University of Victoria Serials Division and Standing Committee Member. At that time, as the UNESCO/IFLA consultant on union catalogues of serials, she had been evaluating the responses of an international survey. The answers emanating from developing countries convinced her that in many cases there was a considerable lack of understanding about even the basic aspects of serials management and administration. As a consequence, in 1983, she submitted an outline of a publication entitled "Basic Serials Management" which was endorsed subsequently by the Standing Committee on Serial Publications. Financial assistance was guaranteed by IFLA in October 1984.

Finding an author for such a major undertaking proved a daunting task. Unsuccessful attempts were made to find either a European or North American librarian with experience in developing countries, or a librarian from a developing country with experience in Europe or North America. In 1988, however, the Serials Standing Committee was delighted to appoint a person highly qualified for the task Judith Szilvassy, at present Director of the Council of Europe Budapest Information and Documentation Centre. Judith's background many years with the International Serials Data System (ISDS), work on international serials standardization and management of union catalogues and experience for five years manager of the UNESCO/UNDP project in South East Asia were perfectly suited to the project. After several years of hard work, the handbook was completed, to the great satisfaction of all those involved in the project.

The content of this handbook are comprehensive and wide-ranging including:

  • definitions
  • acquisition
  • bibliographic control
  • conservation and preservation
  • access
  • standards
  • education and training

The text concentrates on those aspects of serials management which can be performed in a non-automated environment and gives emphasis to those processes which can be assimilated in normal library working practices to the benefit of both library staff and library users. However, a separate chapter is devoted to the potential paths for future development such as small-scale automation, the use of CD-ROM, etc. Guidance is also provided in finding international assistance and establishing closer relations with the international library community. It is to be hoped that serials librarians in the least developed countries will find it an invaluable reference tool in their day-to-day

Hazel Woodward
Chair IFLA Standing Committee on Serials Publications
June 1996


During long years of involvement in diverse serials-related activities with international bodies like UNESCO; International Organization for Standardization (ISO); International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), the basic concepts and operations appeared obvious. However, on taking up assignment to set up a national centre in one of the less developed countries, I realized that there was a widespread lack of understanding of serials, even of information science and librarianship in general.

At the same time, as the years passed, I learned to appreciate the tremendous willingness to learn on the part of the staff I was training. After five years they were perfectly capable of working at an international level.

When, following an account of my experiences, I was approached by the IFLA Section on Serial Publications to write a handbook on serials management for librarians in less developed countries, I had a clear idea about their needs, but also about the complexity of the challenge I was facing.

The target audience to whom the manual was to be addressed was assumed to have little or no library training and certainly none in serials librarianship. For this reason I felt myself compelled to start from the basic level offering step by step guidance through the various fields of serials management. Accordingly, the general approach adopted throughout the handbook consists in outlining briefly the theoretical/historical background followed by the presentation in italics of the corresponding operational procedures. It should be noted, however, that the latter are described as examples of good practice rather than meant to be prescriptive, and some sections apply, inevitably, also to monographs and other types of documents. Where deemed necessary, the text is accompanied by illustrative examples.

The concluding chapters outline the more advanced automated library technologies and introduce the reader to the role of relevant international bodies. Hints and suggestions are also offered on potential sponsors and donors assisting libraries in creating and updating their holdings.

The seven annexes, the lists of definitions, acronyms and the recommended literature are expected to assist the librarian in his/her daily work. I wish to express my sincerest appreciation to the members of the Section on Serial Publications and all those who have assisted me with their advice and encourage-ment in completing the handbook. Particular thanks are due to Hazel Woodward, Section Chair, to Ross Bourne, the referee of the text and to Elayne Meredith Wanke to whom I am indebted for polishing my English.

Judith Szilvassy

Director - Council of Europe
Information and Documentation Centre
Budapest, Hungary
June 1996

Serials and Other Continuing Resources

Last update: 5 October 2012