Classifying/cataloging periodicals for archives in a natural history museum?
October 7, 2007 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I need to organize thousands of serials/periodicals which have been stored in boxes for the past 10 years, into a coherent, accessible collection. They go back 100 years. The goal is to place them, vertically, on shelves and make them available for research. Any ideas on how to classify them? The books in the collection are organized according to Dewey Decimal. Should I attempt to assign Dewey classification numbers to each "run" of a particular journal? How would I depict the Dewey number on an individual issue? I'm stumped! Maybe I should just go alphabetical. I'm a volunteer reference librarian who doesn't know anything about cataloging but I'm willing to learn to help this project. Thanks.
posted by Tullyogallaghan to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

IIRC you organise them in those a bankers box/magazine file according to volume/number or year. When I was in university I had to use periodicals a lot and one you found your reference in the catalogue you simply had to browse down the shelves until you found the box labelled with the year or volume and then you were away.

With large periodicals the boxes had "Vol 3 No 1-6" and the one right next door had "Vol 3 No 7-12" or what have you.

If you're able to swing by any college periodicals department you should be a similar system.
posted by dasfreak at 6:56 PM on October 7, 2007

2nding Dasfreak's advice in general (forget dewey and just go by title, broken down into volumes and issues), but the details depend on a few factors:
-are your users more likely to only care about the most recent issues, or are you in a research library where older issues are regularly consulted?

if the former, you can probably get away with storing only a set number of issues for each title (e.g., the past 1 year) on "browsing" shelves, then put all the rest in a less accessible storage area.

-do the users help themselves, or are you the "fetcher" for the articles people want?

if the latter, just do whatever's easiest for you, regardless of how much sense it might make to someone else (unless, of course, someone else will be fetching too).

-do the users tend to request specific articles (e.g., from a citation or bibliography), or do they want articles related to subjects but don't know where to start?

if the former, and people fetch their own journals, be very careful about clearly labeling your collection, and regularly go through the journals to make sure nothing's out of place.

if the latter, do your best to get access to a good online index that includes your titles, so you can help people search by subject.

-are your users using a computerized catalog to look up articles?

if no, do your best to create one. there are fancy software apps to catalog library items, but even access or excel might work fine for journals. just focus on cataloging your holdings, and keeping them updated (update the record for each title as you get new issues, make notes of missing issues, etc.). be as specific as you can about shelving locations; "Journal Shelvings" is lame, but numbering your shelves or something so that a title could show as being in "Journals Shelving, Section 4" is much more helpful.

if yes, do the same thing (minus the "creating the catalog" part).

above all, think like a library user. you want to connect people to what they're looking for, not call attention to the process. good luck!
posted by Rykey at 7:24 PM on October 7, 2007

posted by nowonmai at 7:26 PM on October 7, 2007

First rule in setting up a new library is thinking how will the users access the information and then making it as intuitive as possible for them. So yes, most public libraries would organise seperate materials by type and organise periodicals aphabetically by title of magazine and then chronologically by year/volume. Another library may choose to organise all materials (books/magazines/pamphets) by subject (which DDC and LC do along with homemade indexes). So someone wanting to see material on Africa will find the books and magazines side by side. Periodicals can be tricky as they change names or merge or change the frequency of publication.

Since you are working with 100 year old material you should be using archival storage systems, climate control and avoiding direct sun. Yes, it is expensive but it is pretty sad to invest time into organising your collection only to see valuable materials rot away because they were stored incorrectly. And you mention you want to store the magazines vertically on the shelf, with most non-hardcover items vertical storage is very damaging. With your archival materials you will want minimise unnecessary handling of fragile materials. So, if for example, if one periodical has an annual index published you might want to photocopy it or create a database that patrons can use instead of the same issue being handled multiple times.

I work in a public library and quite frequently help people such as yourself decide how to oraganise libraries in small organisations. It would probably be worth your time to visit the local library and ask for advice as well as peruse books such as the Whole Library Handbook.

I am a cataloguer but not YOUR cataloguer.
posted by saucysault at 7:26 PM on October 7, 2007

Talk to the cataloguer at your library. She (or he) will be more able to assist you and probably happy to do so. If there is an archivist on staff, consult with them as well. Or, talk to the cataloguer and/or archivist at another public library in town.
Also, saucysault is right: in organizing a collection, you need to figure out how users will access the information and what will be best for them to do so. Also, using proper storage materials (Hollinger boxes, climate controlled areas if possible) and limiting handling of the materials by creating effective and detailed finding aids will be essential in making the collection last.
You might also want to look on WorldCat to see how many other libraries own this collection and how they classify it. Furthermore, you might want to see if the materials are either in the public domain, already freely available on the web (like through the Internet Archive's text archive), or if your library subscribes to an online service that already indexes and provides full texts of these journals (like EBSCO, a subscription service). If so, you may just need to concentrate on the archival aspect of the problem and deal with arrangement in terms of original order and provenance. You can read more about starting an archive and how to manage records in Gregory Hunter's Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives, a resource you will want to consult in addition to the Whole Library Handbook mentioned above.
posted by k8lin at 9:12 PM on October 7, 2007

I do not now how important it is to preserve the original look of those periodicals, but have you considered to have them bound?

A whole one or two years of a scientific journal get bound into a single durable hardcover book with the title and year on the spine. This way they are easily stored and accessed, but hard to destroy. They should keep a long time.

On the other hand, if the look and feel are of historical merit, binding them might be considered sacrilegious.
posted by mmkhd at 8:07 AM on October 8, 2007

I would second the suggestion to put the old one's in climate-controlled and access-controlled location in archival quality enclosures. I like how the bound periodicals look, and it protects the individual journal (to ensure long term use) and it is easier to track them. You can see at a glance if a bound volume is off the shelf but it is much harder if a slim 50-pager is missing. If you are storing them alphabetically, look for changes in journal title ("What's news at Metafilter" changes to "Metafilter Weekly", for instance) and whether it is essentially the same publication or substantially different and if you want this journal stored under W or M or both.
posted by philfromhavelock at 8:22 AM on October 8, 2007

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