Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Cataloguing E-Journals: Where Are We Now?

Valerie Wilkins reviews the results of a survey, showing a variety of current practices in cataloguing e-journals.

At the beginning of June I sent out a survey on lis-link to discover what other libraries/learning centres were doing (if anything) about electronic journals. The survey was conducted at the suggestion of an in-house OPAC working party which I convene, since here at Derby we had all agreed that we ought to be cataloguing these resources, but had made no further progress due to lack of staff.

Breakdown of replies

I received replies from 12 universities, both old and new, using a variety of computer systems. One institution had not as yet felt the need to address the issue, another three were at a similar discussion stage to us, and were obviously being held back by lack of resources. One spoke of little hope of any extra staffing for the foreseeable future. The uncertainty over the future of the Pilot Site Licence arrangement was seen as a deterrent, considering the amount of work that would be involved to (a) add catalogue records for e-journals in the first place, (b) keep them accurate and up to date, and © delete them should the HEFCE project close. One respondent indicated that the cataloguers were enthusiastic in principle, but wanted the situation to stabilise before proceeding.

What are they cataloguing?

Most libraries who are cataloguing e-journals seem to agree on the value of one entry per title, rather than just a blanket one for the service such as IDEAL. There is also a widespread aim to provide the “real” URL for each title rather than that of the service. However, maintaining direct Web access, presumably from a home page, was also seen as desirable. This would enhance awareness of the facility and help to promote the use of electronic journals in a perhaps more pro-active way than just having access from the appropriate Web OPAC.

At present at Derby electronic journals are only accessible from our Library Web home page, rather than from within our Web OPAC. Ideally, in keeping with BLCMP policy guidelines, [1] the URL for each title would be provided in the 856 field for shared use, and repeated in the 859 field for local use, from which links would give access to the e-journal itself. The policy also states if the URL of the service is the only one available, it may be given as such, but with additional information in fields 500 and 773. There should then also be a separate catalogue record for the service itself, to which the 773 field refers.

Notwithstanding the policy of having a separate record for the electronic version of a journal, there was evidence of a wish to also provide a note in the record for the print version, to the effect that the title is also available online. Some libraries are at the moment maintaining a separate Web page for each journal, but would no longer need to do this after they set up one catalogue record per title with the correct URL.

A number of libraries had so far confined cataloguing to those e-journals accessed via a service, but one or two also catalogued other titles considered relevant, both those purchased and those obtained free. The decision on what was relevant would usually be made by Subject Librarians. One respondent spoke of using normal selection principles to decide which Web sites to catalogue, so that cataloguing e-journals was no more “expensive” than other sorts of cataloguing in terms of resources. There was general consensus on only cataloguing e-journals to which full text access could be gained.

What to include

One interesting variation concerned the decision on whether to include only those journals where the print format was also taken,or whether to exclude this category. Not all of the replies I received made this clear, but two institutions seemed to be opting for the former, one for the latter, and another was cataloguing both categories. Those opting for the former decision appeared to base this on being able to link/add to existing records.

Libraries preferring to concentrate their efforts on e-journals where the print format was not taken gave as the reason that this would be more helpful to users and should also minimize unnecessary Inter Library Loan requests being submitted. I would personally have to agree with this decision given the constraints of staffing and budgets. Given the obvious need to minimize the resources needed for cataloguing e-journals, it was clear that as much use as possible should be made of external sources of records. The ease with which records could be created, adapted or copied is clearly quite significant.

Problems and solutions

One fellow Talis user felt hampered by the BLCMP policy that a separate record should be created for the electronic version of a journal, which precludes the possibility of adding the URL to an existing record. However, the policy itself seems perfectly logical given the notion of separate records for materials in different physical formats. Cataloguers have been doing this for years with books and videos. However, links of some sort between the two would be useful, just as see also references in the catalogue are.

I learned of one Talis library where care was being taken to create only non-contribute records so far, until sure they had got things right. Another was adding a Talis holdings note to the existing entry for the print version, so that WWW shows up as the location. Users could then either follow the link to the special electronic journals page, or if “experienced” users, were invited to click on the appropriate e-journal supplier code.

I was interested to note that users of entirely different systems had come up with the same solutions to some questions. The phrase World Wide Web as a pseudo-location in the holdings field was being used by both a Talis library and a user of Libertas. The latter system threw up problems in that it rejects certain characters such as the tilde and hash, which are frequently used in URLs. Whilst being aware of the problem, the suppliers have not yet come up with a solution. This is hampering this library’s aim of providing the real URL for each title, rather than that of the service. Correct interpretation of the MARC manual was further impeded since the necessary subfields to be used with 856 70 are not enabled. Another problem for Libertas users was that when they wanted to make use of the notes field within holdings for the URL, they were hampered by the inadequate length of this field.

Who does the work?

When it came to looking at who was doing the cataloguing of e-journals, the replies did not always make this clear, but where they did there was yet more variety. Only one respondent indicated that the work was done by cataloguers, two said Periodicals staff, and another the Systems Unit. It was my impression that quite often most of the work was being done by just one or two individuals. However, a new university on the South coast, who sent me several most helpful and enlightening replies, indicated that their Subject Librarians had undertaken the task. They realised that if they agreed on the importance of the project for which no other resources could be made available, it was ultimately up to them.

This option was made possible firstly by the co-operation of everyone involved. The Subject Librarians are accustomed to creating brief MARC style order records which are then kept in a kind of holdings file, visible only to library staff until the book arrives and receives full cataloguing. This system similarly allows them to create records for electronic journals, useful Web sites and anything else they consider interesting and relevant. The cataloguing department then quality check and upgrade these records. Use of a template has made things easier as well.

The system in question (DDE) allows the creation and maintenance of many different sets or bases. Whilst multiple indexes are certainly possible in Talis, the ability to easily exclude things from the main database leaves something to be desired. The Talis copy facility could serve in place of a template, but because of the co-operative nature of the system it would always be best to check the Union database first to make sure someone else had not already created a record. Omitting this step could result in unnecessary work plus avoidable duplication on the BLCMP database.


I suspect that there are quite a number of institutions like us, where everyone agrees that the work should be done, ideally by the cataloguers, but realises that these individuals would be hard pressed to take on the extra work load. It is my impression that cataloguers are a bit of an endangered species anyway, and the respondent in the Midlands who was doubtful of getting any additional cataloguing resources spoke of the possibility of having to re-adjust existing staff duties. This struck a chord with me!

There was some comfort in knowing others are in the same situation as ourselves. But it was also encouraging to discover those who had found the time and resources to achieve something. In some cases libraries are cataloguing e-journals ahead of having a Web OPAC! There seems to be some variety of practice even among users of the same systems, and in some cases progress taking place in spite of system shortcomings. System suppliers were also perceived as having been a little tardy in formulating and producing proper policy guidelines. But perhaps this was inevitable given the rapid growth of e-journal services. However, policies and practices do appear to be standardising, and out there in library/learning centre land the work goes on………………..


[1] BLCMP, 1997. Bibliographic Input Standards and Procedures. Birmingham: BLCMP.

Author details

Valerie Wilkins
Acquisitions and Database Manager,
University of Derby
email: V.A.Wilkins@derby.ac.uk