Monday, February 13, 2012

The Bookcharmer Loves Periodicals, too.

Gentle Readers,

Today's post takes a didactic turn. Yours truly is spending more time in Special Collections, helping to mind the store while the Real Librarian for SJSU Special Collections is enjoying a much deserved sabbatical this semester. Besides learning more about how Special Collections function, I am also learning about the collections themselves.

Tomorrow I will be meeting with some Journalism students who will be studying how ideas have spiraled through American periodicals. So, what better way to prepare this discussion then some hands-on time with periodicals themselves.

Well, that part was pretty fun, and I'm going to write about that presently, but you didn't think I'd really go much further without talking about subject headings, did you?

If you thought subject headings were tricky for books, well just wait 'til you see what LCSH has in store for periodicals! Of course, most periodicals would be searched by indexes, once in print, now digital, with the assumption being you wanted to search for specific pieces of information within a body of periodicals. The Library Catalog does not search the contents of periodicals, it simply tell you if the library owns or has access to a periodical. With me so far?

Library catalog records for periodicals are also tricky because journals change names, change publishers, come in different formats...enough changes to make one just want to run amuck in the AP2 section of the library.

Let's start with the subject headings for Harper's New Monthly Magazine:

Social sciences -- Periodicals.
Humanities -- Periodicals.

Now, if you are playing along at home, try those headings in your catalog. What kind of results do you get? All kinds, right?

The playing field can be narrowed somewhat once you get into slimmer categories than "humanities" or "social sciences". For example:

Archaeology -- Periodicals.
Art -- Periodicals.

Or maybe even chemistry--periodicals

All of the records for the titles associated with that type of subject heading should list periodical titles the library owns or has access to, listing the years/volumes owned. (Remembering that if one wanted to search the contents of those subject periodicals, you are better served by beasties like Art Index, Social Sciences Full Text, or Chemical Abstracts).

So, as it is probably clear to you by now, LCSH isn't really designed for periodicals. (Periodical indexes should theoretically have their OWN thesauri, such as those available in databases like PsychInfo and ERIC, and such as those that are non-existent and their publishers really should get it together redacted redacted redacted.) So, what is a researcher who wants to know the names and histories of major American periodicals to do?

First of all, don't panic. I'm going to introduce you to a simply amazing reference source, A history of American magazines, 1741-1930.Mott, Frank Luther. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, c1958-1968. Five volumes! [v. 1.] 1741-1850.--v. 2. 1850-1865.--v. 3. 1865-1885.--v. 4. 1885-1905.--v. 5. Sketches of 21 magazines, 1905-1930.

Hopefully you are lucky enough to be near a library which will offer you a print copy. However, it also available online through the Hathi Trust as an e-book. However you can get your hands on Mott's 5 volumes of American periodicals, do it.

In the past, I might have been suspected of waxing overly enthusiastic about reference sources. In this case, I have a solid credential to wave in front of you: Volumes II and III won the Pulitzer prize for history in 1939. Yes, it's that good.

Periodicals, solid they may seem on the shelf, are material witnesses from the past. Or as they say in archives, primary sources. The day may come when we are only able or permitted to view them in a reproduced form, either digital scans or future incarnations. But tomorrow, I will pull a selection of titles for twelve students, and together we'll get well acquainted with the 19th Century.

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