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FCIL Newsletter / October 1997


Managing Human Rights Watch Serials

Ellen Schaffer & Gordon Van Pielt

Georgetown University Law Library

Dear Friends:

This "letter" is a response to a number of FCIL members' suggestions that we contribute a summary of our experiences at Georgetown trying to unravel the morass that our Human Rights Watch standing order had become. Unable to face writing it myself, I enlisted the assistance of my colleague, Gordon Van Pielt; the "technical" description that follows is his. If the following solutions work, the credit is all his... certainly most of the work has been!

Serials management has always been a challenge at best. In an age of mergers, de-mergers and increasingly whimsical publishing practices, it has become the nemesis of catalogers and acquisitions personnel everywhere. The disposition of the many newsletters and brief publications issued by Human Rights Watch, and its many, many offspring has long plagued and defeated those who would prefer order to chaos, and unfortunately those who would wish to find and use those materials as well.

One might suppose, or hope, that the numerous signposts left by the Library of Congress in the form of authority and serial bibliographic records would resolve such problems. Sadly, in the case of Human Rights Watch, at least, one would be mistaken.

Our problems: Human Rights Watch, which includes divisions organized by major geographical regions (Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East), as well as an ever growing variety of worthy projects (Children's Rights, Arms Control, Free Expression, and Women's Rights, to name but a few) publishes great quantities of reports each year, each on a specific topic with an individual title. Some are quite short and others substantially longer. Our problems, and this summary, concern these reports, not the longer monographic titles that are also published periodically. At Georgetown, the various reports were all classed as serial publications, for example, the Human Rights Watch Africa newsletter, but with no specific access to the individual titles of the reports. This was in accordance with prescribed LC practice. Title changes were rampant, largely due to organizational name changes, e.g.,Americas Watch to Human Rights Watch/ Americas. The presence of "newsletter" in the title was a cataloger-generated identifier, since newsletter appeared nowhere on the work itself. The reports often arrived out of sequence, and were not always properly attributed to the appropriate issuing body, delaying proper check-in, and making claiming and binding a serious problem, or more accurately stated, impossible.

Recently, after many years of frustration and much hand-wringing, we called a meeting. We invited the person who orders the standing order, the person who has to try to claim missing reports, the cataloger who worked with the materials, and the serials librarian who attempted to contact the publisher to try to find out, once and for all, if there was any logic to their publishing scheme. Frankly, we were all skeptical and were hoping for a miracle!

The results: A decision was made to simply classify each report by its unique title. What remained was the question of how they might be organized. Our Serials Acquisitions Librarian discovered that, indeed, the arcane numbering system the publisher adopted in 1994 has a meaning! Human Rights Watch has provided a Rosetta Stone for the classification of its materials. Yes folks, that small letter at the end of the volume and issue number actually represents one of the geographical divisions of the Human Rights Watch hierarchy. With that decoded, we could try to organize our collection of reports in some sensible order.

Beginning with volume 7, the publisher started to include an alphabetic designation following the volume and issue numbers on each of its short reports. The publisher first provided this special numbering from volume 6 issues on, but only in the publisher's lists of titles published and not printed on the individual piece. See below for the list of alphabetic designators. These indicators made it possible for us to provide a unique classification for each separate report.

At Georgetown, beginning with volume 6, the reports are now classified under a local series call number (K3239.5: Comparative law & International uniform law. Civil and political rights and liberties). Clearly, there was precedent for such a decision, since virtually every report we searched for had its own bibliographic record. Some institutions even went so far as to provide a series call number of their own, generally under JC599 (Political science. Rights of the individual by region or country) and incorporating the unique volume number. In this scheme, the reports could easily be organized on the shelf by volume number. These records were created with all manner of series statements. Some included the specific issuing body, while other opted for the more general "Publications". Georgetown selected "Human Rights Watch report" which nearly all the reports carry on the first page, and seems to be the logical reference point for the numbering system. We have adapted the authority records to reflect local practice.

Where we parted company with practically everybody was in the way we adapted the volume number for use in the call number and the series statement. Vol. 7, no. 3 (G) became Series G, vol. 7, no. 3. This enabled us to use a shelving scheme which recalled the former serials cataloging that organized the materials by region. It also meant that the students checking in the reports would have a clearer idea, or so we hope, of where they should go. Please note:

  • A represents Human Rights Watch / Africa
  • B represents Human Rights Watch / Americas
  • C represents Human Rights Watch / Asia
  • D represents Human Rights Watch / Helsinki
  • E represents Human Rights Watch / Middle East
  • G represents Children's Rights Watch Project

Publications from the Women's Rights Project are subsumed throughout the scheme, not as a separate series. They can be identified in our online catalog by using an author search for "Women's Rights Project (Human Rights Watch)". If you are interested, visit our homepage at www.ll.georgetown.edu.

So now it is all orderly and searchable. Wasn't that easy? Well ... no, but perhaps it will now be for some of you!

Collegially yours,

Ellen Schaffer and Gordon Van Pielt


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