What’s in a Name? Presentation Guidelines for Serial Publications

What Is a Serial?

Serials are print or non-print publications issued in parts, usually bearing issue numbers, issue dates, or both. A serial is expected to continue indefinitely. Serials include magazines, newsletters, newspapers, annuals (such as reports, yearbooks, and directories), journals, memoirs, proceedings, transactions of societies and numbered series.

Why Is Presentation of My Serial Important?

Your publication has a wider audience than you think. Besides your subscribers, other readers want to find your publication in libraries or order it from a subscription service. Directory publishers and abstracting and indexing services might want to include your title in their directory or product. Readers might want to cite your publication or articles from it in their writing. In all of these cases, having a clear and consistent title, a unique numerical identifier, and clearly presented publication information will make these tasks much easier.

What Should I Consider in Choosing a Title?

Your title should:

  • Be unique to avoid confusion with other publications
  • Be distinctive
  • Be concise
  • Have important identifying words at the beginning to help readers find your title in large files and catalogs
  • Avoid words indicating frequency, since frequency can change
  • Avoid initialisms or acronyms; their filing location is unpredictable

How Should I Present My Title?

  • Use unambiguous typography
  • Clearly separate any logos from the title
  • Place the organization's name in a different location from your title
  • Clearly distinguish your title from any subtitles
  • Present your title in the same way everywhere on an issue and from one issue to another
  • Do not modify your title in any way unless you intend a deliberate title change. (A change of typography or addition of cover wording may be misinterpreted by a library as a title change.)

Why Are Title Changes a Problem?

  • Your hard-earned identity may be lost
  • Title changes cost libraries money to recatalog and reshelve the title
  • In collections which are shelved by title, your publication may be split up among its various titles
  • By calling attention to your title, a title change may trigger a library to reevaluate its need for your serial

   What if I Still Want to Change the Title?

  • Make the change at the beginning of a volume-this helps with reshelving and binding
  • Explain the change to your readers in advance, if possible
  • Request a new ISSN (see section following on standard numbers)
  • Keep the same numbering scheme unless you change the scope of the publication
  • Avoid incremental changes; for example gradually shrinking the old title while gradually enlarging the new title over a series of issues; instead, make a clean break

What If My Publication Merges with Another Serial?

  • Merge at the beginning of a volume
  • Only begin the numbering again if a new title results from the merger
  • Tell your readers what is happening

Why Should I Number My Serial and How?

  • A consecutive number, issue date, or both, are very important for identification, recording issues in a check-in system, claiming, etc.
  • A numbering system is required to obtain an ISSN
  • Use Arabic numbers, not Roman numerals. A commonly-used scheme consists of volume and issue numbers, e.g. Vol. 1, no. 1
  • Avoid double numbering schemes, e.g. Vol. 3, issue I and no. 9

What Should I Do About Supplements and Special Issues?

  • Size them the same as the parent publication
  • Indicate whether they update or are to be used with the parent publication
  • Indicate whether they are part of the subscription
  • Check with your ISSN center; they may or may not be assigned the same ISSN as the parent publication, depending on their nature

What Is the ISSN and How Do I Get One?

The ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is a unique, internationally used identification number for serial publications. It can be thought of as the social security number of the serials world. It looks like this: ISSN 1234-5672. ISSNs are assigned by a network of over 60 centers world-wide. Contact the ISSN Center responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in your country. The International Centre's web site provides contact information for the ISSN Centers.

Why Would I Want an ISSN?

  • To distinguish your title from any others with which it might be confused
  • To help libraries and others who handle large numbers of serials to check in your title so it can get to users more quickly
  • To help users search automated files

   What are Some Other Standard Codes Used on Serials?

ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

  • Book counterpart of the ISSN
  • ISSN and ISBN can both be used on annuals and on books in series (ISSN identifies the overall serial; ISBN identifies the particular year or monograph in the ongoing serial or series.) ISBN Agency, R.R. Bowker

Bar Codes

  • Used on serials to enable scanned check-in and inventory control
  • Serials Industry Systems Advisory Committee (SISAC) bar code symbol: used by libraries and library-affiliated organizations; incorporates the ISSN; used on scholarly, technical, medical and other subscription based serials.
  • UPC code (Universal Product Code): found on supermarket products, including mass market magazines. Does not incorporate the ISSN.

EAN (International Article Number)

  • Used in the U.S. by major bookstore chains for trade and other book publications. Used extensively in the UK for magazines. Its use is encouraged by the Periodicals Barcoding Association. Incorporates the ISSN as its second element. The Uniform Code Council is the U.S. EAN agency:

Uniform Code Council,
8163 Old Yankee Rd.,
Dayton OH, (800) 543-8137

How Can I Learn More About How to Present My Serial?

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) publishes voluntary standards in the area of libraries, information science, and publishing. This brochure is based on a draft of Standard Z39.1, Periodicals: Format and Arrangement.

For a thorough treatment of the issues highlighted in this brochure, see Serial Publications: Guidelines for Good Practice in Publishing Printed Journals and Other Serials Publications. Published by the United Kingdom Serials Group. Order address:

II 4 Woodstock Road,
Whitney, OX8 6DY, England
(Fax: 0993 778879).
Price: £l6 (approx. U.S. $25)


This publication was inspired by earlier brochures created in Australia and Canada, especially the booklet entitled "You Name It!" published by the National Library of Canada.

Since 1986, numerous individuals within RTSD (and later ALCTS) have endeavored to create a similar publication to send to a wider audience. Thanks to the following people for their past efforts and continued support: Janet Arcand, Alex Bloss, Valerie Bross, Karen Darling, Karen Muller, Anne Piternick and Ann Vidor. Thanks to the following Serials Section Committees: Committee to Study Serials Cataloging, Committee to Study Serials Standards, Serials Section Executive Committee, and the Worst Serial Title Change of the Year Committee.

This brochure was created by the Serials Section's Task Force on Serial Title Publication: Eleanor I. Cook, Serials Librarian, Appalachian State University; Regina Reynolds, Head, National Serials Data Program, Library of Congress, Phoebe Timberlake, Chair Library Resource Coordination Dept., University of New Orleans.