Discussion Paper 2001-DP09

DATE: May 24, 2001

NAME: Repeatability of Subfield $w (Frequency) in Fields 853-855 of the MARC 21 Holdings Format

SOURCE: CONSER Task Force on Publication Patterns and Holdings

SUMMARY: This paper explores repeating subfield $w in fields 853-855 in cases where multi-part titles are issued in a specified frequency. This would allow coding for both when to expect an issue (its issuing frequency) and how many pieces per year of an issue are expected.

KEYWORDS: Frequency (HD); Subfield $w in fields 853-855 (HD)



05/24/01 - Made available to the MARC 21 community for discussion.

6/16/01 - Results of the MARC Advisory Committee discussion - The participants felt that the use of different subfields for both aspects of frequency would enhance accuracy in coding and improve serial prediction. Both are needed since one drives the expected date and the other is for inventory and claiming. The current practice of using subfield $w for number of issues should be changed to accommodate the new subfield. A proposal may be written reflecting these decisions for the midwinter meeting.

Discussion Paper No. 2001-DP09: Repeatability of subfield $w in fields 853-855


Serials issued in parts manifest one type of frequency in the bibliographic record but may require a different frequency in the holdings records to adequately support prediction and inventory control requirements. Subfield $w (Frequency) in the 853-855 fields of the holdings format contains a one character alphabetic code to represent conventional frequencies such as "m" for monthly or "b" for bimonthly. It also provides for the use of a number to specify the number of issues per year when no appropriate code for periodicity exists. Multi-part serials embody a duality that challenges our current definition of frequency. A multi-part issue could be published once or twice per year but each "issue" may be received in multiple, separately identified pieces. Multi-part issues of this type are commonly found in serial receiving situations. One such title is The Bankers' Almanac. Included in the 310 field (Current publication frequency) of its bibliographic record this almanac is described as issued semiannually. In fact, it is published in six separate bound volumes twice per year in January and July. From an inventory standpoint in the holdings record, it can be described in subfield $w with the number 12 because we receive six volumes twice every year, totaling 12 pieces per year. Because the date of issuance is twice a year (January and July) the bibliographic record describes its frequency in terms of its issuing frequency (semiannual). Both descriptions are correct. One alerts us on when to expect it while the other informs us on how many pieces to expect. Both types of information are helpful in predicting the receipt history of the work.


Within the currently defined standards, bibliographic and holdings, there is scope to express the "frequency" of a title like The Bankers' Almanac. The remaining question is whether both facets of serial frequency (when different) must be included in the holdings records in order for it to fulfill its role of prediction. Another problem lay with the nature of the instructions for subfield $w in the current version of the holdings standard. It instructs us to provide the number of "issues per year" when no codable periodicity exists. This suggests that one must code subfield $w for The Bankers' Almanac with a value of "f" (for semiannual) rather than "12," that represents the number of physical volumes that one is adding annually to the inventory as a result of this subscription. For automated systems that create physical item records as a by-product of serial receipt, the number of items expected is a critical piece of information. When subfield $w is used to guide the number of predicted receipts per year, the value in subfield $w must match the numeric aspect of subfield $w rather than the issuing frequency covered in the bibliographic 3XX fields.

Some feel that a liberal interpretation of subfield $w solves the problem of multi-part serials. We accept the idea that the bibliographic record (with its accompanying 3XX fields) describes the serial from one aspect while the subfield $w in the 85X fields handles it from another. Field 853 for The Bankers' Almanac, as it is currently understood, might look like this:

853 __ $a publication year $b v. $u 6 $v r $i (year) $j (month) $x 01,06 $w 12

In this case, the restart of volume year, clarified by subfield $x (Calendar change) data, is probably sufficient to aid the prediction engine with the understanding of how many numbered pieces are being provided in a given calendar year. Others feel that the implementation of frequency in the holdings record must be broadened to allow us to understand that a serial like The Bankers' Almanac should be expected at stated intervals with a set number of pieces on the occasion of each issuance. Some modification or addition to field 853-855, subfield $w might be made to embrace both aspects of the multi-part item frequency.

If subfield $w were made repeatable, it could be coded both for the publishing frequency and for the number of pieces.

853 __ $a publication year $b v. $u 6 $v r $i (year) $j (month) $x 01,06 $w f $w 12

Subfield $w would only be repeated if there were a difference between the issuing frequency and the number of pieces per year received.


  1. Are the current structures in the bibliographic formats (e.g., 3XX, 5XX fields) and in the holdings format (e.g., 85X, subfield $w) sufficient to express the sequential behavior of multi-part serials?

  2. If both aspects of frequency, issuance and number of pieces, are required to fuel accurate issue prediction, should both facets of frequency be separately expressed within the holdings format?

  3. If we retain our concept of frequency as is currently expressed in both bibliographic and holdings formats, should we consider some additional examples and specific instructions to allow all necessary aspects of serial frequency to be expressed for multi-part items?

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