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American Women: Resources from the Serial & Government Publications Collections

Using the Periodical Collections

George Reiter Brill, artist. New York Sunday Journal, Sunday March 29th, 1896. 1896. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Custody of serials is shared between the General Collections and the Serial and Government Publications Division. Serials can also be found in most reading rooms. As a general rule, periodicals published in the past eighteen to twenty-four months should be requested in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Room; older issues are bound and available from the General Collections. Four major exceptions are:

  • Law journals, kept in the Law Library
  • Music journals, found in the Performing Arts Reading Room
  • Non-roman alphabet materials (the Slavic-, Asian-, and Near Eastern-language publications located in the Asian, African and Middle Eastern, and European Divisions)
  • Periodicals published before 1801, accessed through the Rare Book or Microform Reading Rooms

Many older titles are held only in microform and can be found through special guides in the Main Reading Room. Consult the online catalog and reference librarians to determine the locations of periodicals.

Although the Serial and Government Publications Division retains only the unbound, current issues of periodicals received by the Library, division staff members are specialists in serial publications in general. While some periodical indexes are best suited for researching older periodicals and others cover only current titles, the strategy for researching periodical literature is largely the same for whatever time period interests you. This section will focus on how to identify which periodicals exist and provide assistance on the history of magazines.

Only a small percentage of periodicals can be found in abstracting and indexing services. Many academic journals covering women's studies are indexed in such services as Women Studies Abstracts, America: History and Life, Contemporary Women's Issues, and several of the H.W. Wilson indexes (for instance, Social Sciences Index and Humanities Index), but others must be discovered through periodical directories and new journal title announcements. Popular and special interest periodicals are even less accessible through traditional scholarly and general indexes. Readers often discover titles through advertisements, word of mouth, Web sites, and newsstands. Responsive to the varied interests of the Library's researchers and the size of the American publishing industry, the Library's current periodicals collection has an extensiveness unmatched by any other library. (see Periodicals in General Collections for information on how to locate specific articles within periodicals.)

Like the book collection of the Library of Congress, the periodical collection is international in scope but is particularly strong for titles published in the United States. The Library receives the majority of U.S. titles through copyright deposit. Because publishers have the option of making group deposits of a run of issues, some periodicals are not received on a current basis but instead are mailed in bundles. Therefore, the Library can receive a title but lack current issues, a practice in keeping with the Library's mission of collecting and preserving for the future.

Periodical literature is collected according to guidelines established in collection policy statements. The Library does not receive or keep every periodical published or distributed in the United States. Generally, the Library retains significant holdings of U.S. periodicals, selects representative titles from trade industries and high circulation newsletters, and collects only a few regional newsletters.

Currently, the Library's online catalog provides access only to the titles of periodicals it holds with limited information about specific issues held. The Library is in the process of converting its massive paper serial check-in file into electronic format, and eventually holdings information will be available for all periodicals collected by the Library. Therefore, as with newspapers, you should contact the Library in advance to determine which specific periodical issues it holds. Magazines are cataloged by Library of Congress subject headings, with some exceptions. Erotic magazines (such as Playboy) and supermarket tabloids (National Enquirer) generally are assigned no subject headings. Some infrequently used periodicals are assigned no subject or classification number; access is by title, publisher or keywords that appear in the bibliographic record. Once bound, these few titles are identified with the prefix “WMLC” (“with minimum-level cataloging”). Some titles that fall in this category are Sister 2 Sister (WMLC 96/519), Family Circle Easy Gardening (WMLC 93/3584), and Knockouts: For the Woman with the Will to Win (WMLC 95/68).