Serials are a nightmare for catalogers. The reason for this is fairly simple. The rules that govern the cataloging of bibliographic items are largely based around the conventions established within the publishing industry. We draw our main information from title pages and verso, we understand subtitles distinguished by font changes, and we know the difference between a second printing and a second edition.
But then there are serials, where all that goes out the window. I’ve heard some colleagues say (mostly out of frustration) that publishers should do a better job of following the rules. Suffice to say that’s not going to happen, nor should it. Instead what needs to happen is that we need to update our processes to ones that can cope with any curve-balls thrown at us.
One of the biggest problem areas we’ve experience lately have been (surprise surprise) graphic novels. Theses are particularly hard because the publishers have been continuously changing their publication models. Right now the big two publishers (Marvel and DC) release each story in up to five different formats (single issues, trade, digest, hardcover, deluxe hardcover) in a very small period of time.
Let’s use Captain America as an example. We’re currently at volume 6 (I think) of the monthly comic. Those issues have been collected in a deluxe edition collecting the first 25 issues. It has also been published in two volumes of the Winter Soldier (named after the story arc), 2 of Red Menace (collection a story of a totally different title) 1 of Civil War, and most recently 3 of the Death of Captain America. Each of these collections reset the volume numbering for each arc, despite the fact that they all belong to vol. 6 of the comic. The only logic here is that comics with a number 1 sell better, so they reset the numbering as frequently as possible. This is not an anomaly, this is standard practice, and we have no clear way of dealing with it adequately.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.