Aliases of journals

You'd think that librarians would file things under the names their creators (authors, editors, etc.) had given them. And most of the time, they do. But, once in a while, some perverse cataloguer has managed to inflict incredible damage on the usual system of information retrieval.

A Horrible Example

For example, I'd expect a journal named Memorie della Società dei Spettroscopisti Italiani (usually abbreviated as Mem. Soc. Spett. or Mem. Soc. Spett. Ital.) would be filed by librarians under that name, or at least be cross-indexed under Soc. Spett. Ital.. But no. It's hidden under something like “Italian Astronomical Society,” which isn't even mentioned on the title pages of the journal around 1900. It turns out that the journal became Memorie della Società Astronomica Italiana in 1920; but all the references to it in its heyday are to Mem. Soc. Spett.

Another Horrible Example

OK, so you then assume that journals will be listed under the society that put them out? Try Mitteilungen der Vereinigung der Freunde von Astronomie und Kosmischen Physik, often contracted to Mitt. VAP. Is it listed under “Vereinigung”? Nah. The librarians hid it under its later name, Die Himmelswelt.

Why can't the librarians use the same names the indexing services use?

Anybody have any ideas?

A Horrible Example of Indexing

Just to show that I'm impartial, here's a horrible example in the other direction. The Russian popular-science magazine whose name is transliterated as Mirovedeniye was indexed by the Astronomischer Jahresbericht under the un-helpful name of Weltkunde, which I will guarantee no librarian can locate by that name, based on painful experience.

Just to keep things interesting, the AJB even more unhelpfully used the abbreviation “W.” to refer to this journal. Even if Weltkunde is a fair translation into German of “Mirovedeniye”, this is inexcusable.

Furthermore, the AJB gives the author's name as “K. J. Lucaj,” which is the German transliteration; today we English-speakers would call him “K. I. Luchai.” Finally, O'Connell not only listed this item under the AJB's alias, but gave the year as 1927 — probably because it appears in the 1927 volume of the Jahresbericht. (The actual publication date is 1926.) This all adds up to a reference that cannot be retrieved from the information given!

. . . and now, More Secret Codes

One of the difficulties of multi-disciplinary research is trying to penetrate the secrets of other fields. Every field has little things that “everyone is supposed to know;” typically, you pick these things up in graduate school from other grad students. No one ever actually teaches these things; like spells cast by wizards, they serve mainly to keep outsiders outside.

So there I was one day, tracking down a chain of citations from one paper to those that preceded it. And I came across the cryptic abbreviation “DHZ” in a reference.

Obviously, it was the name of a journal. Equally obviously, it was something the readers of the journal I was reading were expected to know. I'd never heard of it, of course.

Sometimes you can find clues. This cryptic reference turned up in an article in the International Hydrographic Review, so a good bet was that the “H” stood for something like “Hydrography.” The author's name looked German, so the “Z” was probably “Zeitschrift.”

Now for the tricky part. What might the “D” be? I puzzled over this for a while, and finally made a guess: could there be such a journal as Deutsche Hydrographische Zeitschrift? Indeed, there could; that was it. But this is more a lucky guess than deduction.

In 2001, another twist was added to this story. The publisher of DHZ (the Bundesamt für Seeschiffahrt und Hydrographie) decided to turn this publication into an international journal; so they turned it over to Springer-Verlag — and the former “German Journal of Hydrography” became Ocean Dynamics (which continues the former volume numbering, despite the drastic name change!)

Another Springer journal with a perplexing name change is what used to be called Archiv für Meteorologie, Geophysik und Bioklimatologie. In 1985, it switched to the English translation, and became “Archives for meteorology, geophysics, and bioclimatology”. (That's still quite a mouthful.) The next year it became “Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics”. Well, at least that's shorter.

But brevity isn't everything: look at the opaque abbreviations mentioned above. And astronomers have long been the bane of librarians for using such cryptic abbreviations as B.A.N. for “Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands”.

Back in the days when research money was plentiful, most of the journals in my own field (astronomy) decided to switch from such cryptic references to longer ones that included full titles of articles and both first and last pages of papers, with journal titles abbreviated in the rather lengthy style used by Chemical Abstracts. That made it relatively easy for (say) the physicists to get into the astronomical literature.

A few years ago, the pendulum swung back again, and we now have journal abbreviations in astronomical citations that are as cryptic as you'll find anywhere. Is it really saving costs? Or are we trying to keep the invaders at bay?

Only the editorial boards know for sure.

© 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 – 2007 Andrew T. Young

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