An update on Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker

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[Edit: fixed a couple of broken links—my apologies. -bp]

I wanted to let readers of this blog know about a couple of updates at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker that I hope will make the site a valuable adjunct for those who look for early modern books at Google Books and the Internet Archive. These changes should also make it easier for users to contribute links to the site.

For several months, between about November, 2009 and March, 2010, visitors to the site wouldn’t have seen a whole lot happening. During that period, rather than adding new links to the site, I was re-tooling the site’s data model in order to make things more flexible and robust—essentially, I was recreating all of the site’s content along new lines. This was not fun, but I think the results are worth it.

I don’t want to bore anyone by going too far into the technical details of the switch or the site-housekeeping reasons for it, but the crux of the site’s data model overhaul lay in splitting information into different kinds of records. Whereas originally everything was all mixed together, the site now divides information between: 1) bibliographical entries, which record information that’s true of every copy of an edition (author, title, imprint, ESTC number, what have you); and 2) copy entries, which record information that applies to one particular copy (holding library and shelfmark, but also any copy-specific notes about, say, provenance, MS notes, etc.).

This switch is pretty much invisible to viewers of the site. If you’re searching or browsing the site, what you’re seeing are the “bibliographical” records, which still display links pointing you to all the freely-available copies and volumes of a given edition that have been identified so far. What’s different now is that those links are no longer part of the bibliographical record itself, but are drawn from “copy” records that have been cross-referenced to the bibliographical record—they’re the same links, they’re just stored in a different table in the database. That’s not a distinction that makes any difference when you’re browsing the site, but it’s one that really pays off in other ways. This adjustment makes it much easier to catch and correct any errors that creep in, for instance, and also make it easier to guard against having the same link submitted to the database more than once.

The Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet
While these changes make the site easier to administer, the real reason I went through with them was to extend and improve the site’s usefulness for people who don’t have access to databases like ECCO or EEBO. The best way to explain the difference these changes make to the experience of using the site is to tell you about the most visible, practical benefit that they’ve made possible: the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet.

This bookmarklet is a tool that makes it possible to integrate Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker into your day-to-day browsing at Google Books and the Internet Archive in ways that make those sites more useful. It also makes the process of submitting links to the site much easier than it was previously, so I hope it will encourage people to get involved in expanding the site’s collection of links to freely-available facsimiles of eighteenth-century texts.

Adding the site’s bookmarklet to your web browser is a simple drag-and-drop operation. When you’re viewing a book at Google Books or the Internet Archive, clicking on the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet sends an automated query to the database at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker in a new browser window. The bookmarklet grabs information about the volume you’re viewing and checks to see if it has been identified. If the link is already in the site’s database, you’ll get a positive identification, which is handy when you’re trying to figure out, say, which of the five 1749 editions of Fielding’s Tom Jones this volume is from. (Okay, that was sort of a trick question, since that’s actually a scan of a printout of a microfilm—the mind reels—but it’s a microfilm of the first edition, at least).

Getting that positive identification gives you a link to the entry for that edition at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker. When you’re dealing with a multi-volume work, Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker can usually direct you to other volumes from the same edition that have been identified—something that Google itself isn’t always especially good about (the Internet Archive is better on this head, but still not perfect).

On the one hand, then, the bookmarklet provides a kind of “reverse lookup” for Google Books and the Internet Archive: start with a link to a scan of a book whose bibliographical identity may be ambiguous, and end with a firm sense of what you’re actually looking at. (The usefulness of that function, of course, will grow as more links are added to the database and identified.)

If the volume that you’re viewing at Google Books or the Internet Archive isn’t already in the site’s database, however, the bookmarklet makes it easy to add it. The bookmarklet gathers all the bibliographical information provided for the volume and uses it to pre-fill a submission form at Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker. You can add more information if you like, such as the holding library, shelfmark, and any copy-specific information you think might be worth noting. Or, if you don’t have time or inclination to figure those things out, you can add the link as-is: two clicks is all it takes to create a new record for the volume.

Granted, by itself, a record for a link submitted in this way doesn’t really do much of anything. In order to be presented to users of the site, the volume has to be identified, which happens by cross-referencing its entry to a bibliographical record. While the bookmarklet makes it dead simple to submit a link, there’s still work involved in identifying the link and in creating the bibliographical record for its edition (for now, at least, those bibliographical records have to be created from scratch). Once a bibliographical entry for an edition has been created, though, it never has to be done again: any additional copies of that edition that anyone happens to find in the future can be referenced to it. A few weeks ago, for instance, I ran across two volumes of a copy of the fourth edition of Burney’s Cecilia at Stanford that I hadn’t seen before. It was a simple matter to add them to the database and connect them to the proper record, where they now appear alongside the volumes of a copy at the Bodleian.

A second function of the bookmarklet, then, is that it simplifies and streamlines the process of submitting links to the database: using the bookmarklet, I’ve been able to nearly double the number of editions indexed by the site since early April.

Growing index of editions
I also wanted to report that, since April, I’ve been taking a bit more methodical approach towards adding links to the database. Following a suggestion from Stephen Karian at ASECS, I’ve been working my way through the eighteenth-century section of the Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1958), looking for the works listed there. That book’s coverage is far from complete, but it provides at least a core list of titles for the site to try to provide. Of course, I frequently depart from that list, both by bringing in other titles I’ve found by authors who are listed in the CCBEL and by bringing in works that don’t appear in the CCBEL at all. I’m hardly one to let a title like The South Sea Fortune by “Mrs. Richwould” (1758) slip by when it falls in my way.

More to come
There’s actually one other bit of much more exciting news, but I’m going to leave that for Brian Geiger of the ESTC to share.

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4 Responses to “An update on Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Highly impressive, Ben. I have only just begun to explore the changes, but the development of the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker bookmarklet is an excellent tool. That you have adopted Steve Karian’s suggestion of using the CCBEL as a selection guide is a wise move. Even in print projects a rationale for selection has often been lacking. That said, it seems wise to not limit the works to ones found in the CCBEL not only because it is incomplete but also because, as your work on Google Books has shown, we are still discovering eighteenth-century titles and editions that are not included in ESTC and existing bibliographies.

    I look forward to using the bookmarklet and to hearing from Brian Geiger about his ESTC news.

  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    The bookmarklet is an absolutely brilliant idea. I’m going to have to experiment more with this, but it seems that you’ve just made internet browsing more reliable. This is exactly the kind of work that is needed.

    I look forward to hearing more from Brian regarding the ESTC.

  3. Maureen E. Mulvihill Says:

    Hearty congratulations to Ben Pauley on his Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker. This is an impressive new resource — handy, timely, sensibly designed. Good job, Ben! On behalf of many ‘out there’, thanks indeed. (As I begin to work with the Book Tracker, I may have a few questions & possibly even an addition or two to the site’s broad offerings.)

    ___

  4. Google Books Award: ESTC and Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker Receive Digital Humanities Grant « Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

    [...] Early Modern Online Bibliography EEBO, ECCO, and Burney Collection Online « An update on Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker [...]

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