Archive for the ‘Periodicals’ Category

Publishing, Reviewing, and Digital Culture

July 5, 2010

In a recent post we examined and debated the potential effects that the Net is having on reading, thinking, and forms of literacy. Shifting from the cognitive effects of digital culture, this post will explore material aspects of electronic transformations. The discussion will consider the effects that digital culture is exercising on certain facets of the publishing industry—particularly reviewing and book promotion/publicity. A follow-up post later this week will explore what the release of Google editions portends for publishers, readers, and the state of e-books.

Book Expo America, the foremost trade event for the North American book industry, offers an annual window on developments and trends in publishing. Although focusing on book culture at large, the publishing industry’s bent toward conservatism in certain aspects of its practices has parallels with a similar tendency in academia. Such parallels are worth keeping in mind as we consider the discussion that ensued at the following BEA 2010 panel.

The 2010 BEA panel, The Next Decade in Book Culture: Effects of E-Book Reading Devices, offered insights about the business of books that extend beyond the subject matter intimated by the panel’s title. While not signaled by the title, the panel’s key focus was on reviewing, not surprising given that the National Book Circle sponsored the session. Participating on the panel were Carolyn Kellogg (book blogger, The Los Angeles Times), Denise Oswald (editorial director, Soft Skull Press), Nicholas Latimer (director of publicity, Knopf) and Ed Nawotka (founder and editor-in-chief,, and Kate Travers (marketing and media consultant).

The opening question by moderator John Reed (books editor, Brooklyn Rail) asked about the general mood at this year’s event and the response was telling:

there’s a lot less angst out there today than there has been in several years … and that’s very encouraging. … People…are starting come to terms with the digital question and find answers that fit their own publishing models…the whole idea that publishing will fall into a digital sinkhole…has not come to pass and they are recognizing that rather than a sinkhole, it offers a portal.

This move from publishers’ conceiving digital culture as a sinkhole to portal is promising and should encourage initiatives in efforts to connect books and readers. That such changes are still in the developmental stages were evident, however, from the ensuing discussion about reviewing. Although economically highly desirable, PDF galleys have not yet caught on among critics. One reason offered was the need for better technology that would cut down on the time involved in downloading, and others noted issues related to reading files on one’s phone and other devices and the inability to manipulate the screen and e-texts in the same ways that reviewers manipulate the page and print formats. A general sense emerged that resistance would fade as advances were made coincided with the recognition of the convenience that PDFs galleys were already providing in certain situation. Economics are often necessitating small presses to rely on electronic galleys,, and reviewers are often willing to accept this format. While none felt that PDF galleys presented any new security concerns, all understandably rejected the usefulness of email blasts to deliver unsolicited copies.

Among the most interesting remarks were those addressing the changing nature of reviews. A query about the fate of the long review today spurred several reflections. Noting the tendency toward shorter reviewers, one panelist remarked that many don’t have the patience today for reading lengthy reviews online. This trend to the shorter review, given the lack of constraints on length that the Web offers, is somewhat ironic. Other panelists rightly noted that if we consider the comments that frequently accompany online reviews, then the long review is very much alive albeit transformed. Such collaboratively produced reviews both signal and participate in the more conversational bent our culture has taken. Moreover, just as the digital world is affording new opportunities for authors and, in turn, for the production of works that harness the capabilities of the electronic medium, so too is this environment presenting potentially exciting yet still untapped opportunities for transforming the review. As an example, one panelist mentioned the review work of Ward Sutton for Barnes & Noble online. The collaborative readings found on The Long Eighteenth Century and this blog arguably offer reviews adapted to take advantage of the online environment. By offering review discussions of that unfold at the chapter level of a given title, with each chapter being reviewed by a different scholar, and by featuring additional commentary by other scholars and often the author, too, these collaborative readings are reinventing the review in fruitful ways. At the onset of the discussion, one panelist mentioned the review essays that The New York Review of Books has embraced as a case of the persistence of the long review. Adapting this review form for the online world also seems to invite some intriguing possibilities for reinventing the review. For example, it might be interesting to take the chapter model and adapt it to reviewing the introductions and conclusions of multiple titles—if not hosting a successive series of collaborative readings that taken collectively add up to a review of current work in a given area. The latter possibility, however, would seem to require a sufficient number of willing participants.

The panel also raised a number of other interesting topics ranging from the growing presence of non-professional reviewers to questions about images and other forms of multimedia in e-books. The participants appeared to be in agreement that aspects of traditional bookmaking—attention to paper, type, and even deckle-edges—would still have a place in publishing. And several noted that in considering book production, each title should receive individual attention in terms of whether it and its projected audience made it more or less suited for issuing in print, e-format, or both. In discussing how books are advertised, one participant noted that the challenges affecting placement as our culture shifts from one that “browses” to one in which users “target” their media. Given Nick Carr’s comments about the Web’s encouragement of endless browsing, the choice of language here was striking.

As the panel noted, the publishing industry and book culture are very much in flux today. The relative slowness with which the publishing industry has responded to the digital developments has its own manifestations in the scholarly world. An October 1988 article, “The Electronic Journal” written by Daniel Eisenberg and appearing in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing is telling in its predictions and concerns. Advocating the benefits of electronic publication (including CD-Rom databases of say all the full texts of books in Wing), Eisenberg discusses what the shift to this publication will entail. Interestingly, while he suggests that such a shift will cause little disruption to the academic reward system of tenure, promotion, and the like, the acceptance of electronic projects, articles, and books seems to be far slower than he foretells. Yet, his remarks that “the most serious problem concerning electronic publication is less obvious: the absence from the system of those who cannot afford to participate in it” (55) were prophetic. The lack of access to commercial databases is no longer an obscure problem, yet it still remains arguably the most serious. As for the reward system, its continued heavy investment in print hinders many from becoming more involved in harnessing the capabilities of digital culture to adapt and create new forms of scholarship.

Collaborative Reading: “The Joys, Possibilities, and Perils of the British Library’s Digital Burney Newspapers Collection”

May 13, 2010

Ashley Marshall and Rob Hume, “The Joys, Possibilities, and Perils of the British Library’s Digital Burney Newspapers Collection.” PBSA, 104:1 (2010): 5-52.

At forty-seven pages Ashley Marshall and Rob Hume’s article offers a substantive assessment of this relatively recent electronic resource for early modern studies. Early on the authors argue that “[d]igital Burney is amazing, but exploiting it fully is going to demand some serious rethinking and reorientation in both our research and our teaching (6-7). Their claim that this tool “will change the way we conduct our business” (7) possesses much merit; fulfilling digital Burney’s promise, however, will depend on far broader scholarly access than currently exists. Equally important, scholars need to acquire a firm understanding of its possible uses, search capabilities, and limitations. While Marshall and Hume’s piece cannot assist in matters of accessibility (though it could serve as support for the tool’s purchase), their essay does advance our knowledge of how this tool might be employed and how its features and limitations can best be navigated.

The article is usefully divided into five sections. The first considers the difficulties surrounding the use of newspapers for literary research. The next two parts detail various scholarly and pedagogical uses of newspapers afforded by digital Burney. The fourth section, making up nineteen of the article’s total pages and accompanied by five reproduced screen shots, identifies the external and internal shortcomings of the resource. The final part offers conclusions.

I. Conceptual Barriers to the Utilization of Newspapers

Noting that newspapers make a rare appearance in scholarship and teaching, this section examines the basis for such neglect.

  • A key reason stems from the simple fact that newspapers were virtually unavailable in the US until 1978 when the Early English Newspapers microfilm series made its debut. Even then, however, the series did little to bolster the already scant interest in historical newspapers among scholars. (7)
  • The reign of New Criticism and the subsequent heyday of Theory strongly discouraged the use of material drawn from newspaper content. If newspapers were consulted, the information sought was typically confined to obituaries, book and play reviews, and advertisements for books and cultural performances. (8)
  • That early newspapers either lack organized sections, including headlines, or feature very basic divisions often prove initially daunting to users. Especially in papers published before the 1760s, the lack of source information, the unacknowledged lifting and repetition of content across titles, sparseness of details, and partisan leanings also have made these newspapers seem strange and have done little to encourage their use (8-9).
  • Often scholars do not possess the knowledge needed to extract and draw conclusions about the values contained in many of these papers. Scant information about the circulation and readership of newspapers hinders a scholar’s ability to “analyze their implied readership, ideology, or socio-political agendas” (10). A broad gap exists between the literature we study and teach and the information found in these newspapers (11).
  • II. Research Uses

    The authors supply three extended examples of possible ways that digital Burney can assist researchers.

  • Book Prices: Newspaper advertisements afford us a rich opportunity to compile prices for books not otherwise available (11-12). To illustrate, the authors supply prices derived from digital Burney for satire and then offer various insights this list affords. For one, the list reveals that prices for this genre ranged widely from low to high; the affordability and greater number of lower priced titles intimate that “[t]hese works were intended to reach and influence readers” (16). Additional examples of the price information newspapers can offer include

    Collected works were considerably more expensive to buy than if one purchased the individual titles when initially published.

    Newspapers “can turn up major fluctuations in price over time” for a given title(16).

    Information in newspapers can enable us to reconstruct marketing strategies; for example, some advertisements reveal attempts to reach multiple markets by offering several formats at different prices (16-17).

    As the authors assert, knowledge about book prices matters because “[i]f we are going to understand the works we study and the world in which they were produced and read, then the clearer we can be on price and what it implies about audience, the better” (17).

  • Reception and Reputation: Noting that dissemination contributes to our understanding of the reception and reputation of writers and their works, Marshall and Hume also caution that information drawn from digital Burney searches for prices, reprintings, marketing strategies, commentary or allusions to authors, and the like has its limitations. For one, newspapers until the late eighteenth century offer little in the way of cultural commentary; second, searching for authors’ name can be problematic for numerous reasons ranging from false hits (e.g., “Pope” yields a huge number of results, but many do not refer to the author) to problems with OCR failing to return anywhere near the actual number (18). Still, such searches can provide interesting information and, in turn, questions about the rise and diminishing of an author’s visibility in the papers, the geographic parameters of that visibility, and the contemporary existence of associations or groupings of authors (19-20).
  • Study of Individuals: The Case of John Rich: In this example the authors illustrate ways in which Burney can augment and shift our understanding of understudied individuals through an examination of theatre owner and manager, John Rich. In addition to discussing how Burney yielded fresh information about Rich, Marshall and Hume also discuss briefly the specific, various searches performed to yield hits for John Rich; they close this case study with a cautionary example of how newspapers, while often providing new facts and leads, can also on occasion provide false or erroneous information.

    III. Teaching Uses

    The authors divide their discussion of how digital Burney might be used in the classroom into two sections, one dealing with eighteenth-century economics and the other with the century’s Weltanschauung. Marshall and Hume preface their two pedagogical uses with a warning that students will need much prior preparation before attempting to use the resource. This preparation includes not only assistance with the intricacies and peculiarities of searching digital Burney but also with working with historical primary sources, especially sources as newspapers (24).

  • Economic Issues and the Value of Money: While the research section focused on book prices and dissemination, here the focus is broadened to using Burney to show “students … how things looked to eighteenth-century people” in terms of money–”a much neglected subject” (24). While we can simply tell students today’s monetary equivalents for sums of money mentioned in eighteenth-century literary works, the authors make the salient point that “hearing is not the same as comprehending” (26). What the authors recommend is having students search the prices of everyday items found in newspaper advertisements and calculate their modern monetary equivalents. As they note, their findings can radically shift our understanding about the economic references found in the literature being study and, in turn, carry implications that extend beyond the works.
  • Seeing the World through Eighteenth-Century Eyes: Near the end of this section, Marshall and Hume underscore that what they have been proposing means fundamentally “altering the way we teach” rather than merely supplementing our current methods (30). The crux of this shift entails replacing secondary with primary sources as the means by which students learn to “see[ ] the world through eighteenth-century eyes.” Among the suggested assignments is a rhetorical or ideological critique of a newspaper title during a set time or a comparative variation in which several titles are examined (27). Using ECCO as well as Burney, another possible assignment would have students explore an event or topical reference; commentary on Dr. Sacheverell’s trial, the 1745 Jacobite invasion, the 1730 trial of Colonel Francis Charteris for rape, the American war (as opposed to “Revolution”), or reviews of theatre performances represent just a few of the examples they offer (27-29). Yet another use involves investigating the reception of works based on newspaper commentary (29). Noting that the nature of the course—a survey will differ considerably from an honors seminar—will affect the assignment(s) used, the authors stress that the benefits of such exercises is not enhancing the interpretation of specific works but rather in “helping bring the works we study to life, in making real to twenty-first-century undergraduates the commitments and passions of eighteenth-century writers and readers” (29).

    IV. External and Internal Problems

    Before addressing particular kinds of problems, Marshall and Hume review the basic and advance search capabilities of digital Burney. As the authors rightly note, these two search types will already be familiar to ECCO users. Proximity searches–searches in which one uses a “W” to find occurrences of a term that follows another within a certain number of words (e.g., “Hogg w5 Giltspur” will uncover Hogg within five words of “Giltspur”) or an “N” to find occurrences of a term preceded or followed by another (e.g., “Hogg N20 Giltspur” will return cases of Hogg appearing either before or after “Giltspur” within twenty words of each other)–can be done using either the basic or advanced search. Both kinds of searches can be limited by date and publication titles; both handle wildcard searches (! represents either a blank or any single character; * represents multiple characters, and ? represents any single character); and both accommodate “fuzzy” searches (31-34). This discussion offers even more detailed advice, including remarks about potential outcomes from various search methods.

  • The first set of problems falls under the rubric “External Issues.” While issues such as incomplete runs have emerged in previous emob discussions and the EC/ASECS and ASECS round-tables on these research tools, the approach taken here differs in some respects from points raised in these forums. In addition to incomplete runs (the authors are rightfully thankful for their inclusion and also offer suggestions for locating copies not in the collection), Marshall and Hume discuss the difficulties encountered when searching for material referenced in published works due to the high error rates of citations for eighteenth-century newspapers (35-36). In doing so they also suggest ways to navigate these false citations.
  • Spread-Date Papers and Other Problems with the Documentation and Search Results:
    A serious problem with the disastrous potential for being reproduced exponentially involves the dates digital Burney currently provides for individual issues of titles not published daily. For newspapers published weekly or twice or three times a week,

    [i]f the search engine is used to go directly to a news item or advertisement, the only date the user will see is the wrong one. The correct one has to be found by taking a multi-click detour to bring up the first page of the issue and then resize it to read the printed date on the original paper–ifthe user realizes that this may be a spread-date [a title whose issues each cover a spread of days between publications] newspaper and knows to check. [Footnote 50 indicates that Gale is in the process of rectifying this problem; "Scott Dawson of Gale informs us that they have identified some 70,000 instances of the problem" as of July 2009 (my emphasis)]. (37)

    Duplication is yet another problem and comes in several forms. The Burney collection contains duplicate copies of a given issue as well as duplicate runs of a given title, which at times will result in the appearance of more hits than actually occur (37-38). Another kind of “duplication” results from the habit of newspapers publishing copy identical to that found in other papers (38).

    Acknowledging the problems stemming from OCR technology and the erratic search results these problems generate, Marshall and Hume briefly mention some of the issues already raised in previous emob postings. In terms of false negatives, they usefully remind us of the role played by the Burney search engine’s design. For example, if one’s search term appears across two pages, then that occurrence will be omitted from the results (41). Citing Jim May’s recent article, “Accessing the Inclusiveness of Searches in the Online Burney Newspapers Collection” (The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer N.S. 23:2 [May 2009]: 28-34), the authors ruefully report that their experiences with search results correspond to May’s claim “that anything from 20 to 50 percent (or more) of what can be found by manually eyeballing the full texts of newspapers will not show up in the list of results” (41).

    Marshall and Hume offer three, serious cases of false negatives, most stemming from the poor condition of the original. Yet, they close this discussion with an example of “a dire problem in Burney’s presentation of Steele’s Tatler (1709-1711)” that arise from problems with the source material made available to Gale (42). In this case, “the first nine months’ worth of one of the foremost early eighteenth-century English periodicals has functionally been erased” because the source used mixed original Tatler issues with the front matter and other material from later book reprints (43-44). Rather than appear in digital Burney under the title “Tatler,” these pre-1710 issues instead appear under the title Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff. While the authors note that this problem could be lessened via “simple relabeling and cross-referencing” (44), the problem also underscores the importance of hands-on scholarly involvement in the preparation and execution of such digitization projects.

  • Some Interface Issues: Under this heading the authors detail “nine of our pet peeves” with the current interface (44).

    1. While one can search or view results according to particular categories of publication such as “Classified Ads” or “Commercial News,” these sections are fairly meaningless, and an advertisement can easily appear under news or vice versa (44).

    2. The inability to perform case sensitive searches (45).

    3. The inability to control the elimination of “stop” words such as “the,” “a,” or “be” when one is seeking hits for a specific phrase or string of words (45).

    4. The numerous clicks one must endure to confirm the paper, date, day; the best solution to this problem would be for Gale to offer the title and spread date on each and every display page (45).

    5. Related to (4), “that title and date would appear with whatever one printed from page to page.” As the authors note, the need to record manually this information on printed copy of a given page encourages the occurrence of errors, many of which will be multiplied as erroneous citations in future publications (45).

    6. The Browse Publication Title inefficiently results in “a set of links to what are reported as “[X number of] issues” chopped into [X--often in the thousands] chunks of News Advertisements, Business News, etc.” and consequently requires the user to guess where “the desired date might fall.” While using the “Publication Search” is a better approach, this search is not without its problems (46).

    7. The inability to search efficiently for “Other papers for the same date.” Currently, without such a dedicated search feature for this option, one must conduct an “Advanced Search” using “Publication Date”; if multiple dates are sought, one must repeat the process for each date desired (47).

    8. The confusion between the “Previous/Next Article” (“article” here is a misnomer) and “Previous/Next Page”; the first navigates results found, while the second, which appears directly above the newspaper’s text, will take the user to the next page in the issue being viewed (47).

    9. Although one has three options of searching for particular issues of a given title, the three processes differ in their operations, primarily in whether they accept or not the inclusion of an opening article (“the”) in a newspaper’s title (47, 49).

  • Following the “pet peeves” list, the authors offer useful information and advice about the intricacies in printing one’s results. Such information is particular valuable, for as the authors also note, digital Burney’s “printing facility is neither self-evident nor at present particularly well explained” (50). Especially vexing is the failure of several print options to include title and date details.

    V. Observations and Conclusions

    Admitting that hindsight makes for easy criticism, Marshall and Hume nonetheless correctly claim that many of the problems identified in Burney might have been avoided if scholars with appropriate expertise had been closely consulted in the preparatory stages of this significant tool (50). Similarly, if the interface and search features had been tested by actual, potential users, many of the snags in searching might have been eliminated in advance of the tool’s official release. They also draw attention to the commercial nature of the enterprise. Although they do not mention affordable access here or elsewhere, they do stress the high expense and the subsequent expectation among purchasers that “when significant problems emerge … they need to be seriously addressed” (51). The efforts underway to correct the dating errors in spread-date newspapers is no doubt an example of a serious problem that is receiving attention.

    Despite existing problems Marshall and Hume celebrate the wondrous possibilities that digital Burney does afford. While they clearly view research and scholarship as the realms in which digital Burney’s transformative effects will first be felt, they also reiterate the radical alterations it will eventually bring to teaching and classroom practices (52).

    Summary of EC/ASECS Roundtable: Bibliography, the ESTC, and 18th-Century Electronic Databases

    October 24, 2009

    Bibliography, the ESTC, and 18th-Century Electronic Databases:  A Roundtable

    Chair: Eleanor F. Shevlin (West Chester University)   Participants: James E. May (Penn State University—DuBois), James Tierney (University of Missouri—St. Louis), David Vander Meulen (University of Virginia), Benjamin Pauley (Eastern Connecticut State University), Brian Geiger (ESTC, University of California, Riverside), and Scott Dawson (Gale/Cengage).

    The following offers a summary of the roundtable that took place, Saturday, October 10, 2009, at the EC/ASECS 2009 conference hosted by Lehigh University and held at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, October 8-11, 2009.

     Jim May opened the roundtable, and his remarks highlighted and extended the discussion he offered in his essay, “Some Problems in ECCO (and ESTC),” in The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer, 23.1 (Jan. 2009), the article that inspired this session and Anna Battigelli’s forthcoming roundtable at ASECS (March 18th, 9:45 am—11:15 am). Key issues Jim raised included the need to correct missing images, to address the “disappearance” of letters originally printed in red ink on title pages, and to bring the ESTC up to date. In addition, he noted that ECCO’s electronic index is not always representative of what is actually there digitally. Work is also needed on providing or revising information about subscription lists, textual history, and attributions in ESTC. While noting that he had already addressed problems with Burney in his The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer article, 23.2 (May 2009) and that Jim Tierney would be discussing this tool next, Jim commented on the usefulness of Burney, particularly to those working on the history of a publication.

    Turning to the Burney collection, Jim Tierney drew attention to the potentially confusing name for this electronic collection because it is not by any means restricted to newspapers. Instead, it includes a good number of periodicals as well. Specifically, the collection consists of 237 newspapers and 161 periodicals, and, furthermore, some of the titles included are neither newspapers nor periodicals. That the Burney digitized collection follows the Anglo-American cataloguing procedure of creating a new entry every time a newspaper undergoes a title change results in the illusion of more titles than actually exist as well as confusion about the history of a given newspaper. Jim also provided a detailed handout (posted here as a page) listing the digitized periodicals (note: not newspapers) in Burney. The handout includes notes about missing issues, other locations where titles in Burney can be found, and a tentative list of Burney titles duplicated by other digitization projects. The two overarching points Jim made was the failure to have scholars involved in the planning of Burney and other digitization projects and the need for far greater collaboration among the creators/purveyors of these databases, librarians, and scholars. That given titles in Burney often include only a few issues when other issues were available elsewhere and, if digitized, would have approached a more complete run, exemplify the need for far better coordination and collaboration.

    While David Vander Meulen serves on the ESTC board, his remarks for the roundtable were offered in his role as a researcher and user of these tools. He began by noting that ESTC is an evolving tool—a work in progress—and that ECCO follows ESTC.  Moreover, even as it progresses, the ESTC is still “functional and valuable” even though it is incomplete. Nonetheless, “any addition to ESTC will change the context.” An important development occurred in 2006 when the British Library initiated free access to this tool. As for problems, the ESTC had made the decision to truncate titles and places. Yet ECCO generally offers the full titles, while expanded locations can occasionally be found by going to public library catalogues. To improve these resources, David explained, we need to have an easier way to convey corrections to the British Library or University of California Riverside (the North American home of the ESTC) and, equally important, an ongoing staff to process editorial changes and comments. In discussing this need for a means of processing updates, David also drew attention to whether the uncontrolled notes field should be visible. Unfortunately agencies that have funded the ESTC, as he explained in his closing remarks, have decided the project is complete.  Obviously, given ESTC’s status as a work-in-progress, such a decision presents additional problems to continued updating and correcting.

     Ben Pauley spoke next about a project he has initiated. He began by noting the lack of access that many institutions (and thus their scholars and students) have to paid databases such as EEBO and ECCO. Both Internet Archives and Google Books, however, have a number of eighteenth-century books in their freely accessible databases. Yet it is typically very hard to identify properly what text one has accessed. Viewing these freely available texts as an opportunity, Ben established The Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker, a project in which he is supplying the bibliographic data so sorely lacking in eighteenth-century texts found in Google Books. Doing so has compelled him to become a textual scholar or an “accidental bibliographer.” Thus far, he has recorded about 150 copies not appearing in ESTC. At present, the project features 480 texts and 4 periodicals. Ben has been asked to write an article on the Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker for The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer that will detail much more about his undertaking.

    Speaking as the Associate Director and Resident Manager of the Center (University of California Riverside), the North American home of the ESTC, Brian Geiger explained that the British Library’s ESTC role has focused on cataloguing its own collection and that the Univ. of California Riverside  has handled everything else. In addition to reiterating points about the problem with truncated titles, he also discussed the lack of subject headings as a shortcoming. Turning to the digital surrogates of early modern imprints, he explained that the ECCO and Adam Matthews collections are based on ESTC, but EEBO is not. Next Brian addressed the need to foster better communication between ESTC and scholars. While the channels of communication between ESTC and librarians have remained strong, that has not been the case with scholars. Like Ben, Brian will also be writing an article on the ESTC for The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer.

     Scott Dawson from Gale-Cengage concluded the presentations by roundtable panelists. He first supplied an historical overview of ECCO and Burney. In 1982 Research Publications began to microfilm the “Eighteenth Century” microform collection. By 2002 twenty-six million pages of eighteenth-century titles had been filmed. This microfilm collection is the basis for ECCO, but using the ESTC in conjunction with the microfilm has been overall a real plus for the project.  ECCO II, released at the start of this year, features 50,000 additional titles. By mid 2010 ECCO II, representing holdings from fifteen libraries, will be completed (titles from the Harry Ransom Center are still being prepared). ECCO and ECCO II, combined, will have made 185,000 eighteenth-century titles available to subscribers. As for the digitization of Burney, that project was handled by the British Library and not Gale-Cengage. Scott also addressed some of the problems that can and cannot be corrected. When pages are blurred, for instance, the microfilm plays a key role in what can be done. If the microfilm is clear, then the page is re-filmed. Yet if the problem occurred because the page is blurred in the microfilm, then, from the perspective of Gale, nothing can be done. When duplications of a title are discovered, however, the duplications can be deleted. 

    After all six panelists had offered opening statements, the discussion was opened to the audience’s questions and comments. The point perhaps most stressed in the discussion with the audience was a need for far greater involvement by scholars in the creation and improvement of digital resources. In terms of updating or correcting resources, questions arose about how this might be done and what types of controls are needed. In subsequent discussions, the creation of advisory boards and (or) the involvement of a committee representing ASECS arose as possible avenues for communicating and addressing the scholar’s perspective more effectively. The establishment of an advisory board and/or ties with ASECS could play a vital role in future projects, and members of a board or ASECS committee could also devise potential solutions to some of the shortcomings with existing tools.  The resurrection of Factotum, the now defunct ESTC news publication of the British Library (ceased with issue no. 40 in 1995), or the initiation of a similar publication would be a way of establishing regular, ongoing communication with a broader base of scholars. (For those interested in the content of previous issues, see the index for Factotum.) Of course, an obstacle here is staffing and funding. Questions also arose about plans to make Burney more complete by digitizing issues not included for a particular newspaper or periodical title but available elsewhere. Yet that this digitization project had been undertaken by the British Library (see final report) and not Gale complicates the issue. Also, when asked about any plans for an ECCO III, Scott explained that the creation of ECCO II caused surprise among many libraries that had purchased ECCO because they believed that ECCO was complete at the time. When ECCO II was introduced for purchase, libraries were promised that there would not be any additional forms of ECCO.  (Depending on the discovery of additional eighteenth-century titles, however, I see no reason that another collection could not be pursued; if enough material for another collection becomes available, then scholars need to insert and assert themselves in conversations with vendors and librarians and make the need and value of a third collection known.)

    Another very real, pressing concern was the large number of scholars who do not have access to these databases and for whom their institutions are not likely to be able to afford these resources even in the future. The point was raised that all universities in the U.K. have access to ECCO and ECCO II for an annual hosting fee through the auspices of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), “established by the UK further and higher education funding councils in 2006 to negotiate with publishers and owners of digital content.” Because the situation differs greatly in the U.S.—we have no higher education government council overseeing all our universities—we do not have such a prospect here. While Ben Pauley’s Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker promises to bring some order to the current anarchy that characterizes freely available eighteenth-century texts, his valuable project can’t and won’t solve the inequity of access in the United States.

    Burney database now at the Library of Congress

    September 8, 2009

    The Library of Congress has now obtained the “17th – 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers” database.

    It also has the following electronic resources:

  • 19th CenturyBritish Library Newspaper Collection
  • 19th Century UK Periodicals
  • British Periodicals
  • ECCO, Part I and II
  • EEBO (at long last, but not the Text Creation Partnership searchable part)
  • and plenty of fine American stuff
  • Abby Yochelson, a Humanities Librarian at the LC, noted, “Sometimes it’s tricky to find the listing for the database if it starts with 19th because it can be listed as 19th or Nineteenth, but generally not both. Do a keyword search on other parts of the title!”

    When is a Book Not a Book?: “Pseudodoxia Bibliographica”

    July 27, 2009

    The following assertion from the Monk Project’s description (and quoted by Anna in her comments about this tool):

    the scholarly use of digital texts must progress beyond treating them as book surrogates and move towards the exploration of the potential that emerges when you put many texts in a single environment that allows a variety of analytical routines to be executed across some or all of them

    identifies an issue that has interested me for a while now and is behind my embryonic formulations of the differences between digital database collections that act as delivery systems (JStor, Project Muse, etc) and those that proffer other functions such as serving as finding aids. The tendency to see digitized works such as those found in Google Books (in its present incarnation) as surrogates for physical books has frequently resulted in users’ frustrations and disappointment in using these resources. This tendency led me to title a paper I gave at last year’s MLA “When is a Book Not a Book?: Using Google Book Search.” Thus, when collecting additional material in preparation for the EC/ASECS and ASECS sessions, I was understandably drawn to an article by Hugh Amory entitled, “Pseudodoxia Bibliographica, or When is a Book Not a Book? When It’s a Record” (The Scholar & the Database: Papers Presented on 4 November 1999 at the CERL Conference Hosted by the Royal Library, Brussels, 2 [2001]: 1-14).

    Amory’s article is concerned with the distortions and misconceptions that can result when historians treat an imprint catalogue’s entries as books or titles. Amory uses the term “imprint catalogues” to refer to ESTC (incorporating Pollard and Redgrave and Wing) and the machine-readable form of Evans reshaped for the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) (2) and distinguishes these research tools from the original Evans and from European bibliographies. While those interested should read the article in its entirety, I offer the following extracts that I found especially noteworthy or interesting:

    “[O]ur bibliographies do not form a coherent series, employing different measures and various categories of the book” (1).

    “”Indeed, the term ‘imprint’ itself is peculiarly English in its ambiguous complexity. It comprehends both a publisher’s imprint or marque d’éditeur and a printer’s imprint or achevé d’imprimer, as well as the editions in which these imprints occur—i.e. an imprimé—or even fail to occur. Only in English, I believe, is it possible for an imprint to have no imprint” (2).

    “…any systematic, comprehensive access to places of publication is neglected…Unlike current national bibliographies, too, imprint bibliographies regularly include false and fictitious imprints” (3).

    “Peculiar too to Anglophone bibliography is the inclusion of colonial and postcolonial printing in the retrospective national bibliographies of the mother country” (3).

    These imprint catalogues

    were never designed to answer the general questions posed by book history — to calibrate the relative size of metropolitan and colonial printing, for example, of religious and secular production, or the rise of the novel. The scope of imprint bibliographies is retroactive, imposing territorial and cultural inclusions and exclusions that were alien to their periods. Indeed, even the cataloguing of a database is retroactive, defined by the nature of the question. The numbers that pour forth in such profusion represent a certain number of ‘hits’, not entries, and the fuller the cataloguing, the higher the number of ‘hits’. (4)

    “…it may be unfair to demand that imprint catalogues ‘represent’ anything, even imprints, for whose history they provide no more raw material. Nor are they really designed for the production of statistics on literary or intellectual history, where, especially in the form of union catalogues, they serve rather as inventories” (7).

    “[ESTC] is neither English, Short-Title, nor a Catalogue, since the ‘cataloguing’ is only a response shaped by the system at the user’s request. One of its most useful features, keyword searching, is precisely an index, whose accuracy and exhaustiveness depend on the illogical whims of language” (8).

    “The very accessibility of these catalogues distorts their numbers, and the exclusion or cataloguing of serials makes them even less representative of ‘the amount of printing performed’ than Evans” (10).

    “Nor is there any agreement on where a book ends and a pamphlet begins; as the Oxford English Dictionary remarks, ‘No absolute definition of a ‘book’ in this sense can be given’. … Escarpit, who abandons material concerns altogether, and proposes that the nature of a book is defined by how it is read–only opens up another abyss” (10).

    “To provide a more meaningful series of data, a number of minor technical devices might be proposed… At present, one may record alternative places of publication in what is technically known in the MARC format as the 752 field, but we need a third, distinctive field for false or fictitious places, and the 752 field is all-too-rarely-used. One would like to link editions with issues, and issues with states that affect the imprint such as misprinted or variant dates in a unitary record” (12).

    Again, the history of the book in the English-speaking realm needs a variety of new catalogues: an on-line catalogue of early periodicals that, at a minimum, would provide a count of the true number of issues, including those that have probably been lost; a catalogue of lost editions of monographs, or some standard for incorporating this information in imprint catalogues like ESTC; and finally, a census of books described in early libraries” (12).


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