Archive for the ‘WING’ Category

English Short Title Catalogue, 21st century (ESTC21): Call for Feedback

March 20, 2012

Brien Geiger, Director, CBSR and ETSC/NA, has recently sent us the following announcement and call for feedback:

Big changes are underway with the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), and we need your input. A union catalog and bibliography of English printing from 1473 to 1800, the ESTC has developed over the last three decades into one of the most comprehensive and authoritative bibliographies available. Yet access to ESTC data has evolved very little. Last year the ESTC was awarded a planning-grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to “redesign the project as a 21st century research tool.” For the last nine months a planning committee has discussed how to make the resource more usable to a broad spectrum of researchers and librarians and to harness the knowledge and input of those users to refine and expand ESTC data. The recommendations of that committee are now available online at the estc21 blog. The planning committee welcomes and encourages feedback on our ideas from ESTC users. The ESTC21 website with our recommendations will remain active through April 20. Please support this effort to rethink the future of the ESTC by commenting on the ESTC21 pages and taking the brief survey at the end of the website. Your feedback is critical. From the entire planning committee, thank you for your contributions to this project. Brian Geiger Director, CBSR and ESTC/NA

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).

Collaborative Readings #1: Ian Gadd’s “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online”

July 7, 2009
We are launching a series of “Collaborative Readings,” borrowing the model popularized so successfully by David Mazella and Carrie Shanafelt on The Long Eighteenth, to discuss some of the items on our bibliography.  “Collaborative Readings” can run concurrently with other postings.

To begin this series, I’ll summarize Ian Gadd’s lucid “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online,” which argues that using EEBO properly requires an understanding of its evolution and of the evolution of the catalogues on which it relies.  Particularly crucial, Gadd argues, is an understanding of EEBO’s historical reliance on ESTC.

Gadd’s article falls into three parts.  Part 1 describes the three catalogues on which EEBO and ECCO are based: 

  • STC: Pollard and Redgrave’s Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640
  • WING: Donald Wing’s Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books printed in other Countries, 1641-1700
  • ESTC: English Short Title Catalogue, which began its history as The Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue, but eventually incorporated material from the previous two catalogues to become The English Short Title Catalogue, retaining its acronym.

Each of these catalogues uses different cataloguing principles and different criteria of inclusion.  The former two differ in what they include, but both catalogue books that have been located (as opposed to copies known to have existed).  The ESTC, on the other hand, began as a computerized and comprehensive union catalogue, merging “together the existing catalogue records of other libraries.”  Because the ESTC includes items in the previous two catalogues, it is, as Gadd puts it,

a hybrid database consisting of three sets of catalogue records, each constructed on different principles.  Searching across these record sets, therefore, poses problems: the unsuspecting student, for example, interested in Stationers’ Company registrations of works might assume that registrations all but dried up after 1640 when in fact this is simply a consequence of information that STC recorded but Wing and ESTC routinely did not.

Part 2 details the evolution of microfilm collections based on these catalogues and their eventual digitization.  Two companies oversaw this process, eventually producing first EEBO then ECCO.

  • UMI: University Microfilms used STC and Wing to produce two series of microfilm collections known as “Early English Books, 1475-1640” and “Early English Books, 1641-1700.”  In 1998, UMI (now ProQuest) digitized copies from these collections to produce EEBO.
  • Research Publications produced a rival microfilm set based on the ESTC.  In 2003, Thomson Gale (now Gale/Cengage) digitized copies from this collection to produce ECCO.

EEBO was permitted to use the bibliographical records of the ESTC, but

it did so for its own purposes: certain categories of data were removed (e.g. collations, Stationers’ Register entrances), some information was amended (e.g. subject headings), and some was added (e.g. microfilm-specific details).

Additionally, there was no formal mechanism for synchronizing the data between the two resources.  Consequently, two divergent holding records exist in EEBO’s and ESTC’s respective catalogues. 

Gadd’s cautionary note pertains to the divergence bewteen these two catalogues:

As both resources continue to amend and expand their bibliographical data for their own purposes, there is an increasing likelihood of significant discrepancy between the two resources. . . . there is no absolute one-to-one correspondence between the pre-1701 entries in ESTC and the materials on EEBO; there are—and will always be—items on ESTC not available on EEBO.

Because different copies in the same edition can vary, there is, Gadd explains,

a vital difference between any single bibliographical record on EEBO and the corresponding ‘image set’: the former describes the particular edition  (or issue), the latter is taken from one copy from that particular edition. Moreover, unlike scholarly facsimile editions, the selection process for microfilming was often arbitrary.  Copies were selected primarily by reference to the copies listed in STC and WING, with particular preference for certain major collections; they were not selected because they were considered representative of a particular edition.

Gadd suggests that EEBO refer to itself as “a library of copies, rather than a catalogue of titles.”

Gadd commends ProQuest for its receptivity toward the scholarly community.  Part 3 briefly reviews ECCO, noting its “underlying text-transcription,” which allows for searches but is flawed by the inaccuracy of the OCR software it uses. 

 


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