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.