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.