Thomson Gale. English Short Title Catalogue,
1473-1800. CD-ROM. 3rd ed. 2003. ISBN 0 7536 5745 7. Price U.S. $3,250
(limited license for its use on a single personal computer; network license
E. Thomson Shields, Jr.
East Carolina University
Shields Jr., E. Thomson. Review of English
Short Title Catalogue, 1473-1800. Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January,
- Four years ago, I had the opportunity to review the online version of the
English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) <http://www.shu.ac.uk/emls/iemls/reviews/shieldsestc.htm>.
I now have the chance to review the most recent CD-ROM version of the same
materials (3rd edition, 2003). As with the online version, the CD-ROM version
of the ESTC is a great step forward from the print versions on which
they are based: the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalog; A. W. Pollard
and G. R. Redgrave's Short Title Catalogue of English Books 1475-1640;
and 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. Consisting of electronic records, the ESTC is much more
easily searched in a greater variety of ways than could reasonably be done
in the print versions. Additionally, as an amalgamation and update of these
earlier print works, the electronic versions of the ESTC—both in its
online and CD-ROM forms—are more complete. The current claim for number of
records is approximately 465,000, including some 4,000 newspapers and other
serials, up from the claim of 460,819 records when I reviewed the online version
- In all, most of the same advantages I laid out concerning the online version
of the ESTC (available through the Research Libraries Group <http://www.rlg.org/>)
apply to the CD-ROM version published by Thomson Gale through its Primary
Source Microfilm division. Having these records available in searchable electronic
form is a godsend to researchers. However, there are some significant differences
between the two electronic versions. Which version a library (or the rare
individual) orders, if either one, will depend on how these differences are
perceived by those spending the money for the ESTC.
- To start, the interface of the CD-ROM version is designed for experienced
database users; much of it is not intuitive for the average user. The basic
search interface is called “Form Search”; while the Form Search itself is
pretty good, the name does not make it obvious that it is the basic search
interface that most users will want to begin with. Still, Form Search provides
eight slots for search terms, each of which can be connected to other search
terms through drop-down boxes allowing for the Boolean search terms “and,”
“and not,” and “or.” The slots can be defined in any one of twenty-nine different
ways, such as the general “Keyword” or the more specific “Title,” “Keyword
in Title,” “Keyword in Publisher,” “Country of Publication,” “Language of
Publication,” and so forth.
- Using my own interest in the earliest Americana, I searched the ESTC
using the keyword “America” and limited the dates of publication to between
1492 and 1609. I came up with 48 records, which appeared in a list on a Brief
Records screen. Using my intuition to click on a record to see it on the Full
Records screen, I pulled up a full record for Pietro Martire d'Anghiera’s
De orbe novo. However, on the Full Records screen, the forward and
back arrows to browse through records would not go forward or back; instead
the screen indicated that there was just this one record to browse. As it
turns out, a user must highlight on the Brief Records list all of the records
he or she wishes to browse before being able to move back and forth between
them in the Full Records mode. The need to highlight records and even the
method of highlighting are not particularly intuitive. A user has to click
on each individual record he or she would like to highlight, while at the
same time holding down the control (CTRL) key to select single records and
the Shift key to extend the selection to include all records between two points
in the list. Although these are standard Microsoft Windows conventions, many
users are not familiar with them and additional guidance would be useful.
Even better would be to have marking a record (electronically filling in a
check-off box) serve the purpose that highlighting does; marking is used only
to create a subset of records to be printed or saved. In too many ways, the
interface employs conventions often familiar to advanced users from other
programs but not particularly familiar or intuitive to average users.
- In addition to the Form Search, there are two other search options. The
Quick Search box, at the upper right of most screens, allows users to search
for single terms or for two or more terms with the Boolean operator “and”
automatically assumed. These terms can be searched as general keywords, keywords
in title, personal author, corporate author, or title. However, its placement
makes it unclear how the Quick Search box relates to other search forms. It
is not the first place a user would intuitively go to do a search. And the
default Boolean operation is not obvious. Users find out about it only by
going to the program’s Help Topics section; there users go first to a “Quick
Searches” help page and then are redirected to a help page on “And as the
Boolean Search Default Operator.” Only after two steps and only if a user
thinks to check out the help section is it revealed that a Boolean search
is automatically done in the Quick Search (and, it is revealed, in the Form
Search). Aside from the Form Search and the Quick Search, there is an Expert
Search interface. This is a great tool for power users, and it is wonderful
that it has been included, but it does little to help the beginning or occasional
user of the ESTC.
- Another demerit of the CD-ROM version of the ESTC’s interface is
that, unlike the online version, it does not take advantage of hyperlinks.
For example, if a user finds an interesting work in a search, he or she does
not have the option of clicking on the author name, publisher, or even subject
headings to find similar works. Instead, the keywords in whatever record field
that the user is interested in finding must be jotted down and a new search
must be done. However, I did discover—purely by accident, for again this is
not an intuitive feature—that within a full record, one can highlight a single
term and by clicking on that term conduct a search using that term as a general
keyword. However, because it only allows for a single term and only as a general
keyword, this hypertext search is not nearly as useful as the hyperlinks that
many programs—including the online version of the ESTC—provide.
- One nice feature of the CD-ROM version of the ESTC is its ability
to attach notes to any entry in the database. When in either a Brief Record
or a Full Record screen, a user can open a pop-up screen that allows for the
addition of any number of notes for the entry. For all its usefulness, there
is a significant problem. These notes cannot be exported or printed when saving
or printing records. They can only be viewed through the pop-up boxes on screen.
This inability to print or export these notes with the records they are attached
to lessens the value of the notes feature, making it difficult to share these
notes with others. Also, as I suspect that most copies of the CD-ROM version
of the ESTC will be sold to libraries, where they will be accessible to multiple
users, individual users will either have to put up with notes by others or
else this feature will have to be turned off.
- For all of these complaints, there is at least one major advantage of the
CD-ROM version of the ESTC over the online version. The CD-ROM is a
one-time purchase, while the online version is an annual subscription. The
cost of the CD-ROM, according to the fact-sheet available on Thomson Gale’s
is $3,250 (US). This is for a limited license to be used on a single computer;
a network license to be used on more than one computer costs extra. The online
version, at least in 2000, had a base cost for institutional subscribers of
$3400 per year for unlimited access by 5 simultaneous users. The online version
has the advantage of being continually updated; however, most updates seem
to be newspaper and other serials additions, not books, which have been the
mainstay of the ESTC. Depending on the number of users an institution
believes it will have for the resource and whether or not the institution
believes it is important to make the resource available at more than a single
workstation, the CD-ROM version may be a much better purchase considering
limited library funds.
- The existence of the electronic ESTC in two different formats—online
and CD-ROM—is a good step towards making this highly useful research tool
accessible to scholars at a variety of institutions. However, aside from wishing
that the cost were such that more institutions and even individuals could
afford to purchase at least the CD-ROM, I also wish that there were more coordination
between the publishers of the CD-ROM, Thomson Gale, and the providers of the
online version, the Research Libraries Group. A more uniform interface not
dependent on the version, one that includes the best features of each, would
be a useful step forward.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2005-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).