English Short Title Catalog (an Internet service, institutional subscriptions $3400 per year for unlimited access by 5 simultaneous users, alternatively per-use rates are $2.10 per search plus $3.65 per hour for institutions and $1.02 per search plus $3.65 for individuals) http://www.ohio.rlg.org/estc.html)

E. Thomson Shields, Jr, East Carolina University, shieldse@mail.ecu.edu 

Shields, E. Thomson.  "Review of the English Short Title Catalogue." Interactive Early Modern Literary Studies (May, 2000) 1-10: <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/iemls/reviews/shieldsestc.htm>

  1. One of the tasks I least look forward to in researching texts on early American exploration literature is searching short title catalogs such as A. W. Pollard and G. R. Redgrave's Short-Title Catalog of Books, Printed in England or Joseph Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana for works that might have a connection to my subject. Going page by page, scanning titles for keywords that might have something to say about the subject at hand is frustrating and time consuming at best. Even with good indexes, the search is rarely easy. Such tasks remind me of Richard Altick and John Fenstermaker's claim that scholarship "is no occupation for the impatient or careless; nor is it one for the easily fatigued. Scholars must not only be capable of hard, often totally fruitless work—they must actually relish it" (18). Though such patience is always required for good scholarship, it is best saved for tasks that truly need to be relished for their fatiguing and often fruitless nature. The availability of the online version of the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC) from the Research Libraries Group[1] (RLG) should allow a good deal of the energy—and patience—spent searching the standard short title catalogs to be better spent elsewhere.
  2. Short title catalogs are exactly the sort of research tools that benefit from being put into easily searchable electronic form. The online ESTC is a major leap forward from the paper versions in what can be done with such bibliographic references. For example, my own work is concerned with Spanish and English writings about North America in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. One question I have been avoiding is that of what works from or about Spanish America were available in England during this period. Using the ESTC through its web interface, I was able to locate some 17 separate works, as well as their reprints and new editions, all in a matter of minutes. While I still have yet to read most of these works, the ESTC allowed me to see that while Spain's American colonies were of some interest to three centuries of English readers, it was not an all consuming concern. Being able to answer this and similar questions with ease and speed is the forte of the online ESTC.
  3. What makes the ESTC even more useful is its breadth of coverage. The database began in the early 1980s as the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalog. However, over time, the project grew to encompass its two earlier predecessors, 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. The RLG now claims completeness for the ESTC, with its web site proclaiming, "All recorded English monographs printed between 1475 and 1700 are now represented in the file." The total number of records is 460,819, which is probably almost all the works printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America between 1475 and 1800, though any claim for absolute completeness—even if only for works previously recorded—is a bit dangerous. Still, the breadth of coverage is wonderful, particularly in its removal of the somewhat arbitrary date limits of the earlier short title catalogs it has encompassed.
  4. Nicely, the ESTC has three different user interfaces—the RLG's own Eureka interface, in both web-based and telnet versions, as well as the international information retrieval standard Z39.50. All three work well, though the Eureka web interface is the most user friendly. Searches can be done using a number of different criteria. In addition to the traditional author, title, and subject searches, one can search by date, language, and country of publication. Keyword searches—hitting any word in a field, not merely the first word—may be done by all the above criteria and can also include imprint word, place, genre, and year as well as copy-specific notes.
  5. After locating information, and reading it, one often wants to download it to one's own computer. Here some of the limitations of the online ESTC start to appear. A user is given several different options for the format of downloaded (or exported) records. As formatted text, one can save searches as full citations, as locations of copies, as full citations with locations of copies, and as brief citations; and as database-ready text, one can save searches as comma-separated values (a format suitable for general purpose databases) or as data formatted for one of the personal bibliographical database packages in common use: EndNote, Reference Manager, Notebook, and ProCite. These formats can be sent as e-mail, printed, or downloaded to disk. The formatted text versions are just what one would expect, giving author, title, publication information, subject headings, and so forth, laid out by heading.
  6. The database-ready text is where I ran into problems. I use the personal bibliographical database software ProCite, so I chose the ProCite download format. It was not obvious at first that I needed to prepare the text by removing some lines and changing some characters. For example, ESTC uses -###- to mark the end of each record, but ProCite uses carriage returns (paragraph marks) for the same purpose. In addition, the records downloaded from ESTC had a number of carriage returns throughout the text for some reason. All of this means that one first needs to open the downloaded text in a word processor, find and remove all carriage returns, and then replace -###- with carriage returns. Even after doing all this, the records I downloaded would not import into ProCite. The help page on the ESTC website about how to use Eureka records with ProCite neglected to state which version of ProCite they were tailored for, and certainly did not suit either ProCite 4.0 (which I have) nor the most recent, version 5.0. I contacted RLG about the problem and they sent me to the people at ProCite. By this point in time it was just easier to cut and paste into ProCite from downloaded full citation text than to contact more people and try reconfiguring ProCite or the downloaded database-ready records further. I cannot say whether the same amount of record manipulation or import problems exists for the other database programs supported, but for ProCite the ESTC records did not live up to the claim that they are "database-ready".[2]
  7. The other issues to raise about the ESTC are cost and access. There are three different pricing arrangements, two for institutions and one for individuals. For institutions, the cost is $3,400 for one year of unlimited searching and connect time with up to 5 simultaneous users. Institutions may also pay on a per search basis at $2.10 per search, plus $3.65 per hour connect time. This means that a library, if it wants to offer access at all, can decide if it will have enough users to justify a yearly subscription or to offer only single search access. Individuals without access to ESTC through an institution pay $1.02 per search plus $3.65 per connect hour.
  8. For those major research institutions who belong to the RLG, access to the ESTC will not be a problem. However, for institutions who are not RLG members, the price may seem high for a single year when Wing and Pollard, if not already owned, can still be bought for less than half a year's subscription. Missing, however, will be the eighteenth-century materials that only are available online. This means that the breadth and ease of use of the ESTC will either not be available to all researchers or the cost of using the ESTC will probably be absorbed by individual researchers rather than by the institutions they use. The other option, of traveling to a library that does have access to the ESTC, is not always a viable solution. A quick survey of libraries in my own region (eastern North Carolina) shows that in a 150-mile radius or more, only one library has access to the ESTC—that at Duke University, 110 miles from my home institution. (Two other libraries within a 150-mile radius, those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and William and Mary University, have the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalog, the present ESTC's predecessor, on CD-ROM, but not the up-to-date online ESTC.)
  9. Additionally, there is little on the RLG's website that indicates the possibility of access to individuals or non-member institutions to their databases, including the ESTC. The lack of forthcoming information on the website also includes no statement about pricing, either for RLG membership or for subscribing to the ESTC alone. I learned about the cost plans described above by personal enquiry as a reviewer—many potential users might not think to ask.
  10. Despite all these problems, the advantages of having the ESTC available online with its multiple search possibilities and breadth of available information far outweigh any problems. Though the ESTC is not quite a model for what such databases should be in the future, it has much to recommend it, and we can only hope that other similar works, such as Sabin's 29 volume Bibliotheca Americana or the recently completed six volume European Americana: A Chronological Guide to Works Printed in Europe Relating to the Americas, 1493-1776, by John Alden, will become available in electronic form as well.


1. The Research Library Group (RLG) is a non-profit organization located in Mountain View, California, whose mission is "improving access to information that supports research and learning." RLG is made up of 161 research libraries, museums, and other research-oriented organizations from throughout the world. RLG's databases and other services are available at a cost to both member and nonmember institutions and individuals.

2. The Eureka web interface that RLG uses with the ESTC can be tried out at http://www.ohio.rlg.org/eurekaweb.html, including its export feature. This demonstration acess uses one of the RLG databases for demonstration purposes and very likely will not be the ESTC.

Works Cited

    1998-, Lisa Hopkins(Editor, EMLS).