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)
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
workthey 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
(RLG) should allow a good deal of the energyand patiencespent searching the
standard short title catalogs to be better spent elsewhere.
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.
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 completenesseven if only for works previously recordedis 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.
Nicely, the ESTC has three different user interfacesthe 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 searcheshitting any word in a field, not merely
the first wordmay be done by all the above criteria and can also include imprint
word, place, genre, and year as well as copy-specific notes.
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.
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
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.
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 ESTCthat 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.)
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 reviewermany potential
users might not think to ask.
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.
Alden, John, and Dennis Channing Landis, eds. European Americana: A Chronological
Guide to Works Printed in Europe Relating to the Americas, 1493-1776. 6 vols. New York
: Readex Books, 1980-1998.
Altick, Richard D., and John J. Fenstermaker. The Art of Literary Research. 1963.
4th ed. New York: Norton, 1993.
"ESTCEnglish Short Title Catalogue." English Short Title Catalog.
Web Page. URL: http://www.ohio.rlg.org/estc.html. 28 Jan. 1999.
Pollard, A. W., and G. R. Redgrave. A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in
England, Scotland, and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640. London:
The Bibliographical Society, 1926.
Research Libraries Group. http://www.ohio.rlg.org/rlg.html.
Sabin, Joseph, Wilberforce Eames, and R. W. G. Vail. Bibliotheca Americana: A
Dictionary of Books Relating to America, from its Discovery to the Present Time.
Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1962.
Wing, Donald Goddard. Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland,
Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books Printed in Other Countries,
1641-1700. 3 vols. New York: Index Society, 1945-51.