Phase 1 Report: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you know, I’ve been working and communicating this summer with a number of librarians, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members at several universities across the Midwest. Our collective goal has been to report certain eligible Special Collections items — namely, printed materials published between 1473 and 1700 in the English language or in English territories — to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). The effort to increase awareness of these Midwestern copies of early printed books is beneficial both to scholars of the Renaissance and to the libraries that hold them. “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” has recently reached the end of its first phase, and not without some significant success. What follows is a summary and report of this progress as we prepare for phase two. (I’ll be talking more about all this next month, both at the IIT Digital Humanities Series and at the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities & Computer Science.)

First, a word on where we began. A comparison of reported items at eight private, prominent institutions in the Northeastern United States to those of the Midwestern universities making up the Humanities Without Walls consortium reveals a general discrepancy in numbers:

IL 1473-1700

HWW 1473-1700 [initial]2Institution Codes (ESTC)

Both tables reflect reported holdings as of May 2014, and remember here that although the ESTC includes items published up to the year 1800, we are limiting ourselves to 1700 for the sake of ease. Although the reported ESTC holdings of the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of Minnesota stand in relatively the same ballpark as those of Ivy League institutions (that is, the 5,000+ range), most HWW institutions appear to have fewer than 2,000 items. Northwestern’s holdings, for instance, amount to just under 200 according to this chart. My own work at Northwestern Special Collections, however, and my realization that many of the items I paged were not listed in the ESTC, strongly suggested to me that this picture did not reflect actual holdings at all. I suspected that this was also the case at Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other institutions in the HWW consortium.

The first round of the Global Midwest Initiative project that I proposed aimed to address this issue at Northwestern and to stimulate simultaneous projects at other HWW institutions. Working first with Gary Strawn and Sigrid Perry at Northwestern, I devised a list of 2,687 Special Collections items eligible for inclusion in the ESTC. Then, with a team of skilled Northwestern undergraduates — Hannah Bredar, Erin Nelson, and Nicole Sheriko — we reported the items to the catalog one by one, flagging doubtful items for a later, second pass. The project thus operates as an effort in both cataloging and pedagogy.

By the end of the firspiet phase of this project, we had entered 1,231 items to the ESTC, raising Northwestern’s representation in the catalog for the interval 1473-1700 from an initial 188 items to 1,419 items.  The pie chart to the left offers a view of the total 2, 687 items in our starting list, the work we completed, and the work remaining. This portion will include the 1683-1700 items, which we have not yet reached, as well as the “hard cases,” which are currently flagged for deeper assessment in the archive during the project’s second phase.

The project has seen substantial success thus far. However, there is still much more to do. We invite others to join with Northwestern, Iowa, and Wisconsin in an effort to make visible to ESTC users the many Renaissance books that the American Midwest has to offer. Feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions as we prepare for the next round.

 

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News: “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries”

As some of you may know, I recently received a grant through the “Global Midwest” Humanities Without Walls Initiative. A Mellon-funded program, HWW unites humanities centers at 15 research universities in the Midwest and is designed to stimulate inter-institutional collaboration. (You can read more about it here.)HWW-Logo-web

The project I proposed, “Renaissance Books, Midwestern Libraries,” hopes to do two things over the next few months: 1) register Northwestern’s Special Collections holdings, at least for now the printed matter issued 1473-1700, in the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC); and 2) develop relationships among HWW-institution faculty, graduates, and undergraduates who have investments in some combination of Renaissance literature, book history, and digital humanities. You can find my sub-page on the HWW Wiki here.

I’m very happy to report that I just got the project off the ground  this week. My highly-recommended research assistants Erin Nelson, Nicole Sheriko, and Hannah Bredar recently joined me for an orientation session outlining the project’s objectives and workflow. As I mentioned, our task will be to register about 2600 early printed books into the ESTC, thereby putting our institution’s rare books “on the map” for scholars and students around the country and around the world. This is done by the process of matching, or correctly identifying and updating records on the ESTC’s back-end based on a carefully curated list of our holdings. Special care must be taken in the case of multiple issues or states, fragmentary printed matter, sammelbände, and incorrect catalog information (should we be able to pick it out). Modern facsimiles require some caution as well, since NU’s catalog does not always designate them as such (for instance, the Upcott typographical facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio [1807] is dated “1632” in the library record.)  Discussing these “hard cases” in the Special Collections reading room was one of the purposes of our orientation sessions. At this stage, I have divided the first 1600 items between the four of us, and although Erin and Nicole will be working remotely for the majority of the job, Hannah and I will be on point to verify a record in the archive, if need be. (And need there will be.) You can expect to read about some of our triumphs and challenges here.

I’ve  also begun to communicate with scholars at a few other Midwestern institutions about the prospect of spreading this effort. If you feel your institution’s Special Collections holdings aren’t well-represented in the ESTC (or, if you just don’t know what you have), feel free to get in touch. Ideally, this initiative will be able to demonstrate that the Midwest is actually a profoundly good place to study Renaissance book history (or, to do rare book research more broadly).

I’ll close here with a few key thank-yous. I’m very grateful to Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities for bringing this project into being. I also have Ben Pauley (Eastern Connecticut State U), Ginger Schilling (UC-Riverside), and Northwestern Special Collections Librarians Sigrid Perry, Gary Strawn, and Scott Krafft for their diligence, patience, and encouragement. Gary was instrumental in providing a list of NU’s Special Collections holdings, and Sigrid has provided critical help since the consultation stage. And of course, I’m indebted to the usual suspects in the Department of English, as well as my wonderful assistant book historians, Erin, Nicole, and Hannah, who will likely be adding guest postings here about what they find during the course of their work.