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:
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 first 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.