English short title catalogue

The English short title catalogue, or ESTC, is a "comprehensive, international union catalogue listing early books, serials, newspapers and selected ephemera printed before 1801. It contains catalogue entries for items issued in Britain, Ireland, overseas territories under British colonial rule, and the United States. Also included is material printed elsewhere which contains significant text in English, Welsh, Irish or Gaelic, as well as any book falsely claiming to have been printed in Britain or its territories. The database contains over 480,000 entries, and represents the holdings of some 2,000 libraries world-wide."

Do not confuse ESTC (pre-1801 imprints in an electronic resource) with STC (imprints from 1475 through 1640 published in Pollard, A.W. Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475-1640).

ESTC and the Folger Catalog

Eighteenth-century phase

The ESTC started life as the "Eighteenth-Century Short-Title Catalogue," following the pattern of abbreviated short title catalogs established in print by Pollard & Redgrave covering 1473-1640, and Donald Wing for 1641-1700. The editorial center at the British Library proceeded to recatalog its 18th-century holdings. The North American editorial center solicited reports from American libraries of their holdings, and created new records and matched holdings from these reports. ESTC numbers for 18th-century records created by the British Library are prefaced with a 'T'; those created by the North American office begin with an 'N'. The Folger was an important early contributor to the project. There were a number of ways libraries reported their holdings to the ESTC; the Folger chose to send photocopied title pages with bibliographic information attached.

Backward extension

Once the 18th-century was considered substantially completed, the ESTC arranged to incorporate the content of the existing print short-title catalogs into its database, and changed the name to English Short-Title Catalogue (handily enabling retention of the acronym). Electronic files of STC and Wing were loaded as "placeholder" and "unedited" records into the ESTC until they could be verified and enhanced by ESTC staff.

Working methods changed for this phase of the project: instead of canvassing libraries for reports of their holdings, ESTC staff worked with published resources to flesh out records and match holding libraries. Cataloging standards also changed, and these records were much fuller, belying the "short-titleness" of the originals. In addition to the Folger holdings already recorded in STC and Wing, ESTC/NA staff added pre-1701 Folger holdings to the database by working through the G.K. Hall catalog. Mistakes were sometimes made by misreadings of the reproduced cards, resulting in occasional Folger holdings added to ESTC records when in fact the collection only held microfilm or other type of reproduction.

ESTC records for STC-era imprints begin with an 'S', for Wing-era imprints an 'R', and for serials, a 'P'.

ESTC Project at the Folger

A seven-year project to do book-in-hand recataloging of the Folger's STC and Wing collections commenced in 1996. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger ESTC project employed eight grant-funded catalogers over its course. The Folger's online catalog began to be used in 1996, and the impetus behind the project was to create machine-readable records for our early modern English holdings using ESTC records.

Trained on site by ESTC/NA cataloger Stephen Tabor (now Curator of Early Printed Books at The Huntington), Folger grant catalogers worked directly, but with limited editing privileges, in the ESTC database. They compared Folger copies and existing card catalog descriptions against ESTC records, and added holding information with extensive copy-specific notes. But with a few strictly-circumscribed exceptions, they did not edit the ESTC record itself.

Folger catalogers worked systematically through the vaults, starting with the "Cataloged Wings" (the now-frozen section of Wing books classified by Wing number), the STC vault, and finally the accession shelves (1501–1831 imprints with classifications based on their six-digit accession numbers). By the end of the project, Folger grant catalogers had worked their way through nearly all the collection. The books they didn't get to were more recent acquisitions that had accession records in the catalog.

Questions and problems were communicated through use of '509' notes, a MARC field created by the ESTC to hold informal notes for their catalogers and matchers, and extended for use between Folger and ESTC staff. These notes are labelled "Uncontrolled note" in the ESTC database and "ESTC staff note" in the Folger catalog. Although cryptic—sometimes incomprehensible to general ESTC users—these notes can signal additional information and important discrepancies between recorded bibliographic description and evidence from individual copies.

On 19 January 2004, all ESTC records with a Folger holding attached were batch-loaded into the Folger catalog. Although a certain amount of machine manipulations were programmed into the load—added access points for voluminous former owners, for example, and certain genre/form terms—the loaded records duplicated the ESTC originals at the time of the batch load. Changes made to ESTC records after the load are not for the most part reflected in the Folger catalog.

Outcomes and consequences

  • The single ESTC/NA staff member assigned to collaborate with Folger catalogers was unable to keep up with the volume of queries. To date (October 2023), there are still approximately 2,000 'DFonotes' in Folger catalog records.
  • All catalogs of any age display variations in cataloging standards and practice over time. However, there are marked discrepancies between the Folger catalog records created by the ESTC load and those for other rare materials.
    • The ESTC has particular cataloging standards and practices that are not always in compliance with accepted international standards. Records from the ESTC load sit uncomfortably alongside those created by Folger catalogers.
    • Lack of added entries for printers, former owners, etc., mean that the Folger's continental holdings are in the main better and more fully cataloged than the Folger's English holdings.
  • Occasionally the catalog contains duplicate records for these materials: one created in RLIN by a Folger cataloger between 1982 and 1996 (and therefore included in the initial data load of 1996) and a record created in ESTC (and therefore included in the ESTC load of 2004). If you find duplicate records, please report them to catalog@folger.edu so they can be merged.
  • Since the end of the project, we have discovered that up to 20% of the Folger's uncataloged Wing holdings in the accession shelves were missed. As of September 2015, a project is underway to identify and download accession records from WorldCat for these "Uncataloged Wings" (with the appropriate HBCN) while in the queue for cataloging.
  • Eighteenth-century materials were not included in the project: the bulk of Folger catalog records for 18th-century English materials retain the abbreviated, bare-bones character of the initial short-title project, and have not been reviewed or edited by a Folger cataloger.
  • In the early stages of the ESTC's backward extension into pre-1701 materials, ESTC/NA staff members began adding Folger holdings--and those of other libraries--from other available sources. A few dozen Folger holdings were created for materials we do not own, probably through misinterpretation of their source materials, which apparently include the GK Hall volumes of our card catalog. Some were microfilm of other library's copies; some were accession records that never resulted in a purchase. These "ghost" records could be identified by the call number [Shelfmark not available]. These records have been suppressed, and their call numbers now read SUPPRESSED: ghost record created by the ESTC.

Current status

  • All new and much revised cataloging is done to Folger standards in WorldCat through the Connexion client, and downloaded directly into the catalog by the cataloger.
  • Folger holdings, including detailed copy-specific notes, are added to ESTC records by the Folger cataloger.
  • The Folger cataloger responsible for ESTC-scope materials is authorized to edit ESTC records directly, and does so when information in the ESTC record is demonstrably incorrect or misleading.
  • The cataloger reports to the ESTC titles, editions, and issues not found.
    • Take a picture of the title page, and if needed, other pages needed to illustrate distinguishing points. Optionally, add the call number to the picture. The filename consists of DFo_{call or acc number}_{location of imaged text}.jpg. Examples: DFo_269357_A1r.jpg DFo_268092_flyleaf.jpg DFo_X.d.734_addedt.p.jpg DFo_STC2571.9_colophon.jpg
    • Create email addressed to estc-reports@cbsr.ucr.edu. Subject line: "DFo report." Attach the picture, and include the link to the Folger catalog record in the body of the text.
    • When notified that an ESTC record has been created based on your report, replace the "Not in ESTC" note in the OCLC and the Folger catalog records with the ESTC citation. The current (as of September 2015) turnaround for new records is typically days--rarely more than a month.