European Retrospective Bibliographies at CERL
Early in 2022, the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL – www.cerl.org) established a Working Group on Retrospective Bibliographies. The Working Group’s main focus was to identify electronic resources with bibliographical descriptions for national, regional, format-specific (i.e. incunabula, newspapers) or language-specific print cultures (up to 1830). Over the years, CERL has included several of these resources in the Heritage of the Printed Book (HPB) database, has closely aligned itself with the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), and more recently started to act as the host for bibliographies such as the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC) and Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN).
The members of the Working Group (see also https://www.cerl.org/collaboration/work/retrospectivenationalbibliographies) dream of a day when these electronic bibliographies together offer a comprehensive overview of European prints before 1830. The Working Group wishes to encourage the inclusion of permanent identifiers from retrospective bibliographies in catalogue records and research projects as a basis for connecting these bibliographies to form a strong and rich data network.
From the start, the Working Group was very much aware of the IFLA Register of national bibliographies, and felt that CERL would be in a position to create a supplement to this valuable list with information about bibliographies that focus on or have a strong component of books printed up to 1830. A first overview created by Olga Tkachuk, Ossoliński National Institute, in 2022, primarily gathered information about bibliographies (national, regional, language-specific) in nations in the east of Europe (currently listed are Albania / Belarus / Bosnia and Herzegovina / Bulgaria / Croatia / Cyprus / Czech Republic / Estonia / Greece / Hungary / Latvia / Lithuania / Moldavia / Montenegro / North Macedonia / Poland / Romania / Serbia / Slovakia / Slovenia / Ukraine). The list will gradually be expanded with information from European countries not yet listed.
As a result of the work on this overview, CERL decided to organise a conference on the topic. The title of the conference is Retrospective Bibliographies and European Print Cultures to 1830 – Challenges and perspectives in the digital age, and it will take place on 29 and 30 June 2023 at the Ossolineum Library, in Wrocław, Poland. For the programme and registration details see https://www.cerl.org/services/seminars/rnb2023.
The key-note address by Marieke van Delft (now retired, but formerly of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the National Library of the Netherlands) will reflect on the word ‘national’ for these bibliographies, a term used in established librarianship tradition in accordance with IFLA and bibliographic control standards, but in today’s world and in the historical context of early printing a term that throws up questions regarding content and scope of retrospective (national) bibliographies.
Looking at our European retrospective bibliographies, which today are no longer printed books, but databases, files with records and identifiers, we see that their scope is usually a mix of geographic/territorial and language aspects, according to the cultural impact and context of a given era. Today, creating such a bibliography, maintaining and developing it, remains a cooperative challenge – as CERL’s and IFLA’s interest in this topic underlines – and a long-term financial commitment of national impact. Creating and maintaining the kind of retrospective bibliographies that are the focus of the CERL WG is often conceived of as a national duty and a commitment to cultural heritage – a national commitment to a national research infrastructure of transnational importance and impact. CERL as a consortium of European research libraries has a unifying role in this huge cooperative undertaking.
During the conference, we will take a closer look at inclusion and exclusion criteria for the bibliographies, as well as issues related to making data accessible and re-usable, the economics of funding the work and how we organise workflows and collaboration. And we would also like to talk about these bibliographies in the CERL context. Certain retrospective bibliographies, such as the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands and the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue are hosted by CERL, while some, such as the German Verzeichnisse der deutschen Drucke and the Short Title Catalogue Flanders, are included in the Heritage of the Printed Book (HPB) database (and some are both in the HPB and hosted by CERL as stand-alone databases). Should CERL differentiate between records from retrospective bibliographies and records from library catalogues in how this data is made available to the user community? And how can we help to make the data more visible and more accessible?
We hope that our conference will put us on the path of defining what makes retrospective (national) bibliographies valuable today, how we can present them in a way that offers the greatest benefit to end users, and what their long-term perspectives and development could be. For this we would be very happy to collaborate with IFLA’s Bibliography Section to encompass the print output from the earliest printed book to today.
Marian Lefferts, Consortium of European Research Libraries
Claudia Fabian, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München