Patricia Hargis from ESTC North America has circulated an email to the EXLIBRIS-List suggesting that ESTC will soon add images of title-pages to its records. Not surprisingly, bibliographers, eighteenth- centurists etc are excited by this development and each has their own priority. (One scholar has called for the broadsides to be first: a fair call.)
Here is the text of Patricia's email:
We have long had the practice of saving the photocopies of title pages and other pages you have sent us and attaching them to printouts of the appropriate on-line records, thereby creating a paper file of almost every item in the ESTC from 1701-1800. This "manual file" now occupies nearly an entire room. Remarkable isn't it?
After much thought and discussion, we have decided to digitize this 18th century manual file. We will scan your title pages to create image files and then link those files to the appropriate ESTC records, thereby making images of the materials you have been sending us for 35 years publicly accessible.
Digitizing the manual file will greatly increase the value of the ESTC as a bibliographical tool. Users tell us that having pictures attached helps to ensure that they are matching correctly. It is often not possible to articulate in a bibliographic record every small discrepancy that enables one to identify separate imprints. A picture is worth a thousand words!
Of course, ESTC needs permission to do this from all contributing libraries. I hope they co-operate.
In fact, I'd like to see this record>artifact link extended. ESTC already lists Eighteenth Century microfilm numbers, details of facsimiles and ECCO references in its records. But ECCO is a subscription service and it is not possible to follow a link in ESTC to ECCO image files. As long as Gale had a monopoly on digitised eighteenth century texts, this stalemate persisted. One of the beauties of this proposal is that it cuts out ECCO.
Of course, Gale (who owns ECCO) does not have a complete monopoly on digitised texts any more, and it would be nice to see links to eighteenth-century texts on Google Books and elsewhere listed on ESTC.
As I have mentioned before, some people are compiling this sort of information, but—just as it is a pain to separately log into ECCO and search for an item you have already located on ESTC—it is a pain to have to search for the text on Google Books or even on a list of digitised eighteenth-century texts.
Linking Google Book texts to ESTC records would also help Google overcome one of the strongest criticisms leveled at it, the dodgy cataloguing of their digital texts. No doubt the clear benefit to all parties will make such a development inevitable. And in the meanwhile, we can look forward to seeing at least a single page of the texts catalogued on ESTC!