Monday, 4 April 2011

Colonial Bias and Changing ESTC Codes

When I compiled my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood I used ESTC codes for America and the UK, but rejected the ESTC codes for Europe and Australasia.

The UK and US ESTC codes are based on codes established in each country. Australia had long had its own library codes which were in universal use and which were utterly unlike the ESTC codes (Monash University is VMoU in Oz, and MELmu on ESTC).

To have a fresh set of overseas-invented codes foisted upon us rankled. Like Such is Life I am by "temper democratic" and by "bias, offensively Australian"—and I'd be damned before I would let anyone get away with pushing around the colonials!

Likewise, I thought it was pretty outrageous, that ESTC—which was supposed to a co-operative international union catalogue of 18C books—should respect North American tradition to the point of duplication, but impose new codes on libraries everywhere else. (There are four cases in my Bibliography where the same ESTC library code is used by two separate institutions in the US and UK: C, Ct, L and O.)

Also, although ESTC differentiated locations in their listings (UK, US, Other) they did not do so in their codes. So, it is not immediately clear that a code is for a library in Germany or Australia: they are both exist in the sub-class "Other": not-British and not-American. (An exception was made for Canada—which has the country prefix "Ca"; an exception that makes the omission for other countries more obvioius!)

So, what I did in my Bibliography was use Australasian library codes prefixed by "Au"; and created a set of European codes that identified each European country with its own prefix "Eu" and then separated the countries with codes that identified France (with an "F"), Germany (with a "G") etc.

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I was reminded of all of this very recently when I was working through the proofs of an article I have finished for Script & Print on "The Publication of Teresia Constantia Phillips’s Apology (1748–49)." Through force of habit, I had used EuGG for the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen, Germany (EuGG = Europe, Germany, Göttingen). But the ESTC code is (or was) GOT.

Shef Rogers pointed out to me the following web page on ESTC Contributing Libraries: Library Codes, where it explains that ESTC are going to adopt at least part of my plan!

For libraries in other parts of the world the ESTC has … changed to a new region code ‘e’, for continental Europe (those libraries were previously included in region ‘o’) … For Australia, the Australian National Library has already created a standard list of codes, and in the next few months the traditional ESTC codes for approximately 88 contributing libraries will be changed to comply with this list, with the region code ‘o’ and Australian country code ‘Au’ as added prefixes.

Of course, the Australian National Library has not created a standard list of codes, it is simply being asked to provide a standard list of codes, a list that was available to the editors of ESTC decades ago if they had had the slightest interest in adopting local codes. They didn't.

Note also that Australian (not Asian and Australasian) libraries remain lumbered with the opprobrious region code "o"—for Other. It can hardly be a coincidence that "o" follows both "b" (for the British Isles) and "n" (for North America). (And now "e" for Europe—better late than never, eh?)

And do I have to point out that "o" is not a region code at all? But if "a" or "au" had been used (Asia and Australasia are regions, and Australia is a continent, so there would be some justification for using it too) these library codes would appear before UK and US libraries. Instead, Australian libraries are to be kept at a safe distance. Segregated. At the back of the bus.

This page explains that

eventually all ESTC contributing libraries will have standardized codes either created by a national library or drawn from the USMARC lists.

Excellent. Again with the "better late than never." However, "No change to present coding is contemplated" for the 56 libraries of New Zealand, or for the 16 libraries of India, "which lacks a country prefix." Make of that what you will.

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BTW: among the 25 libraries which have changed codes for other reasons, that are listed on the ESTC Contributing Libraries: Library Codes page, are three that were used in my Bibliography which I will update for the second edition in 2014. These are

Yale University, Lewis Walpole Library [code changed from CtY-Walpole to CtY-LW]

Brooklyn Public Library [code changed from NB to NBPu]

University of Rhode Island Library [code changed from RU to RUn]

I will also be dropping Minneapolis Public Library (MnM), because this library no longer exists, and the only Haywood item held by this library has been sold with the rest of the collection. And I will be adding some more European codes, as I have explained in various posts on recent new finds.

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