Saturday 28 April 2012

Book Trail in The Hills (The Dandenong Ranges)

I found a website last week for a local book trail called, rather grandly, The Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley Book Trail. The site lists bookshops that are located at "The Hills," an outer-metropolitan area about 30–40kms South-East of Melbourne.

Finding a local Book Trail was pretty exciting for me. I have been living in the area for a few years now and I have been trying to find as many of the local bookshops as I can. Sadly, the book trail only lists four bookshops: Wormhole Books (Belgrave Heights), Vintage Cook Books (Kallista), Kallista Books (Kallista) and Rainy Day Books (The Basin). So my excitement didn't last very long.

But the good news is that there is, in fact, a few more bookshops in the area. So I thought I'd do a blog entry on the ones I know about as a kind-of finding aid for any book-collectors heading into the Hills. (It wouldn't be my first: I produced a book-trail-type list of all the bookshops in Hobart late in 1993 which, I am assured, has been maintained for almost twenty years now. I was inspired to do this after book-shopping across the UK and Europe in early 1993.)

Of course, there are other ways of finding bookshops in the Hills. This page on lists bookshops in Melbourne (local area, left).

And, as you can see, it appears to list six from the area. But since the listing is of book-dealers, not book-shops, it includes P.O. Box entities (like Sad Paradise Books) and book binders.

So, only two of the six items on the booksandcollectibles "trail" are shops, and they are both on the Book Trail website.

Doing a Google Maps search locates quite a few more "bookshops" though, again, this includes mostly new bookshops (like Belgrave Book Barn), book publishers and distributors etc.

Although this search locates three genuine shops, only one is not on the book trail: Book Inn‎ (Ferntree Gully).

Missing from the trail, booksandcollectibles list and Google search is "Through the Looking Glass SecondHand BookShop" (Belgrave) and, no doubt, others. So, obviously none of the online lists are complete and the list below can only be a start: I will add others to it as I find them (and include obits of those that have passed away).

The Hills Book Trail

If you are heading east along the Burwood Highway you pass Ferntree Gully, then you head under the railway line at Upper Ferntree Gully and have a choice of turning left or right. Left takes you north-east via Sassafras to Olinda; right takes you via Belgrave to Kallista. I have listed the shops in the order you'd encounter them heading up the hills:

Book Inn‎ (Ferntree Gully: 17 Alpine St.—which is a few turns off the Burwood Hightway): a medium-sized paperback book exchange.

Then, if you turn right

Through the Looking Glass (Belgrave: 1669 Burwood Hwy): a small-sized general second-hand bookshop.

Wormhole Books (Belgrave Heights: Shop 4, 60–68 Colby Drive—which is off the main road): a medium-sized second-hand bookshop, with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy.

Vintage Cook Books (Kallista: 79 Monbulk Rd): a quite small second-hand bookshop specialising in cook books.

Kallista Books (Kallista: 1 Tom Roberts Rd—which one turns off Monbulk Rd): a medium-sized general second-hand bookshop.

Or, if you turn left

Rainy Day Books (The Basin: 1301 Mountain Hwy): a medium-sized general second-hand bookshop.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The Wikification of ESTC

ESTC are asking for feedback (here) on a planned redesign.

"Big changes are underway" (the email alert reads) because the ESTC cannot keep up with the growth in submitted records, online digital facsimiles etc. Having received funding for a redesign, they now want the imprimatur of users (and perhaps a bell or whistle), before applying for a second round of funding to implement the redesign.

The planned redesign will enable "users to assist in the bibliographical 'detective work'":

ESTC will welcome users’ contributions in correcting, refining, and expanding the information in both its bibliographic records (for instance, by supplying evidence for a publication date differing from that in the imprint) and holdings data (for example, by linking digitized works to physical copies).

Information about holdings contributed by users will remain separate from that provided by libraries and will be subject to versioning but only until "a prescribed [but undisclosed] number of users match to an existing ESTC record". Then the record will be removed from the provisional “contributed” corpus and added to ESTC proper.

The proposal is that one's curatorial standing as a contributor to the new ESTC will be determined by "the number of edits a user has made"; this standing will—like the Google search algorithym—assign a "confidence rating" to each user. So, for example, three confirmations of a publication date by editors with a level three or higher rating could result in a confidence rating of five for an entry.

* * * * *

I do not know how many survey responses ESTC have received so far. I hope it is a lot. But there are only nine replies on the ESTC21 "blog", so I suspect not. (NB: it isn't a blog, it is a website. A blog is a "personal journal … consisting of discrete entries … displayed in reverse chronological order". But I digress.)

The nine replies on the ESTC21 "blog" are mostly critical and a number oppose the changes altogether. As do I—I think it is a deeply flawed plan, as I explained in my survey response this morning. But it is pretty clear from the information provided on the site that there is no chance that those who oppose the wikification of ESTC will prevail.

The main problem with the existing plan is pretty simple: there is no quality control. Sheer weight of numbers determines one's curatorial standing and will allow "provisional" records to be incorporated into the core ESTC. It is a system which allows—indeed it will encourage—enthusiastic but ill-informed users to corrupt the existing ESTC database.

The end-result will not resemble Wikipedia (with its 31.7 million registered user accounts) generating a passable hive-mind consensus, but that bibliographical cess pit, OCLC WorldCat (with only a score of authority contributors, and tens of thousands of contributing libraries).

* * * * *

In my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood I politely explained the hierarchy I applied to books whose location I recorded:

Copies listed in major union catalogues, library catalogues, bibliographies and works of reference are grouped according to their source, since these sources differ considerably in reliability. These appear in order of importance to this bibliography. The three most important sources used are ESTC, the National Union Catalog and OCLC WorldCat.

With NUC "matching" of records was undertaken—on a massive scale—by grad students, not trained cataloguers or librarians. Locations of "identical" works were recorded on a single card, and usually only that one card appears in NUC. Not surprisingly, the grad students made mistakes, we all do: but they also couldn't and didn't distinguish issues and editions, they confused microfilm and facsimile reprints with original editions etc. It is a dog's breakfast. WorldCat is a lot, lot worse than NUC.

Sue Waterman noted in a 2007 discussion on the SHARL-List "WorldCat lacks about 28% of the entries in the NUC pre-1956 Imprints"—and it contains a smaller percentage of pre-1800 imprints. But the real issue, as Richard Noble explained, is …

The database itself consists of an accumulation of records of varying quality, from very high to simply wretched. In the case of older materials, these consist in large part of records "converted" from paper files of information all too often so minimal as to preclude the identification of edition or issue without recourse to the artifact.

In theory, once a record has been input by one institution, other institutions simply add their holding symbols--a process which in many cases involves a good deal of more or less educated guesswork, under economic conditions that discourage the asking or answering of questions.

The records against which this matching is done are rife with duplicates based on false distinctions or legitimate doubt concerning the entity represented by the record, as well as conflations (some resulting from crude matching protocols) and incorrect holdings statements based on bad matches. The hardest cases, obviously, bring out the worst.

* * * * *

ESTC has avoided the sort of problems that beset NUC and OCLC WorldCat—and it was the most reliable union catalogue I used—precisely because ESTC staff were trained to distinguish editions and issues and to vet copy matching.

In many ways the worst result of the Wikification of ESTC will be in the area of attributions. The plan suggests users will be asked to provide the "names of authors suggested by other sources."

ESTC users can look forward to having all of the attributions that have ever been proposed, no matter how ridiculous/idiotic/mistaken/accidental, being added to the author fields of each entry. Furbank and Owen's will have wasted their time with their Defoe De-Attributions (1994) because half of the publications from the entire eighteenth century will be re-attributed to Defoe, or have his name added to the author field by well-meaning but ill-informed contributors. Ditto Eliza Haywood.

And I have to note: the forty-five works mis-attributed to Haywood, which I list in my Bibliography, were all "suggested by sources"—many of them by multiple sources. And just as the number of contributions made by a single contributor does not give you any guide to how reliable they are, just as the number of said contributions confirmed by other busy users does not give you any guide to how reliable they are, the number of sources who suggest an author for a work is not a guide to the authorship of that work.

Allowing users to add any/all attributions on the mistaken assumption that the truth will out—because those who are well-informed will be sufficiently numerous or motivated to repeatedly edit away all the ill-informed attributions—is a fantasy. As in Wikipedia, editors for entries and fields will be needed. And in contentious cases, particularly those that have a high-profile in the public arena, the entries will have to be locked down as they are in Wikipedia. And if there are administrators, there will be "administrator abuse"—which is considered to be the major reason for the decline in Wikipedia editor numbers since 2006 (a striking reversal from its exponential growth between 2001–5).

And here is the essential difference between Wikipedia and an ESTC-wiki: Wikipedia works (mostly) because of its vast user-base. ESTC does not have anything like a sufficient number of users for this system to work. It can only muster nine comments on its "blog"! With such small numbers, edits will go unchallenged, commonplace errors will be "confirmed" and ESTC will lose the authority it has enjoyed for thirty years. If editorial control is relaxed to the extent planned, it will result in ESTC becoming a kind-of grease trap, like WordCat, where bibliographical refuse accumulates.

Friday 13 April 2012

British Newspaper Archive

Although the November 2011 press release for the British Newspaper Archive focussed on the nineteenth-century content, the collection covers many regional newspapers with runs from the eighteenth century.

A search for "news" gets hits from the twenty journals up to 1800 (the five with an * are from pre-1750)

Aberdeen Journal
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Birmingham Gazette*
Bristol Mercury
Caledonian Mercury*
Chelmsford Chronicle
Derby Mercury*
Hampshire Chronicle
Hereford Journal
Ipswich Journal*
Kentish Gazette
Leeds Intelligencer
Manchester Mercury
Newcastle Courant*
Norfolk Chronicle
Northampton Mercury
Oxford Journal
Reading Mercury
Sherborne Mercury
Sussex Advertiser

There is a long review of the archive here, so I won't waste time on a lengthy explanation of how the archive works etc. And since I have only been able to do a small number of searches, I don't have the experience to undertake a longer review anyway. However, I have had a look at the Archive and from the searches I have been able to do I am keen to have better access.

Since Monash does not have access to the Archive (yet!) I registered and was given enough free points to see the results of a few searches. Doing this gives you thirty points. And since it costs five points to look at (and download) a page: I was able to look at six of the hits from my searches. For reasons I'll explain in a moment, this was not enough, so I registered using a second email address for another thirty points.

The few searches I was able to do for authors and titles enabled me to find advertisements for works in regional papers that will be useful for my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, my Checklist Database of Eighteenth-Century Erotica, and for a handful of articles I am working on.

A few examples of what I found will show how similar (and similarly useful) the Archive is compared to the Burney database, ECCO etc.

The London advertisements for Haywood's Female Spectator indicated an increasingly-wide circle of distribution. The earliest advertisements for individual Books mention only Thomas Gardner as publisher with the statement "and sold by all Booksellers in Town and Country." Later advertisements add R. Dodsley, J. Robinson, M. Cooper and Mrs. Dodd to this general statement ("all Booksellers in Town and Country") but in the end the advertisements claimed all "Booksellers of Great-Britain and Ireland." While I reported these imprint-claims in my BibliographyI was not able to specify, as I now can, that The Female Spectator was advertised in the Newcastle Courant of 9 August 1746 as being available from Jer. Roe in Derby and J. White in Newcastle. Undoubtedly, further searches will turn up even more sellers.

Another interesting find concerns Haywood's obituary, which was published in The Whitehall Evening Post on 26 February 1756, and was repeated in The Public Advertiser (27 February), London Evening-Post (28 February) and The Scots Magazine 18 (February 1756). Now, it seems, it was also printed in the Derby Mercury on 27 February and the Leeds Intelligencer on 2 March. I am not sure how typical this reporting of obits was, so I am not sure what—if anything—this tells us about Haywood's reputation outside of London.

But to return to the Archive: These are the three issues that stopped me doing a wider/more detailed search:

[1] searches do not always identify the exact page a passage appears on: only the section it is in (like "News" or "Advertisements"; and if that section runs over multiple pages your "hit" may be on any one of three or four pages). But, if you download your "find" you only get to download the page you are looking at—not the section. So, you have to find the right page before downloading your "hit"—otherwise you might download, say, page 3, when your hit is on page 4. (I didn't realise this at first, because many of my first hits were on a single page.)

[2] it is often difficult (and in some cases impossible) to find the passage you are searching for (your hit) because there is no (or limited) "hit-term highlighting". In one case I spent twenty minutes looking in vain for an advertisement. In desperation, when I decided to go through the entire issue of the newspaper, I discovered that I had blown my last remaining credit because—by wandering from the section the hit was supposed to be in—I had been charged another five points for what was deemed to be a new search/find. (In this case, the advertisements were on pages 1, 3 and 4: since the advertisement was not on these pages I looked at page 2—and was charged another five points to do so.)

[3] my browsers (Safari and Firefox) crashed regularly because the interface uses Flash. Every time I relaunched my browser and returned to the page image I had been looking at (usually, one I was in the process of actually downloading) I would be docked another five points. (That is, you crash, your session ends, and when you return, this is deemed to be a new session and a—therefore—a new search/find.)

When I get a chance I will repeat some of these searches on a newer computer. Meanwhile I will recommend that Monash adds this database to their arsenal: like the Burney collection, ECCO, NCCO etc it is hard to see how any researcher can keep abreast with leading scholarship without access to these text-bases.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Missing Texts, June 2012

This looks like it will be a great conference: I love the theme.

Birkbeck, University of London, Saturday 2 June 2012

The Material Texts Network at Birkbeck convenes and encourages innovative work on the materiality of texts. We invite 300-word proposals, from scholars working in any period and discipline, on the theme of ‘Missing Texts’. Papers might consider

* Texts or works that have been erased, over-painted, defaced, cancelled, or destroyed
* Missing works that exist only through photographs or other archival traces
* Texts or works that are better known through photographs, and are themselves rarely on display
* How do we know a text is missing? How do archives record missing texts? If a missing text must leave a trace to be felt as missing, are texts ever really missing?
* Texts or works overlooked for ideological, or other, reasons, in catalogues, inventories, & canons
* The role of missing texts in literary works
* The fetishisation of the ‘missing’ ur-text in textual studies and editorial procedures
* Pages torn from books, lost quires, blanks, unfilled miniatures, incomplete jottings on fly-leaves
* Letters, in which only one side of the correspondence is preserved
* The use by authors of the topos of the lost text, the text-in-the-making, the text-never-finished ("all this will be properly explained in our forthcoming masterpiece …")
* What happens when we find a long-missing text or work? How do we identify and read it?
* How do scholars address the loss of archives when writing, for example, histories of African and Asian nations where there are more Western texts than local ones? What kind of scholarship develops around these gaps?
* How do missing texts relate to redactions?
* Why do texts go missing in archives? What are the historical moments of great archival loss (for example, the archives destroyed in the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon, or the losses in German libraries during the World War II)
* Are texts more likely to go missing in particular media (manuscript more than print? Print more than digital?)
* Can a text ever go missing in the digital world?

Please send 300-word proposals (for a 20 minute paper) and a brief CV to Dr Adam Smyth ( and Dr Gill Partington

* * * * *

Adam Smyth is the author of Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 2010), which examines hitherto neglected forms of life-writing (almanac annotations; parish registers; commonplace books; financial records) in which individuals constructed accounts of their lives. Research for this book was funded by the British Academy; a two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship; and a Long Term Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.