Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Library Adds Early American Books to Catalog

During the winter break, Baron-Forness Library added over 36,000 records to PILOT, the library’s online catalog, for its collection of the microform version of “Early American Imprints, First Series (Evans) 1639-1800.” This collection contains virtually every book, pamphlet and broadside published in America over a 160-year period. For decades, the collection has served as the definitive resource of information about every aspect of life in 17th- and 18th-century America, from agriculture and auctions through foreign affairs, diplomacy, literature, music, religion, the Revolutionary War, slavery, temperance, witchcraft and just about any other topic imaginable. Until now, however, they were difficult to identify and locate because they did not appear in PILOT.

Now, the Evans books will turn up in the results of a search in PILOT along with other library materials. To see examples of some of the titles available, perform a keyword search in PILOT for “British taxes” or for “Congress Philadelphia.” Records for the Evans books should appear at or near the top of the results. Because the Evans collection includes classic works from many fields, it should be especially useful to students taking courses in the history or literature of a discipline.

The books themselves are printed on opaque sheets and shelved in 132 boxes on the first floor of the library, next to the main stairwell. Each box holds several hundred books. Individual titles can be located by their “Evans number” which appears in the call number in PILOT and is printed on the sheet. The sheets require a microprint reader to view, which is located in the Microforms Room on the first floor. The equipment is not difficult to use, but if you have any problems locating or using the reader/printer, feel free to ask a member of the library faculty or staff.


Charles Evans, a librarian and one of the founders of the American Library Association, set out in 1901 to create a comprehensive bibliography of American works, listing not just citations but also holdings at major academic and research libraries. His “American Bibliography,” completed after Evans’s death by Clifford K. Shipton, with a supplement by Roger Bristol, was published in 15 volumes from 1903 to 1970. This bibliography was acquired by university libraries, including Edinboro’s, to provide access to early American published works. Researchers using these bibliographies usually had to travel to the institutions holding the original works listed in them, or hope that they could obtain copies through interlibrary loan.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Readex Microprint Corporation reproduced in microform each of the works listed in Evans’s bibliography. They obtained originals from the libraries listed as holding copies, as well as from formerly-private collections of materials now housed in academic institutions in order to film them. The reproductions were compiled into the “Early American Imprints, First Series (Evans)” collection, which was purchased by the Edinboro University library, thereby providing in-house access to these works.

Indexing of these microform collections was originally provided through printed lists, guides and other finding aids, all of which operated outside of the library’s card catalog. Librarians accepted this system because adding tens of thousands of works to the card catalog was impracticable. Even if an ambitious library had wanted to do so, catalog records of the quality normally used were unavailable for these works.

In 1980, the American Antiquarian Society inaugurated its North American Imprints Program (NAIP). Envisioned in its broadest terms, NAIP's goal is to provide detailed bibliographical descriptions of and sophisticated access to materials published in the United States and Canada through 1876. Initially, the Program focused on books, pamphlets, and broadsides (but not newspapers, periodicals, or engraved matter) printed before 1801, whether held by AAS or by another institution. Since these works correspond closely with those listed by Evans in his “American Bibliography,” NAIP staff, with U.S. Department of Education funding, have created a full catalog of the Readex Microprint Corporation’s “Early American Imprints, First Series (Evans).”

The microform collection was purchased in the 1960s and 1970s, before the library had an online catalog like PILOT. At the time, cataloging major sets required producing printed cards. Typically four to ten cards per title were needed to allow for filing under author, title, and subject, plus one for inventory. The cost of producing, filing and maintaining cards for major sets of microforms, some of which contain tens of thousands of titles, was beyond the library’s capabilities.

With the implementation of online catalogs in the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with the retrospective cataloging of works in the canon of early American publishing, it became possible for the library to purchase a complete set of records for Evans from the American Antiquarian Society, and store them economically in the library’s electronic catalog database. The library obtained funding to pay for the records last year from part of a $50,000 grant from the Library Services and Technology Act awarded through the State Library of Pennsylvania.

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