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Bibliographies at the University Library of Graz Library-shelves-bibliographies-Graz.jpg
Bibliographies at the University Library of Graz

Bibliography (from Ancient Greek : βιβλίον, romanized: biblion, lit. 'book' and -γραφία, -graphía, 'writing'), as a discipline, is traditionally the academic study of books as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology [1] (from Ancient Greek : -λογία, romanized: -logía). English author and bibliographer John Carter describes bibliography as a word having two senses: one, a list of books for further study or of works consulted by an author (or enumerative bibliography); the other one, applicable for collectors, is "the study of books as physical objects" and "the systematic description of books as objects" (or descriptive bibliography). [2]



The word bibliographia(βιβλιογραφία) was used by Greek writers in the first three centuries CE to mean the copying of books by hand. In the 12th century, the word started being used for "the intellectual activity of composing books." The 17th century then saw the emergence of the modern meaning, that of description of books. [3] Currently, the field of bibliography has expanded to include studies that consider the book as a material object. [4] Bibliography, in its systematic pursuit of understanding the past and the present through written and printed documents, describes a way and means of extracting information from this material. Bibliographers are interested in comparing versions of texts to each other rather than in interpreting their meaning or assessing their significance. [5]

Field of study

Bibliography is a specialized aspect of library science (or library and information science, LIS) and documentation science. It was established by a Belgian, named Paul Otlet (1868–1944), who was the founder of the field of documentation, as a branch of the information sciences, who wrote about "the science of bibliography." [6] [7] However, there have recently been voices claiming that "the bibliographical paradigm" is obsolete, and it is not today common in LIS. A defence of the bibliographical paradigm was provided by Hjørland (2007). [8]

The quantitative study of bibliographies is known as bibliometrics, which is today an influential subfield in LIS [9] [10] and is used for major collection decisions such as the cancellation of big deals, through data analysis tools like Unpaywall Journals. [11]


Carter and Barker describe bibliography as a twofold scholarly discipline—the organized listing of books (enumerative bibliography) and the systematic description of books as physical objects (descriptive bibliography). These two distinct concepts and practices have separate rationales and serve differing purposes. [2] Innovators and originators in the field include W. W. Greg, Fredson Bowers, Philip Gaskell and G. Thomas Tanselle.

Bowers (1949) refers to enumerative bibliography as a procedure that identifies books in “specific collections or libraries,” in a specific discipline, by an author, printer, or period of production (3). He refers to descriptive bibliography as the systematic description of a book as a material or physical artefact. Analytical bibliography, the cornerstone of descriptive bibliography, investigates the printing and all physical features of a book that yield evidence establishing a book's history and transmission (Feather 10). It is the preliminary phase of bibliographic description and provides the vocabulary, principles and techniques of analysis that descriptive bibliographers apply and on which they base their descriptive practice.

Descriptive bibliographers follow specific conventions and associated classification in their description. Titles and title pages are transcribed in a quasi-facsimile style and representation. Illustration, typeface, binding, paper, and all physical elements related to identifying a book follow formulaic conventions, as Bowers established in his foundational opus, The Principles of Bibliographic Description. The thought expressed in this book expands substantively on W. W. Greg's groundbreaking theory that argued for the adoption of formal bibliographic principles (Greg 29). Fundamentally, analytical bibliography is concerned with objective, physical analysis and history of a book while descriptive bibliography employs all data that analytical bibliography furnishes and then codifies it with a view to identifying the ideal copy or form of a book that most nearly represents the printer's initial conception and intention in printing.

In addition to viewing bibliographic study as being composed of four interdependent approaches (enumerative, descriptive, analytical, and textual), Bowers notes two further subcategories of research, namely historical bibliography and aesthetic bibliography. [12] Both historical bibliography, which involves the investigation of printing practices, tools, and related documents, and aesthetic bibliography, which examines the art of designing type and books, are often employed by analytical bibliographers.

D. F. McKenzie extended previous notions of bibliography as set forth by Greg, Bowers, Gaskell and Tanselle. He describes the nature of bibliography as "the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception" (1999 12). This concept broadens the scope of bibliography to include "non-book texts" and an accounting for their material form and structure, as well as textual variations, technical and production processes that bring sociocultural context and effects into play. McKenzie's perspective contextualizes textual objects or artefacts with sociological and technical factors that have an effect on production, transmission and, ultimately, ideal copy (2002 14). Bibliography, generally, concerns the material conditions of books [as well as other texts] how they are designed, edited, printed, circulated, reprinted, collected. [13]

Bibliographic works differ in the amount of detail depending on the purpose and can generally be divided into two categories: enumerative bibliography (also called compilative, reference or systematic), which results in an overview of publications in a particular category and analytical or critical bibliography, which studies the production of books. [14] [15] In earlier times, bibliography mostly focused on books. Now, both categories of bibliography cover works in other media including audio recordings, motion pictures and videos, graphic objects, databases, CD-ROMs [16] and websites.

Enumerative bibliography

Bibliographer workplace in Russia Pn-samara-n-a-2000-11.jpg
Bibliographer workplace in Russia

An enumerative bibliography is a systematic list of books and other works such as journal articles. Bibliographies range from "works cited" lists at the end of books and articles, to complete and independent publications. A notable example of a complete, independent publication is Gow's A. E. Housman: A Sketch, Together with a List of His Classical Papers (1936). As separate works, they may be in bound volumes such as those shown on the right, or computerized bibliographic databases. A library catalog, while not referred to as a "bibliography," is bibliographic in nature. Bibliographical works are almost always considered to be tertiary sources.

Enumerative bibliographies are based on a unifying principle such as creator, subject, date, topic or other characteristic. An entry in an enumerative bibliography provides the core elements of a text resource including a title, the creator(s), publication date and place of publication. Belanger (1977) distinguishes an enumerative bibliography from other bibliographic forms such as descriptive bibliography, analytical bibliography or textual bibliography in that its function is to record and list, rather than describe a source in detail or with any reference to the source's physical nature, materiality or textual transmission. The enumerative list may be comprehensive or selective. One noted example would be Tanselle's bibliography that exhaustively enumerates topics and sources related to all forms of bibliography. A more common and particular instance of an enumerative bibliography relates to specific sources used or considered in preparing a scholarly paper or academic term paper.

Citation styles vary. An entry for a book in a bibliography usually contains the following elements:

An entry for a journal or periodical article usually contains:

A bibliography may be arranged by author, topic, or some other scheme. Annotated bibliographies give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument. These descriptions, usually a few sentences long, provide a summary of the source and describe its relevance. Reference management software may be used to keep track of references and generate bibliographies as required.

Bibliographies differ from library catalogs by including only relevant items rather than all items present in a particular library. However, the catalogs of some national libraries effectively serve as national bibliographies, as the national libraries own almost all their countries' publications. [17] [18]

Descriptive bibliography

Fredson Bowers described and formulated a standardized practice of descriptive bibliography in his Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949). Scholars to this day treat Bowers' scholarly guide as authoritative. In this classic text, Bowers describes the basic function of bibliography as, "[providing] sufficient data so that a reader may identify the book described, understand the printing, and recognize the precise contents" (124).

Descriptive bibliographies as scholarly product

Descriptive bibliographies as a scholarly product usually include information on the following aspect of a given book as a material object:

  • Format and Collation/Pagination Statement—a conventional, symbolic formula that describes the book block in terms of sheets, folds, quires, signatures, and pages
According to Bowers (193), the format of a book is usually abbreviated in the collation formula:
Broadsheet: I° or b.s. or bs.
Folio: 2° or fol.
Quarto: 4° or 4to or Q° or Q
Octavo: 8° or 8vo
Duodecimo: 12° or 12mo
Sexto-decimo: 16° or 16mo
Tricesimo-secundo: 32° or 32mo
Sexagesimo-quarto: 64° or 64mo
The collation, which follows the format, is the statement of the order and size of the gatherings.
For example, a quarto that consists of the signed gatherings:
2 leaves signed A, 4 leaves signed B, 4 leaves signed C, and 2 leaves signed D
would be represented in the collation formula:
4°: A2B-C4D2
  • Binding—a description of the binding techniques (generally for books printed after 1800)
  • Title Page Transcription—a transcription of the title page, including rule lines and ornaments
  • Contents—a listing of the contents (by section) in the book
  • Paper—a description of the physical properties of the paper, including production process, an account of chain-line measurements, and a description of watermarks (if present)
  • Illustrations—a description of the illustrations found in the book, including printing process (e.g. woodblock, intaglio, etc.), measurements, and locations in the text
  • Presswork—miscellaneous details gleaned from the text about its production
  • Copies Examined—an enumeration of the copies examined, including those copies' location (i.e. belonging to which library or collector)

Analytical bibliography

This branch of the bibliographic discipline examines the material features of a textual artefact—such as type, ink, paper, imposition, format, impressions and states of a book—to essentially recreate the conditions of its production. Analytical bibliography often uses collateral evidence—such as general printing practices, trends in format, responses and non-responses to design, etc.—to scrutinize the historical conventions and influences underlying the physical appearance of a text. The bibliographer utilizes knowledge gained from the investigation of physical evidence in the form of a descriptive bibliography or textual bibliography. [19] Descriptive bibliography is the close examination and cataloging of a text as a physical object, recording its size, format, binding, and so on, while textual bibliography (or textual criticism) identifies variations—and the aetiology of variations—in a text with a view to determining "the establishment of the most correct form of [a] text" (Bowers 498[1]).


Paul Otlet, working in an office built at his home following the closure of the Palais Mondial, in June 1937 Paul Otlet a son bureau.jpg
Paul Otlet, working in an office built at his home following the closure of the Palais Mondial, in June 1937

A bibliographer is a person who describes and lists books and other publications, with particular attention to such characteristics as authorship, publication date, edition, typography, etc. A person who limits such efforts to a specific field or discipline is a subject bibliographer." [20]

A bibliographer, in the technical meaning of the word, is anyone who writes about books. But the accepted meaning since at least the 18th century is a person who attempts a comprehensive account—sometimes just a list, sometimes a fuller reckoning—of the books written on a particular subject. In the present, bibliography is no longer a career, generally speaking; bibliographies tend to be written on highly specific subjects and by specialists in the field.

The term bibliographer is sometimes—in particular subject bibliographer—today used about certain roles performed in libraries [21] and bibliographic databases.

One of the first bibliographers was Conrad Gessner who sought to list all books printed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew in Bibliotheca Universalis (1545).

Non-book material

Systematic lists of media other than books can be referred to with terms formed analogously to bibliography:

See also


  1. The first use of the word "webliography" recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from June 1995.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Textual criticism</span> Identification of textual variants

Textual criticism is a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification of textual variants, or different versions, of either manuscripts (mss) or of printed books. Such texts may range in dates from the earliest writing in cuneiform, impressed on clay, for example, to multiple unpublished versions of a 21st-century author's work. Historically, scribes who were paid to copy documents may have been literate, but many were simply copyists, mimicking the shapes of letters without necessarily understanding what they meant. This means that unintentional alterations were common when copying manuscripts by hand. Intentional alterations may have been made as well, for example, the censoring of printed work for political, religious or cultural reasons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of library and information science</span>

This page is a glossary of library and information science.

The bibliographical definition of an edition is all copies of a book printed from substantially the same setting of type, including all minor typographical variants.

Sir Walter Wilson Greg, known professionally as W. W. Greg, was one of the leading bibliographers and Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Book size</span> Form a book is produced into

The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from folio, to quarto (smaller) and octavo. Historically, these terms referred to the format of the book, a technical term used by printers and bibliographers to indicate the size of a leaf in terms of the size of the original sheet. For example, a quarto historically was a book printed on sheets of paper folded in half twice, with the first fold at right angles to the second, to produce 4 leaves, each leaf one fourth the size of the original sheet printed – note that a leaf refers to the single piece of paper, whereas a page is one side of a leaf. Because the actual format of many modern books cannot be determined from examination of the books, bibliographers may not use these terms in scholarly descriptions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cataloging (library science)</span>

In library and information science, cataloging (US) or cataloguing (UK) is the process of creating metadata representing information resources, such as books, sound recordings, moving images, etc. Cataloging provides information such as author's names, titles, and subject terms that describe resources, typically through the creation of bibliographic records. The records serve as surrogates for the stored information resources. Since the 1970s these metadata are in machine-readable form and are indexed by information retrieval tools, such as bibliographic databases or search engines. While typically the cataloging process results in the production of library catalogs, it also produces other types of discovery tools for documents and collections.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Critical apparatus</span>

A critical apparatus in textual criticism of primary source material, is an organized system of notations to represent, in a single text, the complex history of that text in a concise form useful to diligent readers and scholars. The apparatus typically includes footnotes, standardized abbreviations for the source manuscripts, and symbols for denoting recurring problems.

The Beaumont and Fletcher folios are two large folio collections of the stage plays of John Fletcher and his collaborators. The first was issued in 1647, and the second in 1679. The two collections were important in preserving many works of English Renaissance drama.

Allan Henry Stevenson was an American bibliographer specializing in the study of handmade paper and watermarks who "single-handedly created a new field: the bibliographical analysis of paper." Through his pioneering studies of watermarks, Stevenson solved "the most fascinating, and perhaps the most notorious, bibliographical problem of our time," the dating of the Missale Speciale or Constance Missal, an undated incunable believed by many to pre-date the Gutenberg Bible, and possibly to have been the first printed European book. Stevenson proved that the book in fact had been printed nearly twenty years later, in 1473. Through similar analysis of watermarks, he also established that most block books, small religious books in which the text and images were printed from a single woodcut block and which many believed dated from the early 15th century, had in fact been printed after 1460.

Fredson Thayer Bowers was an American bibliographer and scholar of textual editing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of books</span> Overview of and topical guide to books

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to books:

Textual scholarship is an umbrella term for disciplines that deal with describing, transcribing, editing or annotating texts and physical documents.

George Thomas Tanselle is an American textual critic, bibliographer, and book collector, especially known for his work on Herman Melville. He was Vice President of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation from 1978 to 2006.

Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia is a learned society founded in 1947 at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville to promote interest in books and manuscripts, maps, printing, the graphic arts, and bibliography and textual criticism. The society sponsors exhibitions, contests for student book collectors and Virginia printers, an international speakers’ series, and an active publications program which has produced over 175 separate publications in addition to its journal Studies in Bibliography.

Oak Knoll is a bookseller and publisher based in New Castle, Delaware, United States. Oak Knoll includes Oak Knoll Books which specializes in the sale of rare and antiquarian books and Oak Knoll Press which is a publisher and distributor of in-print titles. Both divisions specialize in "books about books" on topics such as printing history, bibliography, and book arts. Oak Knoll has also been the sponsor of the book arts festival Oak Knoll Fest.

The Sandars Readership in Bibliography is an annual lecture series given at Cambridge University. Instituted in 1895 at the behest of Mr Samuel Sandars of Trinity College (1837–1894), who left a £2000 bequest to the University, the series has continued down to the present day. Together with the Panizzi Lectures at the British Library and the Lyell Lectures at Oxford University, it is considered one of the major British bibliographical lecture series.

The Lyell Readership in Bibliography is an endowed annual lecture series given at Oxford University. Instituted in 1952 by a bequest from the solicitor, book collector and bibliographer James Patrick Ronaldson Lyell (1871–1948), the series has continued down to the present day. Together with the Panizzi Lectures at the British Library and the Sandars Lectures at Cambridge University, it is considered one of the major British bibliographical lecture series.

Harrison Mosher Hayford was a scholar of American literature, most prominently of Herman Melville, a book-collector, and a textual editor. He taught at Northwestern University from 1942 until his retirement in 1986. He was a leading figure in the post-World War II generation of Melville scholars who mounted the Melville Revival. He was General Editor of the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville published by Northwestern University Press, which established reliable texts for all of Melville's works by using techniques of textual criticism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sophistication (books)</span>

Sophistication of books is the practice of making a book complete by replacing missing leaves with leaves from another copy. In some cases this is done with the intent to deceive or mislead, modifying and offering books for sale in an attempt to sell them for a higher value. When offered for sale, a book's description should be clear and unambiguous, and indicate exactly and in detail any changes that have been made to the book.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacob Blanck</span> American bibliographer (1906–1974)

Jacob Nathaniel Blanck was an American bibliographer, editor, and children's writer. Born in Boston, he attended local schools and briefly ran a bookshop before being hired to assist on a bibliography of American first editions. He wrote in periodicals on the book trade and worked as a bibliographer in libraries including the Library of Congress in the 1940s and 1950s. Blanck also published two children's books. In the early 1940s, he founded a bibliography project that became Bibliography of American Literature, a selective bibliography of American literature. It was completed by 1992, after Blanck's death.


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Further reading