Last updated
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). 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 (enumerative bibliography); the other, one applicable for collectors, is "the study of books as physical objects" and "the systematic description of books as objects" (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 [6] [7] However, there have recently been voices claiming that "the bibliographical paradigm" is obsolete, and it is not today common in LIS.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:

Arachniography is a term coined by NASA research historian Andrew J. Butrica, which means a reference list of URLs about a particular subject. It is equivalent to a bibliography in a book. The name derives from arachne in reference to a spider and its web. [22] [23]

See also


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

Related Research Articles

Textual criticism Branch of textual scholarship, philology, and literary criticism

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 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.

This page is a glossary of library and information science.

Octavo, a Latin word meaning "in eighth" or "for the eighth time", is a technical term describing the format of a book, which refers to the size of leaves produced from folding a full sheet of paper on which multiple pages of text were printed to form the individual sections of a book. An octavo is a book or pamphlet made up of one or more full sheets on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet. Other common book formats are folios and quartos. Octavo is also used as a general description of the size of books that are about 8 to 10 inches tall, and as such does not necessarily indicate the actual printing format of the books, which may even be unknown as is the case for many modern books. These terms are discussed in greater detail in book sizes.

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

Book size

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 a sheet of paper folded twice to produce 1 leaf, each leaf one fourth the size of the original sheet printed. 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.

Robert Watt (bibliographer)

Dr Robert Watt was a Scottish physician and bibliographer.


Quarto is a book or pamphlet produced from full sheets printed with eight pages of text, four to a side, then folded twice to produce four leaves. The leaves are then trimmed along the folds to produce eight book pages. Each printed page presents as one-fourth size of the full sheet.

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.

Digital Scriptorium

Digital Scriptorium (DS) is a non-profit, tax-exempt consortium of American libraries with collections of pre-modern manuscripts, or manuscripts made in the tradition of books before printing. The DS database represents these manuscript collections in a web-based union catalog for teaching and scholarly research in medieval and Renaissance studies. It provides access to illuminated and textual manuscripts through online cataloging records, supported by high resolution digital images, retrievable by various topic searches. The DS database is an open access resource that enables users to study rare and valuable materials of academic, research, and public libraries. It makes available collections that are often restricted from public access and includes not only famous masterpieces of book illumination but also understudied manuscripts that have been previously overlooked for publication or study.

Outline of books 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.

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

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.

David Greetham (textual scholar)

David Greetham was an American literary critic and the founder of the Society for Textual Scholarship.

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.

Philip Gaskell was a noted British bibliographer and librarian.

Sophistication (books)

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.


  1. "bibliology". The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). 1989.
  2. 1 2 CarterBarker (2004), p. 37.
  3. Blum, Rudolf. Bibliographia, an inquiry into its definition and designations. Translated by Mathilde V. Rovelstad. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association; Folkestone, Kent, England: Dawson, 1980. p. 12. ISBN   0-8389-0146-8.
  4. Studies in Bibliography. Archived 2012-04-14 at the Wayback Machine
  5. O'Hagan Hardy, M. (2017). Bibliographic enterprise and the digital age: Charles Evans and the making of early American literature. American Literary History, 29(2), 331-351.
  6. Otlet, P. (1903). Les sciences bibliographiques et la documentation. Bruxelles, Institut international de bibliographie.
  7. Otlet, P. (1903). "The science of bibliography and documentation"2. In Rayward, W.B. (trans. and ed.), (1990), International organisation and dissemination of knowledge: Selected essays of Paul Otlet. FID, Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  8. Hjørland, B. (2007). "Arguments for 'the bibliographical paradigm'. Some thoughts inspired by the new English edition of the UDC", Information Research, 12(4) paper colis06. [Available at Archived 2018-02-03 at the Wayback Machine ]
  9. McKenzie, D. F. (1999). Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. Gow, A. S. F. A. E. Housman: A Sketch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print
  11. Denise Wolfe (2020-04-07). "SUNY Negotiates New, Modified Agreement with Elsevier - Libraries News Center University at Buffalo Libraries". University at Buffalo . Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  12. Fredson Bowers, "Four Faces of Bibliography" Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 10 (1971):33-4.
  13. Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (2000).
  14. Belanger, Terry. "Descriptive Bibliography" Bibliographical Society of America, 2003. Excerpted from Jean Peters, ed., Book Collecting: A Modern Guide (New York and London: R. R. Bowker, 1977), 97–101.
  15. Harris, Neil. Analytical bibliography: an alternative prospectus. Chapter 1. Definitions of bibliography, and in particular of the variety called analytical Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine . Institut d'histoire du livre, 2004.
  16. Harmon, Robert B. Elements of bibliography: a simplified approach. Rev. ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1989. p. 4. ISBN   0-8108-2218-0.
  17. "National Bibliographic Register". The Hague: International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions . Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  18. "National bibliographies and books in print". Help for researchers. British Library. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  19. Bowers, Fredson (1974). Bibliography (2nd ed.). pp. 978–981.
  20. Reitz, Joan M. (2010). "Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science".
  21. "MLA Field Bibliographers". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  22. Staff (2007). Encyclopedia Of Information Technology. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 28. ISBN   978-81-269-0752-6.
  23. McKenzie, D. F. (2002). Making Meaning: Printers of the Mind and Other Essays. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Further reading