Getting to Know Bibliographic Work and Cataloguing: Internship at USTC, University of St Andrews

Guest post by Jan Hillgärtner

The Universal Short Title Catalogue Project at the University of St Andrews offers internships for students at postgraduate level who are interested in early modern history or book history and in gaining practical experience of the techniques of analytical bibliography. Jan Hillgärtner (Buchwissenschaft, Erlangen-Nürnberg) participated in the program in 2012. In his guest post, he reports on his experience while working on the USTC:

Getting to know Bibliographic Work and Cataloguing – 2 Months with the USTC

Old borrowers´ catalogues from St Andrews University Library

Old borrowers’ catalogues from St Andrews University Library

When it comes to St Andrews, there are usually two things that come to people’s mind: golfing and a renowned university. This was about what I knew too, before I went there myself – and that the University of St Andrews had a focus on book historical research. In the course of completing my MA dissertation on the organizations contributing to the print of early modern newspapers as well as for course-related work during my studies, I had used the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) to browse books and my supervisor made me aware of two-month internship positions at the USTC team. I decided to apply for this position for April and May 2012.
With the position granted I started looking for accommodation. In a relatively small seaside town with a population of 16,600 (of which 7,700 are students), it can get hard to find a room. Even though I started looking as early as possible, the university accommodation office was unable to help with student accommodation in the middle of the semester. However, they helped me to find private accommodation in Anstruther some 30 Minutes outside St Andrews from where I commute to work by bus.

What is the USTC

School of Medieval History, South Street

School of Medieval History, South Street

The Universal Short Title Catalogue is a project initiated by a research group run by Professor Andrew Pettegree. The project brings together data from established national bibliographical projects and new projects undertaken by the project team. Since 2011, it brought together information on books published in Italy, Germany and Britain to create a fully searchable resource covering all of Europe. This provides access to the full bibliographic information, locations of surviving copies and, where available, digital full-text editions that can be accessed through the database. This information will encompass approximately 355,000 editions and around 1.5 million surviving copies located in over 5,000 libraries worldwide.

Working in the USTC

School of Divinity and Departmental Library School of History

School of Divinity and Departmental Library School of History

Work at the USTC is mainly concerned with enlarging the database. During my time, I worked on adding bibliographical information of books printed in the French-speaking parts of Belgium such as Mons, Douai etc. The task was to gather data from Albert Labarre’s Répertoire bibliographique des livres imprimés en France au XVIIe siècle (1982-1992) and digitally collect them. It was necessary to work out the structure of every single-volume bibliographical reference work and adapt the information presented into a form that would fit the interface of the software in order to create a neat and coherent search experience once the data is uploaded.
The focus of my MA research was on bibliographical work with newspapers. Many meta-catalogues and national bibliographies tend to leave out single-sheet items, pamphlets and newspapers from their bibliographies because of the often fragmentary records. Complete bibliographies of newspaper holdings are for most European countries therefore not available. So as a start Professor Pettegree and I began work with Folke Dahls index of Dutch newspapers printed between 1618 and 1650. Here I learned all I needed to know about putting serials into a bibliography. This varies to some extent from the way books are treated because it is possible to generate master records under which single issues can be classified. I was fortunate that the ongoing work in the USTC team fitted so well with my own research topics. I here had the chance to develop a hands-on sense for cataloguing newspapers that would have been difficult to acquire otherwise. The bibliography I created for early German and Dutch newspapers benefitted a great deal from this experience.

Library Work and Cataloguing

One day of the week was reserved for work in the library where the interns teamed up with partners at the special collections department who were currently working on the addition of all printed books of the 17th century to the library catalogue. Here, we could get a grip on old books. We collected them in the library deposit from the shelves and started working on whatever we found. Most interns have not previous experience in cataloguing so an introduction to MARC 21 Standard was offered by a special collections’ librarian. During our first weeks, we could manage to catalogue a maximum of 5 to 7 books per day, but with a little training and the growing experience of how to deal with the software’s interface, we could speed up the whole process after a while and get more books done. However, paying attention to detail was a major concern so nobody would sacrifice speed over accuracy.

USTC Intern Team 2012: Philip Mogen, Edwin Goi, Ilse Rosielle Prof Andrew Pettegree, Drew Thomas, Jan Hillgärtner (f.l.t.r.)

USTC Intern Team 2012:
Philip Mogen, Edwin Goi, Ilse Rosielle, Prof Andrew Pettegree, Drew Thomas, Jan Hillgärtner (f.l.t.r.)


Apart from learning how to deal with a large bibliography, featuring the works of a whole country in a century, and the ability to catalogue books from the hand-press era, how did I benefit? The idea of doing a PhD surfaced a few times during my internship. We sat down to discuss the matter and soon it became obvious that for the topic I had in mind which focuses on the early modern newspaper, a cooperative co-tutelle agreement would deliver the best basis. While I completed my MA dissertation on the emergence of the periodical press and the organizations behind it, I started to collect information on scholarships, funding possibilities and the modes of cooperation. Looking back, one of the biggest problems was to adjust the agreement so that it would fit with both universities exam regulations. German regulations require the supervisor to be part of the examination committee, for UK universities this is impossible. The key to solve this problem is finding a lead university that organizes all administrational works. It is still a time-consuming enterprise to organize a co-tutelle, but with the right partners, it is a valuable addition to every research program.
Since February 2013 I am now working on my PhD that asks the question, how the design of the newspaper shaped the reading process. I am particularly keen on discovering new aspects of reading history of the common man. The focus will be on English, Dutch, German and French papers, as there are major differences in the way the pages were set in types, distributed and read. The co-tutelle program which sprang out of my internship at the USTC allows me to combine the expertise and guidance from two specialists in my field of research, namely Professor Ursula Rautenberg (Buchwissenschaft, Erlangen-Nürnberg) and Professor Andrew Pettegree (School of History, St Andrews).

Photos: (c) Jan Hillgärtner


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