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The Collation

New STC call numbers for old

The Great Reclassification has begun! As some of you may know, all newly-acquired vault material at the Folger is shelved in the order it was accessioned except for publications that fall within the scope of  A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640 compiled by A.W. Pollard & G.R. Redgrave, better known at the Folger as “STC” (also well-known as “Pollard and Redgrave”). These publications are, and always have been, shelved by STC number, which corresponds to chronological order by author.

Most Folger STC books were assigned their call numbers before the second edition of STC came out between 1976 and 1991, and for most books, the STC numbering did not change between the first edition (1926) and the second. For example, the 1565 edition of John Stow’s Summarie of Englysh chronicles is still the earliest known publication by John Stow, and is “STC 23319” in both the first and the second editions of STC (the first entry in each column, below) and in Hamnet.

STC 23319 through 23328 in the first edition next to STC 23319 through 23325.2 in the second edition.

But if a title was reattributed to a different author, or discovered to have been published earlier or later than previously thought, it was given a new number. And if a publication was unknown at the time of the first edition, it was given an official STC number for the first time… and that number doesn’t always match the unofficial number assigned by Folger catalogers. Continuing with the John Stow example, STC 23319 didn’t change between editions, but STC 23320 in the first edition shows as “Now = 23325.4” in the second edition.1

The idea of systematically updating Folger call numbers to match the second edition of STC has long been contemplated, and was touched on in one of my previous Collation posts, “Hidden notes, “bibliographic nightmares,” and STC call numbers.” Earlier this month, systematic updating finally began with the help of two students participating in the University of Michigan School of Information’s intensive one-week Alternative Spring Break Program. First year masters’ students Lizzie Edgar and Meg Milewski spent February 29 through March 4 working on the project we have dubbed “Ghost Busters: Eliminating non-existent STC numbers for Early English Books.”

Two people seated face-to-face working on computers with books next to them.

Lizzie Edgar (left) and Meg Milewski (right). Note that the terrible ergonomics seen here were corrected shortly after the photo was taken. Photo by Erin Blake.

In preparation, we ran a report comparing each Folger call number to the STC number in Hamnet’s “Cited in” field hoping to find a few hundred records where the numbers did not match. But instead of a few hundred Hamnet records with mis-matches, we found 2,369. Where to start?

We decided to prioritize books with the phrase “Formerly STC…” in the general notes (that is, in notes that apply to the edition in general rather than to a specific copy of the book) figuring that it was especially confusing for users if the note said “Formerly STC 23320” but the call number still said “STC 23320.” That gave us a short list of 375 priority records for the first round. And so we started.

Sometimes one update immediately forced another. For example, when re-shelving old call number STC 23327 under its new call number, STC 23325.2, we discovered there was already a book on the shelf with that number. The size difference made it clear that this probably wasn’t a simple case of needing to make them copy 1 and copy 2:

Two leather-bound books, one much larger than the other.

New call number STC 23325.2 next to old call number STC 23325.2. Photo by Erin Blake.

Before reshelving the larger book, we updated the smaller book’s call number, too. It is now shelved as STC 23325.7 (making it one of the precious few books where re-shelving didn’t involve any shifting: going from .2 to .7 was a small enough change that nothing else fell in between. It fit neatly back on the shelf in the same gap it came from.)

I’m happy to report that the Alternative Spring Break students made it through more than two-thirds of the priority records in their week at the Folger for a total of 301 updated call numbers in 256 records. A growing table of old-to-new call numbers can be found in the “List of call number changes” Folgerpedia article. You can also find books under their old call numbers by doing an “Advanced” search in “Call number” which searches both the “Call number” field and the “Former call number” field.

Row of about a dozen books with new call number flags and old call slips.

Reclassified STCs ready for re-shelving. Photo by Erin Blake.

As the “Ghost Busters” project continues, we hope that the short-term pain of changed numbers leads to long-term gain in consistency. Meanwhile, we ask for your patience, and that you please report any anomalies you find.

Pile of slips of paper with crossed out and handwritten STC numbers

Detritus of the project.

  1. Your intrepid general editor really wants to work in a “You know nothing, John Stow” joke, but is sadly failing to come up with anything. ~AW