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The English Short-Title Catalog (aka the ESTC) has now passed its thirtieth anniversary. It has grown beyond its original conception as a database for holdings of 18th century publications, now including not only monographic material from the earliest date of printing in Great Britain (ca. 1473), but also serials holdings in ESTC reporting libraries from the earliest period of English newspaper publishing (ca. 1620) through 1800. The cataloging of both well-known and newly discovered serials has been ongoing since late in 1994, and at the present time includes approximately 5,000 titles, each with at least one primary holding location.

From the beginning of this phase of the ESTC, the biggest challenge has been to first identify, and then locate, surviving serials titles - of newspapers, periodicals and previously uncataloged government documents, from this 181 year period. No single bibliography of those titles is yet in existence. The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature lists the majority of known titles; the Short-Title Catalogue of English Books, and the serials bibliography of the period 1641-1700 by Carolyn Nelson and Matthew Seccombe, cover the earliest periods of the projected catalog, but the eighteenth century has been covered only in part, and only for some areas of the British Isles and former British colonies.

Before serials can be cataloged, considerable effort must be made to identify the length of a newspaper or magazine run, and to discover and link together those serials that have changed their titles during their publishing lives. To aid in this complex preparation phase, the ESTC office in Riverside has created an in-house database in which all the scattered information about titles previously known or newly discovered is brought together from various sources and organized into a single file. This file has now recorded over 5,000 titles.

As project staff proceed to catalog the known titles in hand and on microfilm, the search for existing, but undiscovered material goes on. Previously unknown titles come to light in sometimes surprising places. Five issues of one such rare item, a broadside news-sheet published in Edinburgh in the 1760s or 1770s, has been discovered in the National Library of Scotland. It is crudely printed and decorated with even cruder woodcuts, unsigned and undated, with a slightly different title for every issue. Its purpose was evidently to attack what its editors perceived to be corrupt practices in local city government, and from the vehemence of its rhetoric is unlikely to have survived officialdom for much longer than the five extant issues. It is recorded in no list or bibliography; its earliest known title: The Goats Gazette. It is hoped that other rare items, not known to bibliographers, will be reported to us by holding libraries as the serials file grows.

The Early Serials portion of the ESTC has already generated a number of inquiries from scholars who seem eager to make use of this new and powerful bibliographic tool. These records can be identified in the ESTC by the ID number prefix "P", and can be searched in both EUREKA and ESTC in RLIN using all the normal indexes familiar to ESTC users. Additions to the HELP screens have been created in both the ESTC file in RLIN and in the EUREKA search mode to assist users in navigating through these new records.

In the ESTC file, the genre searches by code : <fin GNR ‘n’> for newsbooks and newspapers, and <fin GNR ‘j’> for periodicals, will pull up the new serials records. In addition, there are two indexes not previously used for monographic records that will be useful for serials searches. These are: <fin FG [genre: e.g. newspapers]> , which pulls up records by the genre terms used in 655 USMARC field, taken from the RBMS thesaurus; and <fin RT [related title]> which works with truncation like the TP search. This latter search will pull up title changes and cumulated titles related to the title of your original search. Some related titles have also been added to the monographic records for annual and cumulated serials, and more will be added as these are identified. The PYR search will also bring up serials records by either the first or last known year of publication, and may be truncated after the first two digits if only the decade is known. As with monographic records search results may be further refined by using ALS with any USMARC field search string.

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