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Bibliography - Reference, Analytical

physical bibliographies lists books

Bibliography is the study of books as conceptual content and as physical objects. The books in question, once limited to hardbound objects available in bookstores, are today generally defined more broadly. The term “book” is now generally applied to all texts (be they published or in manuscript) that are meant to be permanent, including periodicals, maps, music, pictures, and ephemera, as well as materials preserved in the audiovisual and electronic media. The conceptual and physical aspects of these objects involve the two specialties of reference bibliography and analytical bibliography.

Reference Bibliography

Lists, inventories, footnotes, and prose essays are all ways in which readers and books can be brought together. To make these tools more useful to the reader, standard citations have been formulated for each situation. These citations emphasize content, even though the physical embodiment is inseparable.

A bibliographical citation typically consists of an entry that names

  1. the creator of the text,
  2. the title of the text, either as formally presented or in common usage,
  3. a source where the text is available (i.e., an imprint statement that names the publisher or a statement that identifies the larger work, such as a periodical, in which the text appears), and
  4. other specifics (such as date and place of publication, volume number, and pagination) that can be fitted into an established formula.

In some cases, an annotation or abstract, describing the content in a free-form prose statement, is appended to the above elements in a bibliography citation.

Systematic bibliography is the study of the compiling of lists; enumerative bibliography is the study of the use of those lists. The lists themselves, generally referred to as bibliographies, are often qualified by adjectives that designate a topic, genre, or approach. Examples of this include subject or national bibliographies (e.g., French bibliographies), author bibliographies (e.g., Milton bibliographies), and critical bibliographies. Among the offspring of bibliographies are discographies, for sound recordings in whatever physical form, and filmographies, for motion pictures in whatever physical form. Archival finding aids and calendars, museum inventories, and many merchandise displays are often closely modeled on bibliographical lists. Although bibliographies are usually thought of as things to be consulted, people do read them as well. For example, browsers who are in search of perspectives on a topic would read through complete bibliographies, as would browsers who are interested in surveying a topic’s literature in its entirety.

Lists may be organized either in linear sequence on paper or randomly in computers. With printed lists, additional access often needs to be provided through the inclusion of indexes, classified lists, and tables of contents. With online lists, access depends on the vocabulary of searchable terms. Printed lists have the advantage of a structure that is visible to the reader. Online lists, however, may provide more current information. Each type depends on establishment of its credibility. Inevitably, bibliographies reflect their compilers’ conceptions of the unity, totality, and structure of the topic they cover; along the way, the compilers define the topic itself and aspire to canonize their literature. Bibliographies at once both describe and prescribe—their statements inevitably promote the texts in the process of referring to them. At the same time, the precise uses of bibliographies are inevitably determined by their readers.

The difference between a catalog and a bibliography is still widely seen as one of function. While catalogs identify specific copies (e.g., of a book held by a library), bibliographies refer to writings in general (e.g., all books published on a topic). This distinction is now becoming obsolete, thanks to union catalogs that bring together writings or other media from many different library collections. These new types of catalogs can then work as bibliographies.

Bibliographic control (a concept that underlies the concern of the librarian for universal bibliographic control), along with its counterpart, bibliographical organization, involves strategies for making the entire world of books better available to readers. In the study of citation analysis, biblio-metrics employs statistics to evaluate bibliographical references and measure the patterns involved in the use of texts. As it offers gateways to the written literature of society, reference bibliography is obviously crucial to the communities of readers and to the use of books.

Analytical Bibliography

Books, in addition to being studied for their content, can be studied as physical objects, in terms of both the materials used in them (paper, type, ink) and the activities involved in producing them (type design and composition, illustration, house practices of layout and presswork, printing processes, as well as binding and preservation). Among its interrelated specialties, textual bibliography (sometimes considered to be the same as textual criticism) is the study of the relationship between the content of the text and the physical form of the text as it is envisioned by those who create its conceptual and physical artifacts. The physical presentation of a book—its typeface, paper quality, and overall design, for example— subtly affects the way the message is read. In overt ways, the text itself thus often comes to be distorted through misreadings, editorial changes, or printing errors. Descriptive bibliography then formulates in scrupulous detail the statements that identify the physical book. This type of bibliography allows the user to compare a particular copy of a book with other copies of the same title in order to spot the differences and to determine what the ideal copy was meant to look like.

The study of physical evidence ranges from the work of historians who confirm what exactly the text consisted of to the work of forensic specialists who uncover evidence of either authenticity or of tampering. Increasingly, this latter activity involves the scientific laboratory. The graphic arts, concerned with the visual presentation of words and/or pictures, are generally not seen as a branch of bibliography, although they are nonetheless essential to bibliography. Emphasizing printing as it does, physical bibliography has counterparts in the disciplines of paleography, which is concerned with manuscripts (those from the eras before printing in particular), and epigraphy, which is concerned with inscriptions and other writings on hard surfaces.

The study of physical bibliography has long been the specialty not only of printing historians but also of bibliophiles and antiquarian book dealers, whose concerns for authenticity are closely related to the use of books as historical evidence. The work of these individuals is of basic importance in the study of the historical role of communication in society, and the interrelationships between its written, electronic, and oral forms. Historical bibliography, since it recognizes names, places, titles, and events, involves the study of the tastes and cultural dynamics of physical books to uncover the relationships between books and history. The term “book history” is also coming to be used for this field of study; a fascination with French annales historians has also inspired the term " histoire du livre ." Recorded knowledge, in its iconic and symbolic forms, is abundantly in evidence today, thanks in large part to physical bibliography.

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