04 February 2009

Book Indices and Bibliographies

Lately, I've been feeding my obsession for alphabetized, categorized information by collecting book indices and bibligraphies I come across on Google Books. Here are three I've found in the last day or so, all from the nineteenth century.

I'd like to learn more about how these were made and used. Clearly, they're cousins to dictionaries or codebooks of the same period, but I'm surprised at how different each layout is. I'm also curious about the motivation behind these types of reference works (or any reference work, for that matter). They're obviously useful to have around -- but let's face it, it's not like writing a novel. It's takes a lot of tedious, detailed work to put one together, and (it seems, at least) they aren't used often or for very long. They have a limited shelf life. Who were these people?

The first two are my favorite. Click on the image to zoom in.

[From Bibliography: or Books about books, their making, etc., ... forming part of the reference department of Birmingham Free Library, by John Davis Mullins, Birmingham Public Library, 1884.]

[From Bibliotheca Britannica; Or, A General Index to British and Foreign Literature, by Robert Watt, 1824. Zoom in!]

[From The Annual Literary Index: 1892-1904, by William Isaac Fletcher and Richard Rogers Bowker, 1893.]


John McVey said...

there are bibliographies, lists, and then catalogues of libraries, e.g.,
Subject Index of the Modern Works Added to the Library of the British Museum in the Years 1881-1900
which has been useful to me and I presume to many others, in many ways.


your selection brings to mind, as well, Melvil Dewey's Classification and Subject Index, several editions of which are available via Google Book.


Compilation of lists such as you present may have been seen as a professional practice, or demonstration of a library's high standards, and would have helped in interlibrary loans (although I don't know the history of ILL).

Whitney said...

True true, many different uses -- each so specific, though! For such a lot of work. I'm very curious about how they would have been compiled, by what processes. Little index cards stuffed in a cabinet, like the OED?

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