About

About this Site, and Some News

I first developed this site in 2009, and actively expanded and maintained it for several years thereafter. After working on the planning of a new version of the English Short Title Catalogue, however, I tapered off work on the site considerably, because the ESTC seemed poised to take over all of the functions of this site better than I could possibly maintain them on my own. I kept the site up in the meantime, however, until such time as the new ESTC was ready to go live. Unfortunately, some difficulties in the deployment of the ESTC's new data model mean that the project has been rather delayed, though I still trust that it will eventually be launched publicly. For the time being, though, it seems that there's still a use for Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker and, since many people have linked to the site, I wanted to keep it running until I could redirect people to the new ESTC.

Changes to the Site

After a long period of mostly benign neglect, I was compelled to update this site when its aging codebase finally stopped working due to a software upgrade at my web host. I've focused on migrating the old data in order to get the site back up and running as quickly as I could. There were some things that the old site did that I have not yet implemented in this new version, mainly because I did not get the sense that the features were really being used. Right now, the site just focuses on providing a search interface for displaying identified links to scans. I may be able to re-implement some older functionality as (and if) time, energy, and interest permit.

No User Accounts

For the time being, I have disabled user accounts on the site. After an initial period of adoption, new registrations to the site had tapered off drastically—and a proliferation of spambots seeking accounts made monitoring user registration frankly more trouble than it was worth. This means that some features of the original site (like marked favorites lists) are not available in this version. I do not believe that feature was much used, but I may be able to add it back in time.

The biggest consequence of eliminating user accounts is that it is not currently possible for users other than myself to add or edit links or bibliographical entries to the site. In 2009, I had hoped that the site would become a center for a kind of bibliographical crowdsourcing amidst a proliferation of scans that often weren't as well identified as bibliographically-careful readers needed them to be. In the event, not much of a crowd materialized, though users of the site did contribute a number of links over the years, and the database is the richer for it. If you are champing at the bit to add links to the site, please contact me, and we'll see if we can figure something out.

No C18BookTracker Bookmarklet

I developed a bookmarklet for the original site that allowed users to check to see if a link they were viewing at Google Books or the Internet Archive was indexed in the site's database. If it was, users could see a fuller bibliographic record so they could ascertain what they were looking at out in the wild. If it wasn't, users could submit the link to the site and, optionally, provide an identification for it. Since users can't currently submit links, much of the functionality of the Bookmarklet is moot, so I haven't done the work yet to update it for use with the new site. I'm hoping to actually get around to doing that, though, as it was awfully handy for my own use. It may reappear in the future, but for right now, it will not work.

No Author Index

The original site had a taxonomy system that presented an index of authors with works listed at the site. From the author index, you could see all the words in the database by a given author. That shouldn't be too difficult for me to restore, but it didn't make it to the top of my priority list: you can always find works by using the Search page. This may be restored in future, but, if I'm going to go to the effort, I'm hoping to remodel the way that authors are handled to be more robust and more useful for use in a linked data environment.

No RSS feeds

That was a "seemed like a good idea at the time" feature. It doesn't strike me as a high priority, but if the world is pining for RSS feeds of updates to custom searches at a niche web site for facsimiles of eighteenth-century books, let me know, I guess...

Looking Ahead

Over time, this site has actually been linked to kind of a lot—pages at Wikipedia direct to it, librarians have included it in subject research guides, and so forth. I've resuscitated it so that at least those links won't go dead without me being able to point people to a better resource. I'm not thrilled about pruning the site back this way, believe me, and I really do hope I'll be able to restore lost functionality and improve some things that I'd started re-thinking over the years. But, realistically, I'm not in a position to make development on this site an especially high priority: it's just me doing the site, and I've got a full-time teaching job, plus all the other professional responsibilities that come with being a "mid-career" academic, on top of my other research interests. I hope the site will still be useful in its new state for its intended core of users: students and scholars of the eighteenth century who don't have access to expensive proprietary research databases. If that's you, well, this site can offer you links to page-image scans of more than 1,000 titles, and I'll continue adding to it as I can.

If you're looking for something and can't find it here, I'll put in a word for a couple of other sites. HathiTrust connects scans made by Google at the partner libraries that are members of HathiTrust to honest-to-goodness catalogue records, so you have a much better chance of finding what you're looking for. Those are (mostly?) North American libraries, so you won't get the holdings of the Bodleian, the British Library, or European libraries. The Bodleian has been hosting copies of the scans Google made there on their own web site, so you can often find links to PDFs in the catalogue records available through SOLO. Google scanned a lot of great material at European Libraries like the Staatsbibliothek München and the National Bibliotheek van Nederland. In addition to finding those scans in the respective catalogues, you can find a lot of material in Europeana (which also indexes material from the Bodleian).

The digitization landscape has changed in several subtle but interesting ways since I started this project:

  • To all outward appearances, at least, Google seems to have scaled back its book scanning activities There continues to be a wealth of great material there, though it's not always as easily-discoverable as it should be, though the growth of HathiTrust obviates that problem to some extent. (Google has, however made astounding strides in optical character recognition for the millions of books they have scanned. They have periodically re-processed their page images as their OCR has advanced, so if you haven't looked at Google for full-text in a while, it's worth checking again.)
  • The Internet Archive was never as big a scanning operation as Google, but they also offer a tremendous amount of excellent material. They also have stuck more closely to metadata formats derived from libraries than Google has traditionally done, which means that, while the size of the collection isn't as large as Google's, it can be easier to find what you're looking for.
  • At the same time, a number of individual libraries have begun to provide very high-quality scans of items in their collections at no cost—you have to go looking, but you can find some wonderful things at, for instance, the Penn, Harvard, or UVA (just to name a few).

In 2019, then, there are more sources of better scans than there were in 2009, when I launched this site (or than there were in, say, 2006 or '07, when I started thinking about it). It's still not as easy as it should be to find the materials that are out there, but it's easier than it was. The need for a site like this one isn't perhaps quite so pressing today as it seemed in 2009, but I hope it will continue to be useful for some time yet.