Is there one great source for finding the original publication date of a book?
June 10, 2007 12:48 AM   Subscribe

Is there one great source for finding the original publication date of a book?

I often find myself wanting to find the year a book was originally published. Not what year a particular edition was published, but what year the work in general was first ever published., LibraryThing, Wikipedia -- all are, in my experience, hit or miss at best. I usually just end up Googling, but I'd love to find one quick source -- something like IMDb for books, which is likely to have details on every book I would ever look up. Is there something out there like this?
posted by greendress to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It won't cover "every book you would ever want to look up," but the Library of Congress onlne catalog is generally more useful than Amazon/wikipedia/etc. for this sort of thing.
posted by scody at 2:04 AM on June 10, 2007

I was just looking for a very obscure 17th cent. french book which came up in the British Library catalogue search but not in the Library of Congress. (the name is 'imbotti') You would have to imagine that between the LoC and BL a very large chunk of the world's books will be covered.
Incidentally, an amazon search brought up a few cites in other books (none indicating date of pub. that I could see) and google doesn't return the British Library catalogue records.
posted by peacay at 4:44 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know of anything like what you are asking about - it would be an amazing source it it existed.

If you have access to the database called the English Short Title Catelogue (by subscription only, but many universities have it), that may be of help for books published in English or in Britain between c1450 and 1700. There is another database for Eighteen Century Collections online.

But no matter what, sometimes identifying all the editions of an older book is just difficult (people spend their careers working on this sort of thing), and without actually seeing the book, you might not be sure if it is the same text as another or not. I remember going to the British Library to look at a pamphlet from 1647, only to find out it was exactly the same text as a 1629 pamphlet I'd already read (except for the title, obviously).
posted by jb at 4:56 AM on June 10, 2007

Also, if you use firefox there are search addons (for the search field top right of browser) for both of these libraries' catalogues, so I just found out {mycroft}.
posted by peacay at 5:00 AM on June 10, 2007

Just to underline the truth in what jb has said, the example I used with 'imbotti' gives 2 results with the British Library catalogue. One is 1682 and the other is 1684. But from my reading around other sites it appears it was (probably) first published in 1679.
posted by peacay at 5:15 AM on June 10, 2007

I've commented before on the difficulty of finding accurate bibliographical information on the Internet. Like peacay, I usually rely on the British Library catalogue, though even here the results can be unreliable, particularly for multi-volume works published over a period of time.

jb is incorrect in saying that the English Short-Title Catalogue is subscription-only. In fact it is available for free on the BL website.
posted by verstegan at 6:43 AM on June 10, 2007

Are you looking for older books, as in peacay's example, or more contemporary titles? If you have access to WorldCat, I have often found it to be more comprehensive than the LoC catalog, and definitely better than Amazon et al. It is more hit-and-miss for older items, though; I couldn't find any listings for "imbotti."
posted by Siobhan at 9:47 AM on June 10, 2007

I'd suggest you first try the free web site called WorldCat, which offers the combined library catalogs of thousands of libraries. If a book was ever published (at least in English), it can likely be found in WorldCat. If you search by title, you can then find all the different editions. Look for the one with the earliest date. If you'd like some help with this, just let me know all the data you have and I'll look it up for you (I'm a librarian).
posted by stephenfrancoeur at 1:03 PM on June 10, 2007

jb is incorrect in saying that the English Short-Title Catalogue is subscription-only. In fact it is available for free on the BL website.
posted by verstegan at 2:43 PM on June 10 [+] [!]

I'm happy to be wrong about that - the ESTC is a great source.

I had forgotten about World Cat - that's a really good source as well. I found rare pamphelts and publications there a couple of years ago.
posted by jb at 5:26 PM on June 10, 2007

I can't believe I never thought of the Library of Congress! Duh. I suspect that between that, the British Library catalogue, WorldCat, and the ESTC, I should be pretty well sorted. Gotta love Ask MeFi!

Siobhan, in answer to your question: Both older and contemporary, although not usually anything as obscure as "imbotti"!
posted by greendress at 11:08 PM on June 12, 2007

Since this query was posted, a fantastic new resource has appeared: Harvard's Theatrum Catalogorum, which provides links to online library catalogues all over Europe. If you're looking for foreign-language books, this is THE place to start: e.g. peacay's 'imbotti' query can be solved in seconds by following the link to the Catalogue Collectif de France. Highly recommended.
posted by verstegan at 6:19 AM on July 9, 2007

Thanks verstegan, that's a very useful link. I wish there was a way to search them all at the same time (my guess is that would not be a hugely difficult thing to code up - so says a technodullard). It's often the case that I wouldn't know which catalogue/location was the most appropriate.
posted by peacay at 6:34 AM on July 25, 2007

« Older Help me meet others   |   ...something ship something something... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.