The Union Catalog of Pre-1600 Books Online: How We Do It

This page is part of the pre-1600 Books Online collection.

The main purpose of these pages is to show books relevant to my re-creation hobby, the SCA, which mainly studies Western Europe between the fall of the Roman empire and the year 1600. This includes both books actually printed before 1600, and later books about the earlier era.

Data sources

The first step is to collect as many online books as possible. I do that by mooching off the efforts of others. I'd like to use Google Books as a data source, but I can't figure out how to get good call numbers, or how to get easy access to the list of books in their collection.

Selection of pre-1600 books

Once I have a large list of books and their call numbers, I use some scripts to try to pick out the ones relevant to the years before 1600. This is done fairly naively; any 4 digit number is considered to be a date, and a list of keywords ("medieval"), names of people ("tomas becket"), and complete book titles is consulted. Next there is an 'exceptions list' which gets rid of some of the false positives. This is a fairly fragile process.

Limitations of this approach

This approach goes wrong in several ways. First, it misses some books, which is why you can also review the list of unselected books, and the search function shows results for both selected and unselected books. Second, it picks a lot of books which are either just after 1600, or are material from before the fall of the Roman empire which were not available during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Another flaw is that almost all of the books in this collection were scanned because they were out of copyright. This means that they may not be very up-to-date in their scholarship.

Future Improvements

At the moment only I can tag books, but eventually I'd like to let users of the site tag books, both with the "pre-1600" tag, and with user-defined tags, such as "primary source", "published in the 15th century", etc.

I would also like to build a tree of subjects, possibly replacing the current tree of call numbers.

Return to the pre-1600 Books Online collection.

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