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England and the Printing Press: A Subject Guide

Search Strategies

Significant progress has been made in recent years to provide online cataloging records for the division's holdings. The phrase “Request in: Rare Book/Special Collections Reading Room” appears at the bottom of online records for rare books.

If the book is in a special collection within the division's holdings, an abbreviation of that collection name is part of the call number.

Search Tips for Pre-Modern and Early Modern Materials

[Micklegate Bar, York, England]. [between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Why Is Locating Material by this Author Difficult?

When researching pre-modern or early modern material in the online catalog, using the Library of Congress Authority Files is the best gateway to success. Authority files have the potential to save researchers a lot of unnecessary frustration.

Here's why. Early authors are often known by more than one name: an English name, a French name, a Latin name, and each with variant spellings. In order to create uniform and searchable records, catalogers choose one name as the official name by which to link all of the author's writings. This official name is called the Authorized Heading.


Want to know more? Check out the Tutorial and the Frequently Asked Question section.

Still having trouble? If you try the authorities and are still struggling to locate your author, you might try searching the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF)External, which is particularly useful for non-western or references to understudied traditionsExternal.

The nave of York Minister, the grand cathedral at York, England. c1905. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Have you ever heard of a place called Eboracum?

Most people haven't. It's the Latin name for York, England. Traditional printing assumed the word "city" in a printer's statement, and therefore the name of the city was printed the genitive case: "Eboraci," meaning "city of York." Novi Eboraci is therefore the Latin name for "city of New York."

Yes, you can type that into the online catalog and return a solid list of search results!

Researchers should be aware that even sixteenth-century English-language publications often list printer's statements in Latin. For example, in the image below, the famous English Protestant printer, John Day, executed his printer's statement in Latin, even though William Cunningham wrote the text in English. London is spelled: Londini.

Londini and Eboraci are only two of many examples. Researchers working with early printed material from particular locations may experience confusion and frustration, because the Latin names used by printers are often different than the names by which the city is known today.

In 1861, German scholar Johann Georg Theodor Graesse (1814-1885) published the first edition of the Orbis Latinus, a Latin-German dictionary of Latin place names. The dictionary is now in its fourth edition, and can be viewed online though the Bavarian State LibraryExternal. (Click the EN in the top right corner by the search in order to read the introduction in English rather than German).

For those who would rather not use the German edition, a more user-friendly database is available on the website for the Rare Book and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Library (RBMS): RBMS/BSC Latin Place Names FileExternal.

William Cuningham The cosmographical glasse, conteinyng the pleasant principles of cosmographie, geographie, hydrographie, or nauigation. [London] : Excussum Londini in officina Ioan. Day typographi, anno 1559. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.
Douglas Graham, photographer. [Library of Congress - card catalogs]. [14 May 1997]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

What are the three parts of Library of Congress online catalog record?

  1. Bibliographic Record: The bibliographic record provides information for the publication. For printed material, the information provided in this area of the record is based on the ideal copy. The bibliographic information is contained on the top portion of the record.
  2. Holdings Record: The holdings record provides information about a particular copy. Most importantly, this is the section of the bibliographic record that indicates where in the Library an item is located. In such a large library, where it can take a researcher fifteen minutes to get from one Reading Room to another, the holdings record is a very important section to pay attention to. This information is contained at the bottom of the record under ITEM AVAILABILITY. This is a very important section to review prior to making an onsite visit to the Reading Room. As an example this record indicates the item is located in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division (LJ-239). All material located in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division should have a holdings record that looks just like this, and the image at the top of this page.
  3. Item Record: This portion of the record indicates the specific number of copies, issues, or years in the Library of Congress' holdings. The Library of Congress may have a particular journal title, but perhaps only from three of the six years that it was issued. In this record, the item records indicate that the Library of Congress, and specifically the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, has two copies of the same publication from two different collections. When requesting these items, a researcher should look at the call number provided in this lower section and be able to differentiate between the Copy 1 and Copy 2.

A Word of Caution: A researcher whose work involves specific issues, editions, or volumes of a particular title is encouraged to contact the Reading Room Staff prior to their visit and make certain that the particular volume required is on shelf and available to be served. Send a query through the Ask-A-Librarian services at any time.