The Universal Short Title Catalogue 1450-1650

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: History


The invention of printing was one of the crucial technological milestones in the creation of modern European society. It facilitated the generalisation of reading, the dissemination of scientific knowledge, the creation of an information society and the growth of public opinion.

The Universal Short Title Catalogue is the first comprehensive survey of all books published in the period 1450-1650: the first two hundred years after the invention of printing. It will present, in a searchable database accessible free to all users, data on over 700,000 editions published in more than 20 languages. It will provide the locations of over 3.5 million surviving copies in some 6,000 libraries and archives. Crucially the database will also provide links to the many thousands of editions made available by recent digitisation projects. Instead of having to locate and then travel to see these very rare texts, users will be able to access them from their desktop.

The USTC will be an indispensable resource, and the first port of call, for all those interested in the history, literature, religion and culture of this period of European history. By gathering together information on all of Europe's printed books in one place, the USTC will bring to light previously unrecognised phenomena, such as the flow of text across national and linguistic boundaries, or the trans-national popularity of particular works or authors. A unique system of subject coding will allow users to search for all works of particular genres wherever they were published in Europe: the power and ease of these searches will facilitate any number of particular studies in the fields of literature, science and political writing.

The USTC documents the printed book in the first two centuries after the introduction of the new technology of mechanical book production: the last great media transformation before our own electronic age. In the first years the experimental technology was carried along on a wave of enthusiasm: but for the most part the books published in the first decades were texts familiar from the manuscript book world of the late mediaeval period. It was only in the sixteenth century that publishers began to experiment with new types of books for new classes of readers, offering a vastly expanded range of literature, practical handbooks, religious and political works. The early seventeenth century witnessed a further huge growth in pamphlet literature, stimulated by the great conflicts of the age: the Fronde, the Thirty Years' War, and the English Civil War. The early seventeenth century also saw the first experiments with periodical newssheets, adapting and reshaping an already buoyant market for news, entertainment and sensation.

Many of the new genres of print were small ephemeral publications with an extremely low rate of survival. A high proportion of the books, pamphlets and broadsheets registered in the USTC are documented in only one located copy. Bringing together information on these unique items, scattered among libraries and archives around the world, has only become possible thanks to the transformation of resources in the new digital age, as libraries move towards the publication of on-line catalogues. The USTC team in St Andrews had developed new methodologies to capture, sieve and analyse this electronic data, moving to completion a project that in an earlier era would have scarcely been possible. When complete, the USTC will allow us for the first time to appreciate and study the full richness of this diverse, dynamic world of print: and its impact on society.

Planned Impact

The USTC will focus wide public interest of one of the cornerstones of the European cultural heritage: the invention of printing. It will broaden awareness of the surviving artefacts and provide access to the texts.


The USTC will be a free access resource, available for all with a professional or recreational interest in rare books, and the process of media transformation in the first age of print.

In the commercial sector the USTC will be of prime utility to two major groups: dealers in antiquarian books and publishers of digital texts. Publishers of digital texts will have the opportunity to attach their images to the USTC records for retail sale. The USTC has already entered into agreements with two major publishers, IDC/ Brill and Proquest for the marketing of their products through the USTC.

This service will also be extended to antiquarian booksellers. For booksellers the USTC will become the first point of reference for the identification and cataloguing of early printed material. It will replace a variety of standard works which currently provide extremely patchy coverage.

The public sector, third sector and policy makers

The USTC will be a critical resource and policy tool for all libraries, archives and galleries with early printed holdings.

It will highlight the importance of print to the European cultural heritage, and assist in making the case to policy makers for conservation resources.

It will demonstrate the potential for cross-institutional co-operation, through virtual exhibitions of the sort to be piloted by the USTC with Scottish libraries in November 2011.

It will help libraries establish priorities for conservation, by documenting which of their holdings are especially rare. The USTC will be able to generate automatically lists of books known in only one or two surviving copies, and can circulate these to libraries as a conservation alert.

It will help direct scarce resources applied to digitization projects by making libraries aware which books are already digitized elsewhere.

Critical will be the understanding that the rarest items are not always the most celebrated books. Many small libraries and archives will turn out to have unique surviving pamphlets and broadsheets, many located far from their place of printing. These discoveries may be a crucial benefit to institutions struggling to explain the relevance and importance of their rare book holdings in a harsh funding climate.

The USTC also draws attention to the quantities of printed items which survive not in libraries but in other institutions, such as archives or galleries. This will encourage archives to make these items (often uncatalogued in folders of mostly manuscript material) a higher priority for systematic documentation.

Public benefit

The invention of printing was the last great media transformation before the current electronic age. But few beyond privileged specialists have the opportunity of direct contact with the books themselves. The USTC will bring the experience of early print to any who access its website, associated exhibitions or publications.

History is now a major part of the leisure industry in the United Kingdom. Much of this interest is focussed presently on two fields: family history, and the social history of recent times. The USTC offers the opportunity to introduce early book history to these established circles of those with a curiosity for the past.

The USTC can also contribute to the democratisation of learning. Traditionally scholars with access to the great research collections in Europe and the United States have enjoyed a significant advantage. Communities of scholars have congregated close to these collections, all of them in the world's richest countries. Remote access through the USTC will allow those working outside these fa
Description The Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) is a project aimed at bringing together information on all books published in Europe in the first age of print. At present this comprises 755,000 editions and around 4 million surviving copies, located in over 9,500 archives and libraries worldwide. The addition of new data for the period 1601-1650 doubled the size of the resource.

The project has demonstrated, as intended, the value of studying the early print world across national boundaries. Until this point, the first age of print was largely studied within national silos. Yet at the time the Latin market at least functioned as one transnational marketplace. Popular texts, too, travelled with translation into different vernacular languages. The project has first and foremost helped users understand this active market of cultural exchange.

The data in the USTC has allowed all scholars of the early book world to re-assess conventional narratives of the 'triumph' of print. Until this point the transition from manuscript to print was seen as a fairly smooth process, inspired by the enthusiasm of scholars and the fascination for the new technology. The data in the USTC allows us to question this narrative, with evidence of a significant contraction in the industry as the first publishers struggled to find customers. The result was a wholesale restructuring of the industry, as the publication of large books retrenched to a smaller number of commercial hubs. Meanwhile the industry as a whole was sustained to an extent never previously recognised by the trade in small books and utilitarian jobbing print, much of this published at the behest of the state and church authorities.

This reorientation of the discipline towards an interest in 'cheap print' is very much an achievement of the USTC, which provides for the first time statistical evidence of its dominant role in the economics of the industry.
Exploitation Route The USTC is now the first point of call for researchers in many disciplines interested in the study of early printed texts. It provides access not only to the locations of surviving copies, but where available, digital texts.

The USTC is the first major bibliographical project to make use of facets, quantifying results by author, place of publication, format and subject. This allows all users to follow the sort of logic trains that have underpinned the working methodology of the USTC group from its inception. This allows all sort of free flowing investigation of the shape of the early book market, and the popularity of different texts or authors in different parts of Europe.

The USTC is now routinely used as a point of reference for library staff, cataloguers and antiquarian booksellers specialising in early print. The USTC is also now actively engaged with the Library community through our programme Preserving the World's Rarest Books, alerting libraries to the rarest items in their collections, and promoting best practice with regard to conservation and digitization.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The USTC is the biggest repository of information on surviving copies of books printed in the first age of print. These include some of the most celebrated and valuable books ever printed, but these are not usually the rarest survivors. Books that only survive in one copy (perhaps as many as a quarter of the total) were often small books never intended to grace the shelves of a library. In 2015 we moved to put this data at the disposal of the world library community with our new programme, Preserving the World's Rarest Books. Participating libraries are offered a list of their early holdings, organised in order of rarity. They then may choose to make these priorities for filming or conservation, or build an exhibition around them. The USTC is also regularly used as a primary point of reference in the antiquarian book trade. This allows those in the trade to search for copies of books in a single source: it also allows them to assess much more accurately their relative rarity. The publication in 2015 of the PI's study of The Invention of News, was widely praised as a seminal study of the origins of the market for commercial news services. It led to many invitations to speak on the process of media transformation, and the future of the news industry. This included an invitation to the 2015 BBC News Forum, broadcast live to all BBC news staff, speaking at a session entitled 'What is News?'. Since 2016 we have developed our Programme, 'Preserving the World's Rarest Books', a programme in association with libraries all around the world. We have already recruited 50 libraries to this programme, and are beginning to discuss with them their plans for exploiting the material we have shared with them. This programme now has a website,, and an active series of blogposts picking out especially interesting items in the collections of participating libraries.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description Preserving the World's Rarest Books
Amount $530,000 (USD)
Funding ID 11500650 
Organisation Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
Title Exploiting Site-Selective Reactivity in the Processing of Lignin (thesis data) 
Description The data files are embargoed until 08/01/2020 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Title USTC 
Description The completion of the AHRC grant for the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) represents a significant development in the USTC database. Prior to the grant, the USTC database recorded of ca. 350,000 unique editions with ca. 1.3 million copies attached. With the culmination of the grant this dataset will expand to ca. 600,000 unique editions with ca. 2.5 million copies attached. Such a rich database allows scholars and researchers to study national datasets in a comparative perspective and for surveys to cross the traditional national boundaries of bibliographic study. In addition, the database has sought to record any digital copy of a work found. This will allow the USTC to become a research portal for the discovery a rich corpus of material for the study of early modern history and literature. All the data in our collection will be freely available to the public from our existing website from 18 June 2016. The website features an intuitive frontend and backend interface that allows staff to continue to develop the resource while users explore our collection and discover new research questions. While the data is stored in the MySQL data warehouse located St Andrews, this data can be modified by authorised project team members via a CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Interface) interface. The MySQL database forms the basis of the Apache Solr Index (also hosted by St Andrews) which provides the front-end data to which the general user is exposed and interacts with. A search of the USTC will query the Solr Index and provide results based on the USTC number. This separation allows for continued modification and correction of data without the necessity to close service for updates. The Solr index is re-indexed at the lowest traffic point for the site. Data Development Methods The project has developed a purpose built bibliographical database structure designed for the recording of early printed material. Each bibliographical distinct item is assigned a unique USTC number or serial number by which it can be identified. No two items can have the same number. Through this number additional tables of content are linked containing a variety of data such as publication data, reference data, external links, copy information, collation information, pagination and format. Data integrity is ensured as these tables provide a series of 'data dictionaries' from which project members have to select values for any new record. Monitoring Data Development The project has developed a robust monitoring process based upon regular weekly formal meetings and record keeping. Every project member reports regularly on the work undertaken and its progress. These reports ensure that the project team is able to meet tight deadlines and ensures that every member of the team is aware of the goals of the team as a whole. These reports are filed for future reference. Additionally, documentation has been developed to ensure that any technical work undertaken is fully reported and any backups recorded in paper logs. This ensures that no work can be lost or is unrecoverable and that the USTC can continue to be of benefit to future scholars beyond this grant. Data/file formats The core data for the project is held in MySQL format. This has the advantage of being able to handle large databases quickly and easily while being designed for use in an online environment. The use of MySQL allows the project to conform to open standards. The functionality of MySQL in an online environment also allows the project to ensure that the resource meets accessibility criteria ( The core MySQL database is indexed in Apache Solr. Solr has become the leading open access search platform for search applications - from library catalogues to major e-commerce solutions. It not only has a proven track record on numerous projects, but is scalable and provides many features of which the USTC can make use - full-text search, faceted search, geospatial search or automated failover and recovery. Solr is written in JAVA and runs as a stand-alone full-text search server (see ). Database integration between Solr and MySQL is provided by the Solarium PHP client library ( The USTC on-line interface is written primarily in PHP; as such the choice of Solarium seemed appropriate and, unlike the native PHP library, requires no dependencies to be installed on the server. MySQL and Apache Solr are both open source published under the GNU General Licence, so no cost was involved in its acquisition. This ensures that it will continue to operate following the grant without the necessity of licencing any costly software. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The USTC is now heavily used by a worldwide community of scholars and other interested parties. It is particularly valued by users with not institutional base in the university community. It now averages 350-400 users a day. The database has allowed us to develop a new, innovative programme, Preserving the World's Rarest Books. This programme, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York, puts the analytical power of the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) at the disposal of the world library community. It is one of the paradoxes of the early book world that libraries value most are often not particularly rare. The rarest early printed books tend to be works that were never intended for the library shelves: small, ephemeral or practical, used to destruction, then discarded. But publications of this sort formed the bedrock of the publishing industry. Documenting books (and broadsheets) like these is essential to creating a complete view of the early book world: both from the perspective of those engaged in the industry, and readers. The St Andrews/ Mellon programme is intended to help libraries find the rarest books in their collection, a time consuming task for any individual collection, but relatively straightforward using the analytical resources of the USTC. Participating libraries will be furnished by the USTC team will a list of all their early holdings, ranked according to rarity. Libraries are free to do with this information what they wish: participation in the programme imposes no obligations. But some of our early partners have indicated that they may use our information to shape digitization priorities; others may highlight unique items in forthcoming exhibitions or publications. Now, half way through the first year of an initial three year association with Mellon, we have gathered over 20 partners in 11 countries. The programme envisages a minimum of 50 partners in the first three years. 
Description Book History Online 
Organisation Borealis
Country Austria 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The USTC has undertaken a thorough renovation of the data in Book History Online (BHO). The BHO is an online bibliography of published works relating to book and media history. The USTC team has also taken editorial responsibility for enhancing coverage and extending the range of its coverage to items published before 1972.
Collaborator Contribution Brill host the sight and gather subscriptions.
Impact BHO went online last year with a vastly improved range of search results
Start Year 2014
Description Proquest EEB 
Organisation ProQuest
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The USTC team offers strategic advice to Proquest on the development of EEB (Early European Books). EEB is a digital resource, available on a subscription basis. It offers full digital scans of books published throughout Europe in the first age of print. The USTC team offers advice on which libraries to approach for scanning agreements, which books should be priorities to scan, and how to enhance the attractiveness of the existing resource to potential purchasers.
Collaborator Contribution Proquest are responsible for scanning and marketing.
Impact EEB database
Start Year 2015
Description Luther and the Media 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A panel at the Morgan Library, New York, on Monday 5 December 2016 discussing Luther's impact on the media and media change.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016