Bibliography (from and ), as a discipline, is traditionally the academic study of
book A book is a medium for recording information in the form of writing or images, typically composed of many pages (made of papyrus, parchment, vellum, or paper) bound together and protected by a cover. The technical term for this physi ...
s as physical, cultural objects; in this sense, it is also known as bibliology (from ). English author and bibliographer John Carter describes ''bibliography'' as a word having two senses: one, a list of books for further study or of works consulted by an author (or enumerative bibliography); the other one, applicable for collectors, is "the study of books as physical objects" and "the systematic description of books as objects" (or descriptive bibliography).


The word was used by Greek writers in the first three centuries CE to mean the copying of books by hand. In the 12th century, the word started being used for "the intellectual activity of composing books." The 17th century then saw the emergence of the modern meaning, that of description of books. Currently, the field of bibliography has expanded to include studies that consider the book as a material object. Bibliography, in its systematic pursuit of understanding the past and the present through written and printed documents, describes a way and means of extracting information from this material. Bibliographers are interested in comparing versions of texts to each other rather than in interpreting their meaning or assessing their significance.

Field of study

Bibliography is a specialized aspect of
library science Library science (often termed library studies, bibliothecography, and library economy) is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education, an ...
(or library and information science, LIS) and
documentation science Documentation science is the study of the recording and retrieval of information. Documentation science gradually developed into the broader field of information science. Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Henri La Fontaine (1854–1943), both Belgi ...
. It was established by a
Belgian Belgian may refer to: * Something of, or related to, Belgium * Belgians, people from Belgium or of Belgian descent * Languages of Belgium, languages spoken in Belgium, such as Dutch, French, and German *Ancient Belgian language, an extinct languag ...
, named
Paul Otlet Paul Marie Ghislain Otlet (; ; 23 August 1868 – 10 December 1944) was a Belgian author, entrepreneur, lawyer and peace activist; predicting the arrival of the internet before World War II, he is among those considered to be the father of infor ...
(1868–1944), who was the founder of the field of documentation, as a branch of the information sciences, who wrote about "the science of bibliography." However, there have recently been voices claiming that "the bibliographical paradigm" is obsolete, and it is not today common in LIS. A defence of the bibliographical paradigm was provided by Hjørland (2007). The quantitative study of bibliographies is known as
bibliometrics Bibliometrics is the use of statistical methods to analyse books, articles and other publications, especially in regard with scientific contents. Bibliometric methods are frequently used in the field of library and information science. Bibliom ...
, which is today an influential subfield in LIS and is used for major collection decisions such as the cancellation of big deals, through data analysis tools like Unpaywall Journals.


Carter and Barker describe bibliography as a twofold scholarly discipline—the organized listing of books (enumerative bibliography) and the systematic description of books as physical objects (descriptive bibliography). These two distinct concepts and practices have separate rationales and serve differing purposes. Innovators and originators in the field include
W. W. Greg Sir Walter Wilson Greg (9 July 1875 – 4 March 1959), known professionally as W. W. Greg, was one of the leading bibliographers and Shakespeare scholars of the 20th century. Family and education Greg was born at Wimbledon Common in 1875. H ...
Fredson Bowers Fredson Thayer Bowers (April 25, 1905 – April 11, 1991) was an American Bibliography, bibliographer and scholar of Textual criticism, textual editing. Life Bowers was a graduate of Brown University and Harvard University (Ph.D.). He taught at ...
Philip Gaskell Philip Gaskell (6 January 1926 – 31 July 2001) was a British bibliographer and librarian. Life He was born on 6 January 1926 in Highgate, London, the son of John Wellesley Gaskell, director of an engineering company, and his wife, Olive Eliza ...
and G. Thomas Tanselle. Bowers (1949) refers to enumerative bibliography as a procedure that identifies books in “specific collections or libraries,” in a specific discipline, by an author, printer, or period of production (3). He refers to descriptive bibliography as the systematic description of a book as a material or physical artefact. Analytical bibliography, the cornerstone of descriptive bibliography, investigates the printing and all physical features of a book that yield evidence establishing a book's history and transmission (Feather 10). It is the preliminary phase of bibliographic description and provides the vocabulary, principles and techniques of analysis that descriptive bibliographers apply and on which they base their descriptive practice. Descriptive bibliographers follow specific conventions and associated classification in their description. Titles and title pages are transcribed in a quasi-facsimile style and representation. Illustration, typeface, binding, paper, and all physical elements related to identifying a book follow formulaic conventions, as Bowers established in his foundational opus, ''The Principles of Bibliographic Description''. The thought expressed in this book expands substantively on W. W. Greg's groundbreaking theory that argued for the adoption of formal bibliographic principles (Greg 29). Fundamentally, analytical bibliography is concerned with objective, physical analysis and history of a book while descriptive bibliography employs all data that analytical bibliography furnishes and then codifies it with a view to identifying the ideal copy or form of a book that most nearly represents the printer's initial conception and intention in printing. In addition to viewing bibliographic study as being composed of four interdependent approaches (enumerative, descriptive, analytical, and textual), Bowers notes two further subcategories of research, namely historical bibliography and aesthetic bibliography. Both historical bibliography, which involves the investigation of printing practices, tools, and related documents, and aesthetic bibliography, which examines the art of designing type and books, are often employed by analytical bibliographers. D. F. McKenzie extended previous notions of bibliography as set forth by Greg, Bowers, Gaskell and Tanselle. He describes the nature of bibliography as "the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception" (1999 12). This concept broadens the scope of bibliography to include "non-book texts" and an accounting for their material form and structure, as well as textual variations, technical and production processes that bring sociocultural context and effects into play. McKenzie's perspective contextualizes textual objects or artefacts with sociological and technical factors that have an effect on production, transmission and, ultimately, ideal copy (2002 14). Bibliography, generally, concerns the material conditions of books s well as other textshow they are designed, edited, printed, circulated, reprinted, collected. Bibliographic works differ in the amount of detail depending on the purpose and can generally be divided into two categories: enumerative bibliography (also called compilative, reference or systematic), which results in an overview of
publication To publish is to make content available to the general public.Berne Conve ...
s in a particular category and analytical or critical bibliography, which studies the production of books. In earlier times, bibliography mostly focused on books. Now, both categories of bibliography cover works in other media including audio recordings, motion pictures and videos, graphic objects, databases, CD-ROMs and websites.

Enumerative bibliography

An enumerative bibliography is a systematic list of books and other works such as
journal A journal, from the Old French ''journal'' (meaning "daily"), may refer to: *Bullet journal, a method of personal organization *Diary, a record of what happened over the course of a day or other period *Daybook, also known as a general journal, a ...
articles. Bibliographies range from "works
cited A citation is a reference to a source. More precisely, a citation is an abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose of ...
" lists at the end of books and articles, to complete and independent publications. A notable example of a complete, independent publication is Gow's ''A. E. Housman: A Sketch, Together with a List of His Classical Papers'' (1936). As separate works, they may be in bound volumes such as those shown on the right, or computerized
bibliographic database A bibliographic database is a database of bibliographic records, an organized digital collection of references to published literature, including journal and newspaper articles, conference proceedings, reports, government and legal publications, ...
s. A library catalog, while not referred to as a "bibliography," is bibliographic in nature. Bibliographical works are almost always considered to be tertiary sources. Enumerative bibliographies are based on a unifying principle such as creator, subject, date, topic or other characteristic. An entry in an enumerative bibliography provides the core elements of a text resource including a title, the creator(s), publication date and place of publication. Belanger (1977) distinguishes an enumerative bibliography from other bibliographic forms such as descriptive bibliography, analytical bibliography or textual bibliography in that its function is to record and list, rather than describe a source in detail or with any reference to the source's physical nature, materiality or textual transmission. The enumerative list may be comprehensive or selective. One noted example would be Tanselle's bibliography that exhaustively enumerates topics and sources related to all forms of bibliography. A more common and particular instance of an enumerative bibliography relates to specific sources used or considered in preparing a scholarly paper or academic term paper.
Citation style A citation is a reference to a source. More precisely, a citation is an abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose o ...
s vary. An entry for a book in a bibliography usually contains the following elements: * creator(s) * title * place of publication * publisher or printer * date of publication An entry for a journal or periodical article usually contains: * creator(s) * article title * journal title * volume * pages * date of publication A bibliography may be arranged by author, topic, or some other scheme. Annotated bibliographies give descriptions about how each source is useful to an author in constructing a paper or argument. These descriptions, usually a few sentences long, provide a summary of the source and describe its relevance.
Reference management software Reference management software, citation management software, or bibliographic management software is software for scholars and authors to use for recording and utilising bibliographic citations (references) as well as managing project references ...
may be used to keep track of references and generate bibliographies as required. Bibliographies differ from library catalogs by including only relevant items rather than all items present in a particular library. However, the catalogs of some
national libraries A national library is a library established by a government as a country's preeminent repository of information. Unlike public libraries, these rarely allow citizens to borrow books. Often, they include numerous rare, valuable, or significant wo ...
effectively serve as
national bibliographies A national bibliography is a systematic bibliography of acquisitions of a national library. Most countries either have a national bibliography or are in the process of compiling one. Some countries that do not have a national bibliography of thei ...
, as the national libraries own almost all their countries' publications.

Descriptive bibliography

Fredson Bowers described and formulated a standardized practice of descriptive bibliography in his ''Principles of Bibliographical Description'' (1949). Scholars to this day treat Bowers' scholarly guide as authoritative. In this classic text, Bowers describes the basic function of bibliography as, " rovidingsufficient data so that a reader may identify the book described, understand the printing, and recognize the precise contents" (124).

Descriptive bibliographies as scholarly product

Descriptive bibliographies as a scholarly product usually include information on the following aspect of a given book as a material object: *Format and Collation/Pagination Statement—a conventional, symbolic formula that describes the book block in terms of sheets, folds, quires, signatures, and pages :::According to Bowers (193), the format of a book is usually abbreviated in the collation formula: ::::Broadsheet: I° or b.s. or bs. ::::Folio: 2° or fol. ::::Quarto: 4° or 4to or Q° or Q ::::Octavo: 8° or 8vo ::::Duodecimo: 12° or 12mo ::::Sexto-decimo: 16° or 16mo ::::Tricesimo-secundo: 32° or 32mo ::::Sexagesimo-quarto: 64° or 64mo :::The collation, which follows the format, is the statement of the order and size of the gatherings. ::::For example, a quarto that consists of the signed gatherings: :::::2 leaves signed A, 4 leaves signed B, 4 leaves signed C, and 2 leaves signed D ::::would be represented in the collation formula: :::::4°: A2B-C4D2 *Binding—a description of the binding techniques (generally for books printed after 1800) *Title Page Transcription—a transcription of the title page, including rule lines and ornaments *Contents—a listing of the contents (by section) in the book *Paper—a description of the physical properties of the paper, including production process, an account of chain-line measurements, and a description of watermarks (if present) *Illustrations—a description of the illustrations found in the book, including printing process (e.g. woodblock, intaglio, etc.), measurements, and locations in the text *Presswork—miscellaneous details gleaned from the text about its production *Copies Examined—an enumeration of the copies examined, including those copies' location (i.e. belonging to which library or collector)

Analytical bibliography

This branch of the bibliographic discipline examines the material features of a textual artefact—such as type, ink, paper, imposition, format, impressions and states of a book—to essentially recreate the conditions of its production. Analytical bibliography often uses collateral evidence—such as general printing practices, trends in format, responses and non-responses to design, etc.—to scrutinize the historical conventions and influences underlying the physical appearance of a text. The bibliographer utilizes knowledge gained from the investigation of physical evidence in the form of a descriptive bibliography or textual bibliography. Descriptive bibliography is the close examination and cataloging of a text as a physical object, recording its size, format, binding, and so on, while textual bibliography (or textual criticism) identifies variations—and the aetiology of variations—in a text with a view to determining "the establishment of the most correct form of text" (Bowers 498 .


A ''bibliographer'' is a person who describes and lists books and other publications, with particular attention to such characteristics as authorship, publication date, edition, typography, etc. A person who limits such efforts to a specific field or discipline is a subject bibliographer." A bibliographer, in the technical meaning of the word, is anyone who writes about books. But the accepted meaning since at least the 18th century is a person who attempts a comprehensive account—sometimes just a list, sometimes a fuller reckoning—of the books written on a particular subject. In the present, bibliography is no longer a career, generally speaking; bibliographies tend to be written on highly specific subjects and by specialists in the field. The term ''bibliographer'' is sometimes—in particular subject bibliographer—today used about certain roles performed in libraries and
bibliographic database A bibliographic database is a database of bibliographic records, an organized digital collection of references to published literature, including journal and newspaper articles, conference proceedings, reports, government and legal publications, ...
s. One of the first bibliographers was
Conrad Gessner Conrad Gessner (; la, Conradus Gesnerus 26 March 1516 – 13 December 1565) was a Swiss physician, naturalist, bibliographer, and philologist. Born into a poor family in Zürich, Switzerland, his father and teachers quickly realised his tale ...
who sought to list all books printed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew in ''
Bibliotheca Universalis ''Bibliotheca universalis'' (1545–49) was the first truly comprehensive "universal" listing of all the books of the first century of printing. It was an alphabetical bibliography that listed all the known books printed in Latin, Greek, o ...
'' (1545).

Non-book material

Systematic lists of media other than books can be referred to with terms formed analogously to ''bibliography'': *
Discography Discography is the study and cataloging of published sound recordings, often by specified artists or within identified music genres. The exact information included varies depending on the type and scope of the discography, but a discography entry ...
—recorded music *
Filmography A filmography is a list of films related by some criteria. For example, an actor's career filmography is the list of films they have appeared in; a director's comedy filmography is the list of comedy films directed by a particular director. The ...
—films * Webography (or webliography)—websites * Arachniography, a term coined by
NASA The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA ) is an independent agencies of the United States government, independent agency of the US federal government responsible for the civil List of government space agencies, space program ...
research historian Andrew J. Butrica, which means a reference list of URLs about a particular subject. It is equivalent to a bibliography in a book. The name derives from ''
arachne Arachne (; from , cognate with Latin ) is the protagonist of a tale in Greek mythology known primarily from the version told by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE), which is the earliest extant source for the story. In Book Six of his ...
'' in reference to a spider and its web.

See also

* * * * * * * * * (in Wikipedia) * * * * *



Further reading

* Blum, Rudolf. (1980) ''Bibliographia. An Inquiry in Its Definition and Designations'', Dawson, American Library Association. * Bowers, Fredson. (1995) ''Principles of Bibliographical Description'', Oak Knoll Press. * Duncan, Paul Shaner. (1973) ''How to Catalog a Rare Book'', 2nd ed., rev., American Library Association. * * Gaskell, Philip. (2000) ''A New Introduction to Bibliography'', Oak Knoll Press. * McKerrow, R. B. (1927) ''An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students'', Oxford: Clarendon Press * Schneider, Georg. (1934) ''Theory and History of Bibliography'', New York: Scarecrow Press. * National Library of Canada, Committee on Bibliography and Information Services for the Social Sciences and Humanities, ''Guidelines for the Compilation of a Bibliography'' (National Library of Canada, 1987). ''N.B''.: This is a brief guide to accurately practical bibliography, not a study concerning more precise and systematic bibliography. * *Robinson, A. M. Lewin (1966) ''Systematic Bibliography''; rev. ed. London: Clive Bingley

External links

Oxford Bibliographies Online
in-depth annotated bibliographies by scholars in selected fields
Introduction to Bibliography
a comprehensive syllabus by G. Thomas Tanselle
The Bibliographical Society of America
a resource for information about current work in the field of bibliography
''Studies in Bibliography''
the journal of the
Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia is a learned society founded in 1947 at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville to promote interest in books and manuscripts, maps, printing, the graphic arts, and bibliography and textual c ...

A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism, and Philology
(University of Zaragoza) includes thousands of listings on literary, philological and other subjects {{Authority control Book design Book terminology Textual scholarship