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Yale University Library

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The Yale University Library is one of the premier research libraries in the world. Its collections are large in both physical size and coverage. Today the library consists of more than 12 million volumes from around the world. Yale’s contribution to the Hand Press Book database marks several firsts including the first contribution of a North American library to the HPB and the first institution to systematically include both North and South America imprints.

Historical Note

Yale University was found in 1701, and is one of the oldest universities in the United States. From the beginning of the founding of the school, books played a major role in its development. According to legend, ten local ministers presented forty folios for the new school. Although this story is primarily legend, there is evidence of several ministers making contributions of books to the early school. In its first 40 years, the university received several large gifts of books. These included:

  • Jeremiah Dummer, the agent in London for the colony of Connecticut (more than 800 titles presented by Dummer himself and many others, among whom Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, and Richard Steele);
  • hundreds of additional titles presented in 1718 by Elihu Yale himself (altogether the largest benefactor of the college in the eighteenth century, thus perhaps an obvious explanation for the name of the school;
  • a gift made in 1733 (jointly to Yale and Harvard) by the philosopher and Anglican bishop George Berkeley.

In 1742 a manuscript catalog was compiled by Yale’s fifth rector and first president, Thomas Clap. This catalogue, which contained 2600 titles, was printed in 1743. At that time the library was considered the largest in the North American colonies. Subsequent editions of the catalogue were printed in 1755, 1791; 1808, and 1823. During the next 250 years the library continued to grow both in terms of collections and buildings. A major milestone was the creation of a separate Rare Book Room in 1930 when the Sterling Memorial Library opened. In 1963 the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library opened.

Over the past seventy-five years several department libraries were created, many of which contain material that is represented in Yale’s contribution to the HPB. These include the Divinity, Music, Historical Medical, Center for British Arts, and Lewis Walpole libraries. For more information on the special collections at Yale University see http://www.library.yale.edu/special_collections/

Coverage of file

File size

The file consists of approximately 270,000 records from the University Library’s online catalogue Orbis. Approximately one-third of these records were created with book in hand, and two-thirds from the retrospective conversion of the card catalogue.

Contributing Yale libraries

Libraries from throughout the Yale University library system have contributed records. Contributing libraries include: Divinity, Music, Historical Medical, Arts, Lewis Walpole Libraries as well as the Center for British Art libraries. The majority of records come from the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library and Sterling Memorial Library, which is the main library on campus.


The file contains material printed from beginning of printing through 1830. Over 3500 incunabula titles are represented in the file. Later imprints are also well represented, for example there are records for more than 13,000 titles from the 16th century and 30,000 titles from the 17th century.


Countries from across Europe are represented in the file, with the majority from Western Europe. In what is perhaps a first for the HPB, Yale’s contribution includes both North American and Latin American imprints. This includes the first North American imprint the Bay Psalm book of 1640 as well as titles printed in the U.S. before 1831. Latin America is represented as well with imprints from all countries in Latin America.

Particular strengths include English imprints, particularly from the Wing period (1641-1700). German imprints are also well represented, especially from the 17th and 18th century. Finally pre-1600 imprints of Italy, England, France and Germany are well represented.


All European languages are represented, although the file consists primarily of Western European languages including Latin. Languages written in vernacular scripts such as Hebrew, Greek, and Russian are included, although these scripts are transliterated into Roman alphabets using the Library of Congress’ transliteration tables. With the inclusion of North American imprints there are several examples of works in Native American languages.


The file represents the University Library’s continuous interest in humanism, travel and exploration, theology including the Reformation, music, art and architecture, theater, classical literature and its transmission, the history of medicine, and Americana. Areas of particular strength include English literature and history, especially 1641-1800, and Continental literature and history.


All printed formats are represented in the file including books, periodicals, maps, music, and broadsides. Periodicals are included if they began before 1830. For periodicals the library’s actual holdings are shown.

Mode of cataloguing

The file consists of records that were created the item in hand as well as records that were created by the retrospective conversion of the library’s card catalogue. Pre-1800 imprints cataloged since 1981 are cataloged using DCRM(B) (Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials – Books or its predecessors, Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Books (DCRB), Bibliographical Description of Rare Books (BDRB). Post -1800 imprints that were cataloged after 1980 are cataloged using either DCRM(B)/DCRB/BDRB or AACR2. Material cataloged before 1980 were catalogued using a variety of standards. For more information on cataloging policies at the Beinecke Library see the Beinecke Cataloging Manual.

With regards to current cataloguing the following practices/standards apply:


DCRM(B) (Descriptive Cataloguing for Rare Materials (B)) is used for all pre-1800 imprints. Generally AACR2 is the standard used for cataloguing post-1800 imprints, although some types of material such as broadsides and juvenile literature use DCRM(B).

Name access points

In addition to authors, added entry access points are routinely made for

  • editors
  • dedicatees
  • illustrators
  • translators
  • engravers
  • contributors
  • booksellers, printers and publishers (made for pre-1800 imprints and selected later material).

The form of names are created following the Library of Congress’s NACO (Name Authority Cooperative Program)


Subject headings are routinely made for material using Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH).

Genre headings

Genre headings are made for certain types of material and bibliographical characteristics including bindings. Examples include: almanacs, emblem books, sermons, false imprints, piracies, cathedral bindings, pigskin bindings, etc. Genre headings are made using the RBMS Bibliographic Standard’s six genre term thesauri. For a list of the terms most commonly used see: Genre

Local subject headings including provenance

The library makes several local subject headings. These are created following local standards and include:

  • Incunabula in Yale Library
  • Incunabula imprint tracing – (country, city, printer, date)
  • American imprints for access to pre-1820 American imprints (state. city. date)
  • Chronology access for American, British, Latin American, and European pamphlets. These are made for non literary works (e.g. political, religious, or economic works). E.g. Brit tracts – [year], Amer tracts – [year], Euro tracts – [year], and Lat Amer tracts – [year]
  • Provenance. By far the most common. All provenance is described in a copy specific note and a local subject heading is made for each name. The heading is structured following NACO headings: [Name] – [type of provenance]. Types of provenance noted include:
    • Bookplates
    • Autograph
    • Ms. annotations
    • Ownership.

e.g. Pope, Alexander, 1688-1744 – Autograph

General Notes include bibliographical references

A variety of notes related to work are routinely made. These include references to bibliographies. The following bibliographies are always cited.

  • Incunabula:
    • Hain (+ Copinger + Reichling, where this applies)
    • Proctor
    • Gesamtkatalog, British Museum, Polain, in this order of preference
    • Goff
    • ISTC
  • Other required bibliographies
    • Bibliography of American Literature (BAL)
    • Evans, Charles. American Bibliography …
    • STC, Wing, & ESTC
    • Dünnhaupt’s Barockliteratur

Other bibliographies may be cited as well, such as author, printer, or topical bibliographies. [E.g. Foxon’s English verse, Griffith’s bibl. Of Alexander Pope, or Willems’ Bibl. of Elzevir editions.]

Copy specific notes

Copy specific notes are made to indicate imperfections, provenance, and bibliographical variants. These notes are preceded by the call number.

BEIN Rosenthal 17: From the collection of Bernard M. Rosenthal. Contemporary ms. notes totalling over 2730 words. Two 16th cent. ms. names on t.p.: Henricus (?) and Bicarius HB. Later (18th cent.) shelf mark “Philologi M III” on t.p. Faint stamp on t.p. verso: Bibl. L.F.H. Schlosser. Bookplate (“A.L.S.”) of André Louis Simon on front paste-down. Binder’s ticket: Handgefertigt G. Hedrich u. E. Klee Leipzig. Imperfect: slightly wormed.
Retrospective conversion records

Over 50% of the file consists of records that were created through the retrospective conversion of the library’s card catalogue. These records are usually full level, but generally have fewer access points, notes (both general and copy specific), or subject headings. However all access points are authorized headings following NACO and LCSH standards.

Recommendations for searching

There are no limits to the usual search strategies, but it would be useful to keep in mind the following points:

  1. The file is a mixture of records created through the retrospective conversion of the card catalogues and cataloguing with book in hand. As a result access points that are made for material catalogued today may or may not be present in retrospective conversion records.
  2. For material catalogued using DCRB, place names, names of printers and publishers are transcribed as they appear in the imprint. The forms of these names may also be impacted by their grammatical case. A search on the place of publication or publisher may be more successful using a truncated search.
  3. Since an author’s name is input following the Library of Congress’s name authority file, it may be different from the way it appears on the title page. As a result, depending on the form of the name searched, it may be necessary to search for an author in both the author field and the title field.

Frequency of updates

Every two to three years

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 resources/hpb/content/yale_university_library.txt · Last modified: 2013/09/10 13:37 by baldwin



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