Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Little Essays on the Rules (10) The Actual Date

Philip Harvey
“How do you determine which date to use (especially when there are edition statements such as First American edition or First paperback edition published YYYY)? Does copyright take precedence?”

These cataloguing questions were submitted before this year’s ANZTLA Conference in Canberra. On the face of it the answers should be fairly straightforward, but straightforward is a word from the pre-digital age. 
How do we determine which date to use? The publication date of a book is the date stated in the book, normally on the title page or verso for that edition. Nowadays this is much harder to ascertain because publishers have got into the absurd habit of stating the date when it was printed, not date of publication. This is in part due to print-on-demand practices of giving the time and place when the book was run off before sending. We find these at the back next to Milton Keynes or some place in South Carolina where the copy was printed on the day you ordered it from the other side of the world. This date is not a safe guide to the actual date.

Our catalogues have become zany mixtures of AACR2 and RDA records, all of them equally valid. This zaniness is never more on show than with square brackets around dates. Under the old dispensation of AACR2, the publication date of a book was put in square brackets when the cataloguer was able to confirm the date from a source outside the book itself. Nowadays this source can be databases, though previously just print forms like bibliographies and trade catalogues. Frequently the actual publication date could be asserted with absolute certainty from information inside the book. Two examples are Catholic works that include an imprimatur statement from the local bishop, usually on the verso of the title page, and any work where an Introduction or other author declaration includes the date it was composed. A note to that effect is added in Notes, so readers know where the date was sourced.

RDA has changed all that. Now a square bracket seems almost universally to be used when a genuine publication date is listed anywhere other than the title page, or where a fearless unfurling pronouncement somewhere announces “This book was first published in 2015.” This change in style and purpose of square brackets means they now send unclear, even contradictory, messages. The new dispensation has lost along the way the implication perfectly implicit in the old use of square brackets: the book itself does not state its publication date with certainty. 

The date we use is the date of that particular edition. This ought to be the simple answer to: Do we concern ourselves with edition statements? Yes, we do. We confirm the year of the edition in hand as the first date of publication, whether or not there are further impressions of the title. 

However, this is sometimes easier said than done in the zany world of publishing, where dates and even the concept of an edition are sometimes whatever they feel like at the time. The First American edition of a title may prove to be the third edition of the British version of the same book. The First paperback edition is probably a reprint of the same publisher’s version going back yonks. Ignore all grandiose edition statements of this kind, or at least treat with kid gloves. Edition means when the author updated the text, significantly, and released it, so what you’re looking for is the date of the third, fourth or whatever edition of the book in hand.  

Does copyright take precedence? Copyright is a very good guide to publication date, sometimes the only guide. When nothing else shows itself, use the copyright date with the little c in front. This was always recommended by AACR2 because it meant you at least had a date, even if it wasn’t the publication date. We were encouraged to include copyright. The presentation of the copyright date was itself an indicator to the reader that an actual date could not be confirmed with certainty, but that this date was circa the date of publication, or as we say nowadays, approximately. The new practice has very helpfully included a separate tag for copyright date, which means its glows there for all to see. Making this feature available on your catalogue is a very useful service, it’s a firm at least. But as for whether copyright takes precedence, no it is only one of the dates we now have to add, not always the same as the actual publication date, nor even an indicator of the edition year.

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