Each entry in Book Owners Online summarises information on the library of a British book owner who lived between the 16th and 18th centuries. Ideally, a complete entry has a number of standard elements.
BOO began by listing owners who died between 1610 and 1715, and its coverage is much less complete outside that timeframe. We have begun a programme to expand BOO coverage backwards into the 16th century and forwards into the 18th, though this will be a long project. Initially, entries are being added for bookplate owners, who died after 1715, but who used bookplates listed in the Franks catalogue as Early Armorials (the earliest design to have been widely used in England). We are also beginning to input entries for Scottish owners, and for some others, as part of this next phase.
A brief summary of the owner’s career, usually based on other standard sources. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the preferred source for those with entries there; otherwise, the History of Parliament, the published university lists, other directories like Calamy revised or Walker revised are used. It is not the aim of BOO to replicate detailed biographical information available in these sources and apart from place of origin, degrees, and career appointments as regular elements, this section of the entries is deliberately concise.
This section aims to summarise what we know about this person’s books and library; this will depend on the kind of primary or secondary information available (e.g. surviving books, sale catalogues, use of particular marking techniques, evidence from wills or inventories, etc).
Ideally, for a historic private library, we will want to know when and how it was built up, how many books it contained at various points in time, how much it cost, and what happened to it. We want to know what books were in it, at least at a subject level, what the proportions of material were chronologically, by place of origin, by topic. We also want to know how the owner regarded the books, how they were marked and bound, and how the library compares with others of its time.
In most cases, we do not have all this information at a great level of detail. Sometimes we do, but it is beyond the scope to BOO to write a lengthy study; instead, it will cite such works as exist. Where we have sale catalogues for single-owner sales, BOO aims to give the total numbers of lots and the breakdown of categories provided in the catalogue.
It is never within scope to list all the books owned by particular individuals, or to provide links to entries at individual book level in online library catalogues. Where there are known surviving books, a selective, not comprehensive, list of "Surviving Examples" in publicly accessible libraries is given at the end of the Books sections.
Part of the aim of BOO is to enable recognition and identification of owners from marks in books, so summary information is given (where known) of regular habits of marking. Images are also included, when available, of typical examples; the source of each image is given.
Many owners used multiple ways of marking their books, and sometimes had (for example) several armorial stamps, or bookplates in different sizes. The differences may reflect different stages of their careers. British Armorial Bindings usually reproduces images of all the stamps used by an individual; BOO's policy is to be more sparing, typically reproducing just one, in the knowledge that the others can readily be found on the Armorials Database, linked to in Sources.
A selective range of references to printed and online sources where more information will be found. This is geared to works which deal with the owners and their books, and is not the kind of exhaustive bibliography which would be found in a fuller biography. ODNB entries will always provide fuller lists of biographical and historical sources than BOO ones. BOO aspires to be a place to start research into book ownership, but not the place to finish it – it is a directory with signposts, not an exhaustive encyclopedia.
Each entry is flagged with a number of categories, drawn from a list of standardised terms, to aid browsing by career types, social backgrounds, means of disposal, etc. The list of terms used can be found in Categories.
Many BOO entries do not have all these fields, because data is not available, where work is ongoing, or because there is more work to be done, ideally with books in libraries, in order to achieve this. These will be flagged with the category Drafts until they can be more fully filled out: it is hoped that the more summary information they contain is still potentially useful to researchers.