History of the STCN

The history of the STCN goes back to 1969. In that year, the Rijkscommissie van Advies inzake het Bibliotheekwezen (Governmental commission of Advice concerning Libraries) published a policy programme entitled De wetenschappelijke bibliotheken in Nederland (The academic libraries in the Netherlands). It outlined their aim of developing the historical bibliography, especially that of the Dutch book from 1541 tot 1800. The Subcommissie Gedrukte Werken (Subcommittee Printed Works) was charged with effecting this aim and in September 1971, they presented their pre-advice De bibliografie van het Nederlandse boek 1540-1800 (The bibliography of the Dutch book 1540-1800). In it, the words ‘Short-Title Catalogue of the Dutch book from 1600 to 1800 (STCN)’ appeared for the first time.
The Subcommittee installed a Werkgroep STCN that drew up the procedures and instructions for the general design of the catalogue and the model of the title descriptions. The English Short-Title Catalogue (ESTC) was used as example, but was not copied indiscriminately.
Starting in 1975, a miniature STCN was compiled of c.500 titles from the 17th-century book production of four Dutch towns. In the course of that initial project, the provisional description rules were modified and provided with practical examples. In 1977, the Handleiding voor de medewerkers aan de STCN (Manual for STCN-staff) could be published. In 1979, the 'Catalogue Hoorn' appeared as a specimen of the STCN.
Shortly hereafter, the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) took over the task of realizing the STCN. Thanks to a subsidy of the Ministry of Education, money became available for a period of four years to create an initial catalogue 1540-1700 based on the collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek.
The intended end result of the STCN was initially a printed bibliography, but the decision was made to create the STCN with the help of a computer. The Nederlandse Centrum voor Bibliotheekautomatisering Pica (now OCLC) developed a 'private file' for the STCN with specific tools such as authority files of printers and publishers and a modification of the character set.

The first phase

After all preparations were finished, the new STCN-bureau could start its work on 1 August 1982. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek provided space and equipment. The first description was entered into the database on 16 August. Mid-1987, the collection 1540-1700 of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek had been described and the counter stood at 27,000 records. The committee to evaluate this first phase, judged the quality of the work as 'without reservations excellent'. According to the committee, the relevance of the STCN for scholarly research could not be stressed enough. It considered the realization of the full project of the greatest importance.


In July 1987, the ministry was again prepared to help finance the project and since then, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, as the national library, had carried the responsibility of compiling the STCN. From 1 January 1988, the KB recruited new staff to process the collection 1540-1700 of the University Library Amsterdam and of more libraries to follow.


In the course of the project, it became clear that a printed publication of the entire STCN was an outdated concept. Since 1 October 1988, the database had been accessible in a number of academic libraries via the Pica Online Retrieval System (ORS). The user statistics have always shown an upward trend since then and from 1998 regular uploads have been made available to the Heritage of the Printed Book-database of the Consortium of European Research Libraries.

18th century

The processing of the collections 1540-1700 of the UL Amsterdam and – since 1993 - of the UL Leiden went according to plan. In the mean time, resources were sought to be able to start on the 18th-century collections and in 1994, an application to NOW was successful. Besides the regular team, busy with the books in the UL Leiden and UL Utrecht, a second team was formed which would, between 1995 and 2002, describe the 18th-century collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The proven STCN model turned out to be applicable to the descriptions of the majority of 18th-century books. A new set of rules was developed for the description of periodicals, a genre that flourished in the 18th century, as well as for books in instalments, serial works and like matter. Another new addition to the STCN was the designation of subject and geographical keywords which were added retrospectively to the existing records. The addition to the online record presentation of illustrations of title-pages, colophons and other important pages from the book dates from 2005.

How much longer?

After the completion of the Base catalogue in 2002, a slow down of the database growth occurred. The number of staff was limited and more and more books had to be added to an existing description rather than providing a new record. By that time, the project had been running for twenty years and the 16th and 17th-century books in the larger libraries were fully described, but smaller specialized collections had not yet been processed. The 18th century which was estimated to elicit twice as many titles as the 17th century, had, apart from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, not been done at all. To prevent that work to take another twenty years, the STCN Masterplanwas initiated.


The aim of the Masterplan was to bring about the entering within four years of 90% of all extant monographs, periodicals and pamphlets and 60% of ephemeral print material, such as state publications and private occasional writings. This could be realized with a larger financial and personnel input by the KB, the employment of personnel by other libraries and the application of a modified description procedure without lowering the quality of the records in the database.
On the basis of a survey sent out to Dutch libraries with important collections of old and rare material, but also based on practical considerations, a selection was made of the collections to be dealt with. For the description of the 18th-century books in the UL Leiden and the UL Amsterdam, new teams were formed. In other libraries, local staff were asked to add copies to existing descriptions, but new material was always described by members of the STCN team. In some libraries priority was given to sections of the collection that would most likely elicit new titles. This usually meant local or regional print material or a collection emphasis.
The Masterplanstarted on 1 November 2005 with a staff of 25 (19 full-time) and a considerable input of personnel and resources by the libraries involved.


The last few years, the STCN has acquired another role; the database forms the backbone of the selection and access to thousand of books from the period 1780-1800 which will be made available by the Dutch Prints Online project. The STCN will contain links to these full-text files. More and larger digitization programmes are planned.


The STCN project (see Masterplan above) was declared 'finished' on 1 July 2009. A retrospective national bibliography, however, is never finished until the last book that should be included has been found and described. For a country such as the Netherlands with its enormous book production and wide national and international book distribution, that moment will never come. But to achieve further completion, there are more efficient ways to search for missing titles than going through complete libraries.
The method proposed in 1971 has for the larger part been effectuated: processing the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and university libraries in combination with important town and provincial libraries, specialised smaller libraries and important foreign libraries. The database contains descriptions of over 200,000 distinct editions in more than 500,000 copies. The objective to have entered 90% of the regular Dutch book production at the end of the Masterplan seems to have been achieved, although one can never be sure until 'all' books have been described. The end of the STCN project does not mean the end of the development of the STCN database. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek will continue to regard it as part of her mission to make available, maintain, perfect and enrich the STCN.

A larger version of this historical overview has appeared in Jaarboek voor Nederlandse Boekgeschiedenis 16 (2009).