PUB 801: History of Publishing

This guide is a starting point for library research required for the PUB 801 assignments. 

If you need help, please contact the Publishing Librarians, Megan Sorenson and Adair Harper, at or 778.782.7588, or Ask a Librarian.

Articulating research questions

There are two general kinds of questions you can ask about your chosen book or artifact: questions about its creation or source and questions about its context.

Questions about the source ask about authors, publishers, and other people or organizations involved in the production of artifact.

Questions about the context ask about the historical period, the audience or market, the purpose of the artifact when it was created, and its post-creation influences or audiences.

Since the source and context of the items each of you will select for your research are all different, you will have to search for and use several different resources.

Keywords and subject headings


Before you start searching for information sources for your paper, it's best to brainstorm some keywords. 

Example topic: To understand the context of children’s books at the time when Alice's adventures in Wonderland was published – for example, was there a tradition of fantasy books for children at the time?

Start by identifying the main concepts for this topic. For example, you could start with: Alice's adventures in Wonderland, children's books and 19th century.

Next you can combine these keywords to make your search in our Library catalog more relevant, such as  lewis carroll AND 19th century AND children's books.

Learn more about Power Searching and Boolean Operators (AND/OR/NOT)

Subject Headings

Subject headings are sets of terms that are applied to books, journals, magazine articles etc. when they are added to a catalogue or database. These terms are consistent across the entire database or catalogue so you can use them to search very effectively. A book or article can be assigned several subject headings and each heading is linked to lists of other resources about the same topic.

In our example, one of the search results is the book The making of the Alice books : Lewis Carroll's uses of earlier children's literature by Ronald Reichertz. On the record page, there are links to several subjects, including Children -- Books and reading -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century, and Children's stories, English -- History and criticism. Clicking these subject links takes you to lists of other resources on the same topic.

If you want to find resources about a specific book without any particular topic in mind, you can search our Library catalog under the subject heading by the name of the book. For our example, we could start with a subject browse search for Alice's adventures in Wonderland. The first heading in the search results is Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (Carroll, Lewis), and selecting that link gives us a list of titles about the book. Looking at the record of any one of these titles, we see that in fact the exact subject heading is actually "Carroll, Lewis, 1832-1898. Alice's adventures in Wonderland." Notice that you’re searching for the title of the work as a subject heading; if instead you want to find editions of the book itself, you would have to search for Alice’s adventures in Wonderland as a title.

For more details on subject headings and for help with the catalogue, see the Library Catalogue search guide or Ask a librarian.

Background sources and journal articles

Background resources, such as subject encyclopedias and handbooks, can provide useful context, background information, and citations to related readings. See Background Resources for Publishing for a full list. A few examples include: 

Journal articles can be found through the catalogue or through article databases. Consider what subject or discipline is connected to your topic: for example, literary, historical, or sociological. You can browse the Library's databases by subject areas to help find relevant ones.

You could also think about the historical time period that you want to cover and then use a database covering that period, which would provide information on context. Sometimes historical newspaper collections could provide an interesting perspective.

Key Databases for Publishing:

Primary Source Databases and Online Archives

Information on publishers and editions

WorldCat is a combined catalogue that lists titles held by over 9,000 libraries around the world. With an Advanced Search you can limit a search by years, which is useful for determining the number of various editions of a book over time. The Open Library can also be used to identify editions of a book and often has book covers. You can also sort by publication date – see Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as an example.

To find books about a specific publisher or printer, you can search our Library catalogue under subject headings by the name of the publishing house. Using the subject heading option will help to eliminate books by the publisher from your results; for example, Oxford University Press or Douglas and McIntyre. If your publishing house does not have a subject heading, try a regular keyword search instead.

To find published bibliographies or checklists of publications for particular publishing houses, you could include "bibliography" or "catalogs" as keywords in your catalogue search. A similar strategy would also work in other library catalogues, and in WorldCat as well: for example, you could use a keyword search for "Macmillan & Co" AND (catalogs OR bibliography).

Articles and resources on older North American publishers might be in the America: History and Life database, and other old publishing houses might be included in the Historical Abstracts database. Articles on contemporary Canadian publishers could appear in CBCA Complete, if you search by the name of the publishing house in the Company/organization - ORG field. A similar search in Business Source Complete under the Company Entity field will bring up articles on other contemporary publishing houses.

Magazine resources

Design resources

See the Publishing - Additional Resources guide for a full list of Design resources.

Additional Subject Headings related to design:

Other general resources and links