A book… is a book… is a book?

What’s a monograph?

I remember wondering about this when I was new to academic libraries (and at Oxford, it was often used!).  Many of my library colleagues had read a humanities subject at university, and had become so comfortable with this term that it took them by surprise to be asked to define it.  Following my recent post about the OAPEN-UK project report into open access monograph publishing, perhaps this is a good time to present an introduction to specialist terms for different types of books:

  • Codex (plural codices) – a book made of several sheets, handwritten, and bound
  • Incunable ‎(plural incunabula) – book printed (not handwritten) before 1501, in Europe
  • Manuscript‎ – any document written by hand. If the text is decorated, it’s an illustrated manuscript
  • Monograph – a specialist written work on a particular aspect of a subject, usually written by a single author
  • Textbook – a manual of instruction in a specific subject, often pitched at beginners’ level

I find the distinction between textbook and monograph useful, and I teach this to students to help them choose a book that it suitable for their level and purpose of study.

Different types of books exist in a variety of formats, which include:

  • Audiobook
  • E-book
  • Folio
  • Hardcover
  • Octavo
  • Paperback
  • Quarto

The format normally relates to a physical dimension or print/digital instance of the item, with the content remaining the same from one format to another.  This distinction is becoming blurred as digital technology allows the inclusion of content and links in an e-book that would not be possible in a print edition.

The term “folio” has a number of meanings:

  1. method of arranging sheets of paper into book form;
  2. general term for a page in manuscripts and old books;
  3. approximate term for the size of a book.

This last meaning is often used to indicate an oversize book, or shelf where such items are kept, so you will sometime see “Folio” or “F” in a shelfmark.

Further reading – here’s a great summary of book sizes just waiting to be turned into a quiz… And enjoy exploring this page about different types of books.


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