How should an old book live in the digital environment of the 21st century? My answer is “as a digital combo that brings together three data streams, each a surrogate that represents and contextualizes aspect of the original object. Call them the bibliographical, material, and textual streams. This scrawny diagram illustrates their interaction in the case of Dr Faustus, an arbitrary but convenient example:

The bibliographical data stream leads to the description of the object first in the STC Catalogue, where it has the number STC17429 , and now in its digital successor ESTC, where it shows up as 12073.

The earliest surviving embodiment of the symbolic object Dr Faustus is a copy (the only surviving copy?) of a London edition printed in 1604. The early 20th Tudor Facsimile (now available via the Internet Archive) is a superior material surrogate than 1961 microfilm, which is the source of the EEBO image tat is the source of the textual data stream, the TEI encoded transcript prepared by the Text Creation Partnership.

A linguistically annotated version of that trancript is part of the digital combo of Dr Faustus that you can see at the site Shakespeare His Contemporaries. The cataloguing of a book at the top level of its existence as a bibliographical item puts that item into a network of relationships that generates many insights. Think of linguistic annotation as a way of cataloguing each word in a text. Just as the library catalogue contextualizes a book in terms of its close and distant neighbours, so the lexical cataloguing offers a way to look at each word. J. B Firth said that you shall know a word by the company it keeps. Dictionaries have for centuries provided help in exploring the company of words. In a digital environment you can search more quickly and more comprehensively

The TCP transcription has a number of defects, and quick look at the microfilm shows you why. The digital version of the Tudor facsimile is considerably better, but it cannot be much better than its source, which is hard to read in places. The SHC site allows you to add your textual corrections, just as an upcoming version of the ESTC catalogue will support collaborative correction and enrichment of bibliographical data.