The word bibliographia (βιβλιογραφία) was used by Greek writers in the first three centuries AD to mean the copying of books by hand. In the 12th century, the word started being used for "the intellectual activity of composing books". The 17th century then saw the emergence of the modern meaning, that of description of books. Currently, the field of bibliography has expanded to include studies that consider the book as a material object. Bibliography in its systematic pursuit of understanding the past and the present through written and printed documents describes a way and means of extracting information from this material. Bibliographers are interested in comparing versions of texts to each other rather than in interpreting their meaning or assessing their significance.
Bibliography is a specialized aspect of library science (or library and information science, LIS) and documentation science. The founder of documentation, Paul Otlet, wrote about "the science of bibliography". However, there have recently been voices claiming that "the bibliographical paradigm" is obsolete, and it is not today common in LIS. A defense of the bibliographical paradigm was provided by Hjørland (2007). The quantitative study of bibliographies is known as bibliometrics, which is today an influential subfield in LIS.
Carter and Barker (2010) describe bibliography as a twofold scholarly discipline—the organized listing of books (enumerative bibliography) and the systematic description of books as physical objects (descriptive bibliography). These two distinct concepts and practices have separate rationales and serve differing purposes. Innovators and originators in the field include W. W. Greg, Fredson Bowers, Philip Gaskell, G. Thomas Tanselle.
Bowers (1949) refers to enumerative bibliography as a procedure that identifies books in “specific collections or libraries,” in a specific discipline, by an author, printer, or period of production (3). He refers to descriptive bibliography as the systematic description of a book as a material or physical artifact. Analytical bibliography, the cornerstone of descriptive bibliography, investigates the printing and all physical features of a book that yield evidence establishing a book's history and transmission (Feather 10). It is the preliminary phase of bibliographic description and provides the vocabulary, principles and techniques of analysis that descriptive bibliographers apply and on which they base their descriptive practice.
Descriptive bibliographers follow specific conventions and associated classification in their description. Titles and title pages are transcribed in a quasi-facsimile style and representation. Illustration, typeface, binding, paper, and all physical elements related to identifying a book follow formulaic conventions, as Bower's established in his foundational opus, The Principles of Bibliographic Description. The thought expressed in this book expands substantively on W. W. Greg's groundbreaking theory that argued for the adoption of formal bibliographic principles (Greg 29). Fundamentally, analytical bibliography is concerned with objective, physical analysis and history of a book while descriptive bibliography employs all data that analytical bibliography furnishes and then codifies it with a view to identifying the ideal copy or form of a book that most nearly represents the printer’s initial conception and intention in printing.