How do people encoding early printed books in general handle the need to
encode multi-level bibliographic descriptions of their sources ?
In principle, if you're encoding a particular unique copy of something,
the current wisdom seems to be to recommend using <msDesc>, since this
has all the bells and whistles needed to describe a particular copy.
But you also need to describe, in a generalised way, information which
is not at the same level -- notably the traditional bibliographic
information relating to every instance of this copy. The current wisdom
says this should be done with eg <biblStruct> or <bibl>.
However, the examples for <msContents> in the Guidelines seem to suggest
that a <bibl> within <msItem> should be used to provide a standardized
modern bibliographic reference for the item being described, not the
source itself. Using <bibl> for both would thus be at best ambiguous.
At the BVH, we are discussing whether it might not be a better idea to
permit <imprint> as one of the direct children of <msContents>, with the
special sense of providing "publication" level information relative to
all the components of the book being encoded, to be completed by
<msItem>s for each distinct work.
<msIdentifier> <!-- identification of the copy --></msIdentifier>
<imprint> <!-- items common to every copy of this book -->
<!-- possibly other msItems in the same book -->
<!-- other copy specific info (<physDesc> etc) -->
This seems to correspond much more closely to the traditional way of
cataloguing items at the exemplar level: first you document the general,
and then the specific.