Container-less Content? Not in This Digital Age.
Originally growing out of the Philological Society, the project passed through the hands of several editors before a polymathic schoolteacher, James Murray, took it on. The OED needed special methodologies to achieve the comprehensiveness of its end goal, a total survey of English. Simon Winchester, author of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, describes the system created by an earlier editor, Herbert Coleridge, who invented a standardized means of organizing words through a system of quotation slips. This was the dictionary's basis. He also built a series of pigeon holes for holding the inchoate dictionary with a capacity of 60,000 to 100,000 slips.
A rebuilt set was 40 times larger and was still inadequate for the sprawling work in progress. James Murray called the room housing this vast assemblage of pigeon holes, slips, and lexicographic effort "the Scriptorium." In a sense the Scriptorium embodied the OED, known as the New English Dictionary until 1895. If we can say a book is as much an "information architecture" as an object, then the sequence of stapled slips, scrawled definitions, folders, and pigeon holes is such an information architecture, literally, for the dictionary.
Marshaling sufficient resources for such an organizational and scholarly endeavor wasn't easy. The Delegates of Oxford University Press, as its governing board is known, had originally budgeted £9,000 for completion. Relatively early it became evident the OED was intensely cash hungry and in the end it would consume some £300,000 of the press's money. One way of relieving the burden was to release small, lightly bound sections of the dictionary -- fascicles -- which could later be bound into a complete edition. The frame here is very different from the finished object; cheaper, smaller, bittier. However, through the fascicles the difficult process of typesetting and layout design was accomplished, all of which provides a sub-frame for the content or what you see on a page (incidentally setting the standard for dictionaries to come).