viaLibri Beta Chapter Two

No, we haven’t finished yet.  It was more than three weeks ago that we first announced the public launch of the beta version of the redesigned viaLibri website, but it was still a work in progress.   The new site had already been under development for over 3 years and in that time had undergone a substantial update in both features and appearance. We knew that change is always dangerous when attempting to update a website that already had a loyal and contented following.  We also knew that over the years our regular users have always been generous with suggestions and  feedback.  Their observations had always been a valuable guide to our evolving design.  For those reasons we were eager to know how they would react to the changes we were preparing to show to them.  We were also eager to receive their feedback and make sure that the website we were trying to build for them would still be the tool they actually wanted to use.

We were thus very gratified by the initial response from our bookselling colleagues and other long time users.  We were happy to hear several of them describe the new design as “modern” (which they liked) and that they were pleased that we are at last mobile-friendly, a step which had been long overdue.

But the most useful responses were the ones we received from many of our long-standing and regular users, some of whom we had never heard from before, who waited for several days before sending their long and carefully described verdicts.  From these we learned many useful things.  The first thing we learned was how much our users liked viaLibri as it already was and how unhappy many of them were to see it change.  For some it was just a matter, readily acknowledged, of annoyance at needing to replace old habits with new.  But there were also some whose habits were natural and productive. We did not want to replace them with others that would not serve as well. Fortunately, in most cases, updates and redesigns were possible and we were able to incorporate them into the new version in ways that generally made the site better than it would otherwise have been.

One complaint that was especially frequent and strongly felt was a factor in many of the latest  changes we have made.  We now know that our customers very much prefer a compact site.  They don’t like to scroll and prefer a cramped page to a spacious one if that is the price for minimising  the  number of screens that must be scrolled.  And they don’t like empty white space for similar reasons.

This is just a sampling of some of the things we learned and have incorporated into this latest version of our redesign.  I don’t doubt that there will be even more helpful feedback following this latest release.  We look forward to receiving it, because we haven’t finished yet.

ViaLibri Redesign Goes Live

We are finally ready to launch our newly redesigned website. It’s time to celebrate at last.

We hope you will like our new look and feel, but appearance is probably among the least important changes we have made. Alasdair has added many useful and unique features that I’m sure will make your book hunting both easier and more productive. Among them we hope you will be pleased to discover the following:

  • Our site is now mobile friendly and easy to navigate across the full range of devices from smart phones to desktops.
  • We have added a sidebar to the left-hand column of the search results page that lets you examine and filter the data received in your search results. This provides a distribution breakdown for location; sources; first editions; signed, and dust jacketed copies; PODs; ISBNs and illustrated items. Use these to create refined and targeted results when initial results are too numerous to read to the end.
  • Searches can be limited to books shipped from specific countries only. Multiple countries can be selected, but if only a limited number of satisfactory results are returned from your home country you can try looking elsewhere guided by the totals shown in the sidebar .
  • Our popular library search tool has been updated to allow users to mark their most frequently used catalogues and automatically group them at the top of the list.
  • Browsers can limit their searches to illustrated items only.
  • Timed online book auctions are now also being included in searches.  At present this is limited to eBay and Catawiki, but we expect to be adding other auctions in the future. Libribot will start searching those auctions soon.
  • We can now block from all your search results any booksellers you may wish to exclude. Clicking on the round “stop” symbol next to the dealer’s name is all you need to do.  We are also often able to recognise when one bookseller is listing the same books using different names.  In that case we will consolidate the multiple listings under a single name, and if you choose to exclude one of those sellers then we will exclude them all.
  • On our home page we now have a simple search form (author, title, keyword) as well as our usual advanced form that includes over 20+ filtering options.
  • We now have a flexible selection tool that simplifies several bulk operations including Libribot and clipboard management, special list creation, social media sharing, search result pruning and social media sharing.

This is only a partial list of the new features and improvements that are being introduced today.  If you want to explore even further how to make the most of viaLibri we suggest that you try reading the lengthy search help pages that have also been updated to accompany our redesign.  You will find them here:

https://www.vialibri.net/content/search-help

And more exciting things are on the way. In the future we plan to continue adding new features as they are developed rather than waiting to group them together in a single major update, as we are doing today.  Going forward, we plan to always have some new feature or upgrade in the works.  The “beta” badge you see next to our logo reflects that. We will probably remove the badge before too long, but the condition it refers to should be perpetual. And for the substance of that future content we hope that the valuable suggestions and feedback we have always received from our users in the past will also be perpetual.  The newly redesigned website you see today has come from there.

A new look for viaLibri

For at least a couple of years now we have been hard at work building a new and improved version of viaLibri. That task is now nearly done.

A section of the home page can be seen above. All that remains is a bit more “beta testing” as we track down any elusive bugs and gather still more helpful feedback from our valued customers, colleagues and friends.

So, if you are at all curious to see what the new incarnation of viaLibri looks like then please visit our beta site and have a look for yourself.

https://beta.vialibri.net

Finishing touches are still being worked on, so please forgive any faults you discover. If you do notice anything buggy we hope you will alert us to it.

You will find a contact link among the other features now gathered at the bottom of each page.

Likewise, if you find that there are new features whose behaviour you believe could be improved then we will be happy to hear from you about them. There may not be time enough to include them in the current release, but the next to-do list list has already been started.

You don’t need to do anything special when you arrive, but if you want to try out all our new features we recommend that you start by logging in to your existing account. Your clipboard, Libribot matches, want lists, and other personalised data and settings will still be available as they are now. For the immediate future you will be free to switch back and forth between the old and the new. Nothing will be lost. But once you have become comfortable with our changes we hope you won’t want to stay in the past any longer than necessary. But don’t worry. The final transition will be finished very soon.

How Do You Like Virtual?

The most interesting phenomenon of the last month or so, at least from a bibliophilic perspective, has been the arrival of a new way to buy and sell books online: virtual book fairs. The idea followed in the wake of the cancellation of multiple traditional physical book fairs as a result of the coronavirus.  By my count there have already been at least seven virtual fairs, beginning with a digital version of the Paris Book Fair opening on April 23 and followed by fairs organised by IOBA, PBFA, Marvin Getman, ABAA, ABA (“Firsts”) and, most recently, the Rose City Virtual Book Fair.

For those who did not join in, the fairs were basically of two types. The first group consisted primarily of  a listing of “exhibitors” with links to PDF catalogues available for browsing.  This replicated the fair lists that are now regularly sent out by many of the dealers as a preview of what they will be offering in their booth at a traditional physical fair. For many dealers the sales generated by these lists often exceed what they receive at the actual event.  In this way the virtual fairs were able to do much to compensate revenue lost when planned-for fairs did not take place.

The second group consisted of books that were aggregated into a joint data base where each exhibitor was able to include a fixed number of items  (12 to 50) that could be searched, sorted and filtered in a variety of ways.  This is not too distant from the group search engines that we are already familiar with, except that here the individual dealers are given much more prominence and are better able to present themselves to potential buyers than in the search engine venues that people are already familiar with.  Buyers were also encouraged to believe that the books that were on offer were all new to the market.  Those who took the time to double-check this on Google, or even viaLibri, often discovered that this was not always the case, but it was for sure that at most of the fairs the sellers made an effort to put some of their best or most unusual items onto their virtual stands.

Most of the data-driven fairs were also interesting because they left the sold items on display, still priced, but flagged to let you know that someone else beat you to it. Unlike traditional fairs, I doubt if there were any books that passed through 2 or 3 virtual stands before the doors first opened to the public.  And given the number of sold stickers I saw at some fairs it is clear that, at those fairs at least, there were many sales taking place. I will admit that I had limited expectations regarding attendance, and the organisers apparently did too.  The ABAA and Firsts fairs were overwhelmed by visitors at their openings,  which resulted in both sites being virtually frozen for at least twenty minutes, if not more.  Whether those visitors waited, came back later, or just gave up, I don’t know. But I think the prospects for future online book fairs are very good.  Several of the sponsors of the recent fairs have announced that they plan to have monthly fairs in the future.

I am very interested in hearing the comments from other buyers and sellers who participated in any of the VBFs that have just taken place.

Did they find them a good way to buy or sell?

Will they show up at future fairs?

Will the old-fashioned  book fairs return to their same prominence after the call for social distancing has been revoked?

ILAB Amsterdam Congress and Fair cancelled

The sad but generally expected cancellation of the ILAB  Congress in Amsterdam was announced yesterday, along with  similar news for the book fair that would have accompanied it. That news was followed today by cancellation of the September York fair, Europe’s largest.

 

The status of other future book fairs,  or at least those scheduled for sometime in 2020, is now an open question.

The most notable response, so far, has been a quick scheduling of  the alternative online events now generally referred to as “virtual” book fairs. At least a couple of these have already taken place and another 3 that we know of  are planned for the next three weeks.

Everyone is hopeful that these virtual fairs will find enough real buyers to help sustain booksellers and collectors until they are ready to emerge from lock down.   If you are interested in doing a bit of virtual book hunting we list below 3 events already on out calendar. If there are others you know of please let me know.

Zooming The Coronavirus & Book Trade Lockdown

Last week’s ILAB-organised webinar on COVID-19 And The Rare Book Trade was a fascinating event for bibliophiles in general and the rare book trade in particular. (See last week’s blog post for more about this). Seven prominent booksellers from seven countries shared insights into how they are coping  with lockdown. For myself, I found it noteworthy how similar the experiences were around the globe.  In was yet more testimony of how much  Amor Librorum Nos Unit.

I’m told that over 170 people plugged into Zoom to listen to the conversation live and ask a few questions after the remote panelists were done.  Fortunately for those who could not log into the live event a recording was also made.  It can be watched here:

ZOOM

I hope everyone else will get as much out of this as I did.

Women and Work


The Grolier Club recently hosted an important bibliographic exhibition entitled “Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection.” The collection focuses on early and rare books demonstrating the under-appreciated activities of working women in all areas and periods. Baskin gave a fascinating talk on her collection which can be viewed using the link above. It is well worth the time.

While the exhibition was taking place Baskin also lead several walking tours of 170 selected books from her collection that were on display. Those tours have now ended, but we can thank the Grolier club for also recording a video of one of them and making it available to all of us via Vimeo.

We can also highly recommend the illustrated catalogue that was published to accompany the exhibition, which had been held previously at its home in the David M. Rubenstein Library at Duke University. You can buy it here:

 

Do Book Collectors Need Rules?

I recently listened with great interest to an online recording of the 2019 Malkin Lecture delivered last month at the Rare Books School in Virginia by Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney.  Its provocative title was: “The Right and Wrong Ways to Collect.” If you missed the live performance and haven’t yet caught the recorded version then I would strongly encourage you to click this link –  bit.ly/2xNOE9z  – and listen to what they had to say.

Their title captured my attention because it connected directly with the topic of another lecture I had, myself, presented at the University of London’s Senate House some five years earlier. For my lecture the title was: “Taste and Technique in Book Collecting An Update for the Digital Age”. In my case, however, there were no recording devices present.  I had instead intended to rework my original oral presentation into something more readable and then post it on our website where I knew that, if nothing else, our friend the Googlebot could be counted on to find and read it.

Of course, as often happens, action did not readily follow intention and the notes from my talk soon found their way, instead, into an archive folder on my laptop where they were eventually saved and forgotten.  They would likely have stayed there, too, if listening to Heather and Rebecca had not brought them back to mind. I was thus nudged to update my own thoughts on the subject and put them into a form more suitable for appearing online. You can now find that here:

https://blog.vialibri.net/taste-and-technique-in-book-collecting-updated-for-the-digital-age/

Both lectures focused, in particular, on the ways in which the established “rules”and practices of book collecting have been altered, if not made completely irrelevant, by the internet and related technologies. Traditional collectors, and the booksellers who serve them, regularly bemoan the resulting loss of “standards” and complain of a general decline in book collecting as the inevitable result. I was happy to hear that Rebecca and Heather have seen a very different and more encouraging horizon. Theirs has been informed, in particular, by the numerous young collectors who have submitted entries to their annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize. They give us a glimpse of a very positive future and I was pleased to hear about them.

Many of these young collectors have no interest in following in the footsteps of their predecessors. Nor should they. Some of their interests may seem incomprehensible to the collectors of my generation;  they may have confessed to the prize judges that “I know I’m doing it wrong,” but what we learn from them is that,  in fact, there is no such thing as “doing it wrong.”

My own lecture concluded with a similar message.  It leaned heavily on the prescriptions of John Carter, the English bookseller who did more than anyone else of the previous century to explain and defend the “rules” of book collecting that guided my own generation of bibliophiles.  Those are among the rules that are now being being tossed aside, or simply ignored, by a new generation – one that is mistakenly accused of having no interest in books.  I personally find it fascinating to examine the origins and evolution of those rules, but it is even more exciting to think about the huge opportunities that are now opening up to this new wave of collectors who feel no need or interest in being told how or what to collect.

So if you are among the many who are skeptical and pessimistic about the future of book collecting I would like to direct you to the two links above. I hope they will cheer you up.

 

When Libribot Finds Too Many Books

Are you getting more Libribot matches than you really want?

This is not a problem we expected, but we have, in fact, recently received a handful of emails with requests from users who were unhappy because they were getting too many matches. The source of their discontent: eBay.

This is not, of course, the majority view. Since we started including eBay in our searches last summer we have received many appreciative emails from regular users thanking us for this expansion.  I was, frankly, surprised at how enthusiastic the response was. The number of clicks, and purchases, has, as a result, significantly increased.

While the addition of eBay was applied generally, it is the Libribot matches that have, in particular, increased. While most of our Libribot users have been happy with this, two or three have written to complain about getting too may matches and that eBay was the primary source of their surfeit.  These particular users told us they hardly ever find what they are looking for on eBay and wanted to know if there was some way to eliminate all the eBay items from their Libribot search results.  When they wrote to us about this our answer, unfortunately, was “no.”

But we hate having “no” for an answer (Al especially).   So we (mostly Al) pushed this forward on the to-do list. We have now added another  new feature that provides check boxes for all the sites that Libribot can search. If you don’t want books from a given site (or sites) all you have to do is go to your Account Details page and uncheck its box.  It will look like this:

Unchecking the box for an individual site will tell Libribot to ignore that site when it is searching for books on your want list.  It will not, however, have any effect on the conventional searches you make using the home page form.  The way that works has not been changed.

You also need to be aware that this Libribot site exclusion will apply to all your wants.  If you only want to exclude a site from searching some of your more fertile wants, but still want to leave that site active in searches for other rarer items, then you need to do something else.

You may already be familiar with the exclusion filters that prevent matches on books that include specified keywords.  The same filters will also work with the names of bookselling sites.  For example, if you want to exclude eBay matches from your searches then all you need to do is put [ebay] into the keywords field of the Libribot search form.  This will exclude everything that has the word “ebay” anywhere in the description, including the name of the site where the item is for sale. You will have to do this individually for each of the permanent wants you have saved to your Wants Manager. If you have a large number of wants then this could take a long time.  However, if you are like most users with multiple wants you probably find that it is only a small portion of those wants that produced a large volume of unwanted results.  If you set up an exclusion for just those wants you will probably find that your results become quite manageable and you can leave the rarer items unchanged.

However, if you are certain you never want to see any books that are for sale on eBay then you can simply put [ebay] into the “Keyword Filters” box on your Account Details page.  This will prevent eBay matches being made not only by Libribot, but by all the one-off searches you may make manually from the home page.

Of course, these techniques are not limited to eBay.  You can use them to create an exclusion filter for most of the sites we search.  Most, but not all.  For example, using [bibliophile] as a keyword exclusion will filter out all the books from the bookselling site with that name, but it will also exclude all the books where the word “bibliophile” appears as part of the title or description. This might filter out items you actually want.  There are several sites where some caution may be necessary.

We think this new feature will be helpful for many of you.  More are in the pipeline.  If you have any suggestions for other additions please let us know.

Who Owned This? – THE MOVIE

Provenance Meets Big Data – Do they have a future together? by Jim Hinck from The Grolier Club on Vimeo.

If you regret having missed last month’s “Who Owned This?” symposium  at the Grolier Club you can now see the video version that has just been published to Vimeo.

A link to my own contribution is shown above while the full program can be accessed here: