Vialibri now searching Getman’s Virtual Book Fairs

Attentive users may have noticed that we recently added another new source for items to be included when searching for books and ephemera on viaLibri.   We were already searching 160 different sources, and are always looking for more, so in January we again added to the count and began including books and ephemera from Getman’s Virtual Book Fairs –  the oldest, largest and best known virtual book fair platform.  

I’m confident that our customers will be pleased to find these books now included in their results when they search for them manually. 

This will be especially good news if you are among the many viaLibri users who let the Libribot automate searching for the items listed on their want lists. 

As we all know, when a virtual book fair opens its imaginary doors there is always a virtual rush to find and claim all the choicest items first.  That can be difficult if you have a variety of interests and wants, all of which need to be searched for separately, one after the other. With a Getman virtual fair, however, viaLibri  can do the searching for you and then email you a notification when matches have been found.  The Libribot does all the work for you before the doors open.

This will also be good news for the exhibitors. viaLibri has over 160,000 active wants.  All of them will be matched against the items in each new Getman’s Virtual Book Fair and then continue to be included in active viaLibri searches until the fair is closed on Sunday.

The next opportunity for all this to happen will be the Greenwich Village Virtual Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair, open to everyone on Saturday February 24th at 12 noon ET.  A paid charity preview will also take place on Friday at 12 noon.

Our thoughts on Virtual Book Fairs

It has not gone unnoticed that this summer has marked three full years since the first virtual book fairs suddenly arrived on the bookselling scene and attempted to fill the vacuum created by COVID 19. At that time there was widespread concern within the book trade that the resulting universal closure of book fairs would bring in its wake the end of bookselling as we knew it. Much panic and moaning inevitably ensued.

In retrospect we can see that the COVID-related anxieties of June 2020 proved to be a bit inflated, at least with regard to antiquarian booksellers. There is, of course, no published statistical data on the subject. Looking at our own data, along with the anecdotal information we were receiving from others, tells me that the first year or two of lockdown was, in fact, profitable for many and manageable for most.

This pleasant surprise was due, I think, to the fact that while nearly everyone we knew had little or no trouble imagining the likely disastrous outcomes that would result from cancelling the fairs, few had yet anticipated the many good things that would occur when all the complications and constraints of physical book fairs were removed and alternative events arrived to take their place. It did not take them long to do so.

In the beginning the tactile and olfactory pleasures of handling old books were regularly cited as an essential feature of bibliophily. These are, of course, fine things and no one denies them, but the opportunities for appreciating them is restricted to those lucky collectors who are fortunate enough to find themselves regularly within travel distance of the locations where traditional book fairs regularly take place.

For booksellers who regularly exhibit at book fairs, geography also places constraints. To sell books you must travel. For the smaller fairs there is loading and unloading; packing and unpacking; petrol and, as often as not, a rented place to sleep. For the large international fairs convenient hotels are expensive while the merchandise will usually need to be shipped globally at an ever mounting cost.

In other words, physical book fairs are expensive, not to mention a lot of work. But in spite of it all, they were almost always popular, and even profitable – bearing in mind, of course, that many exhibitors are there mostly because of the opportunities to buy rather than sell.

Before COVID, all of this was taken for granted. Once the closures and quarantines had begun many collectors and dealers cautiously turned their attention to the internet where they soon began to notice that there were definite benefits to hunting for books online.

Librarians and archivists were especially responsive to the benefits of virtual fairs. They rarely have the time or budget for the kind of travel that regularly attending live book fairs requires. None of these restraints apply when the book fair is taking place right on your desk, or wherever it is that your other professional obligations may require you to be.

Of course, this applies to collectors as well. They have their own set of frustrations. Among these is the awareness that, while the retail customers are patiently waiting outside for the doors to open, the exhibitors inside have already been busy buying and trading for hours, if not days. I don’t fault them for this. The time required to unpack and prepare one’s booth makes it unavoidable. But it does give the insiders a tactical advantage over those who must wait patiently for the doors to open before they can begin.

There is much else that can be said on this topic. Shortly after the first wave of virtual book fairs went online in June of 2020 I published a blog post on this subject (https://blog.vialibri.net/did-you-go-virtual/). I was curious to hear from our users whether or not they were happy with this sudden innovation and so solicited their opinions about what had just taken place. I was also curious to hear what suggestions they might have to offer regarding what they would like to see when next era of virtuality has arrived.

I think that this time has now definitely come. I don’t have an official count showing how many virtual fairs are currently taking place, but what statistics I do see all show that attendance at individual digital fairs is significantly larger than at comparable live events. This is certainly the case in the U.S. and I expect that the trend will continue in other places as well.

We now have more than three years of experience with virtual fairs built on a variety of digital platforms.I cannot help being curious to know what an updated survey would tell us about how our users now feel about the current state of digital bookselling and the future direction they would like to see it take.

But I must confess that I am motivated here by more than mere curiosity. If, as I believe, online virtual events will be an increasingly crucial part of antiquarian bookselling in the future then this is something that viaLibri will want to participate in. And we have plans to do just that. As you may guess, this is an important motive behind soliciting input from our users today.

If you are like us and have your own ideas about what the next transformation of internet bookselling should look like then please share your thoughts with us here.

Welcome Uniliber

We are pleased to announce another increase in the number of  bookselling databases we now search. Our latest addition is the Iberian website Uniliber.com, which currently offers 5.4 million items from 278 Spanish and Catalan speaking booksellers.

It was formed  in 2005 by the Asociación Profesional del Libro y Coleccionismo Antiguos with members from nearly all the Autonomous Communities of Spain.  It operates as a non-profit association owned and controlled exclusively by its members.

We are very happy that they have decided to join us and will now look forward to introducing them to the customers who have been searching for their offerings in the global marketplace for old and rare books.

 

A new and clever way to use viaLibri

It was a pleasant surprise yesterday when I discovered that one of our customers was using viaLibri in a clever way that had not previously occurred to me.  The user, Denis Gouey, is a well-known bookbinder from Connecticut.  Naturally, he is interested in promoting his skills on the internet. You can find him on Facebook  where, on Friday, he published a post that links to a viaLibri search result listing all the books on viaLibri that match on the keyword “Denis Gouey”.  As a result, anyone visiting him on facebook can click on this link and see pictures of lots of books bound by him and currently for sale online.

This was actually a fairly simple thing for him to do, since the booksellers who are offering examples of his work are happy to mention Denis in their descriptions and should be eager to do anything that might increase exposure for items they are offering for sale.

One interesting thing to note is that when I first saw Denis’s post yesterday there were 79 items, or “puppies” as he called them, that appeared on his list. Now there are only 70. I would be very curious to know what happened to those books.

The early history of Online Bibliographical Tools and Marketplaces.

Anyone with an interest in the role of antiquarian bookselling  in relation to the broader study of  rare  books, bibliography, and early printing will want to read an article recently  published by Fabrizio Govi in the Italian scholarly journal TECA entitled “Online Bibliographical Tools for the Antiquarian Book Trade.  Their History, Use and Impact.”

A well established and highly respected Italian bookseller from Modena, Govi  explores his subject broadly from both economical  and historical perspectives.  As the origins of online antiquarian bookselling slip further into memory the latter of these has become increasingly of interest, at least to me.

Sharing that interest, Govi began his research by identifying 17 different international websites that have focused primarily on the used and rare book market. He then attempted to contact  all of them to request information about how they started and what information they might offer about the online book market as it exists today.  Only three of these chose to respond.  Nevertheless, Govi was able to dig through a variety of primary and secondary sources to  compile a significant amount of interesting data on the origins of the antiquarian market and how it became what it is today. He tells me that what he has just published is only a preliminary study.  I’m encouraged that there  could be even more to come.

You will find the article here:

https://teca.unibo.it/article/view/14345/14505

Seller’s location filter now available in Libribot

It’s been almost a year since we launched the redesigned version of viaLibri! Time has flown by, but rest assured that we’ve been constantly working behind the scenes on improvements to viaLibri.

One of the new features that we added when we redesigned the site was the ability to filter search results by the location of the seller. This can be very useful for those wanting to avoid costly international shipping charges, among other uses.

Today we are making this feature available in Libribot, our saved search system. Your wants can now make use of the seller location filter too.

If you’d like to add the seller’s location filter to a large number of wants then please get in touch with us. We’ll be happy to update your wants in bulk for you.

A Paperback Filter At Last.

It’s been on our to-do list for a long time, so we are now especially pleased to be able to announce the addition of a paperback filter to our advanced search form.

Over the years since our launch in 2006 there have been few added features that have been more often requested than the ability to exclude paperbacks from our search results.  The delay was not due to a failure to understand how valuable this feature would be.  Our hesitancy was due chiefly to the difficulties involved in implementing it in a way that did not create more problems that it solved.

What we have done is different from anything similar you might find on other sites.  Many other sites present you with an option for limiting your results to either hardcovers or paperbacks.  This would seem like a logical choice if it were not for the fact that a significant number of the books that are offered on antiquarian book sites are not described by their sellers as either. Binding type is not binary, so many sellers will leave this information blank and give a proper binding description in the full text of their cataloging comments.

This is fine, except for the fact that many of our users only want first or early editions and are seriously annoyed by the quantity of cheap paperbacks that are returned in their search results.  If they try to avoid them by checking a binding option for hardcovers only then there is a real chance they may miss something they would want.

My assumption is that the customers who choose “hardcover” as a binding option are really doing so because they want to filter out all the cheap paperbacks that they would get otherwise.  So we give them an option that does that instead.  It filters out what they don’t want and leaves everything else. It’s not perfect.  There will always be a few paperbacks that slip through the cracks, but most of the junk will be removed.

Of course, there may be those who search on other sites for paperbacks only because they want the cheapest copy available of an ordinary book.  In that case all you need to do is sort your results with the least expensive first. That should give you the best choice of what you want.  And you might even find a hardcover copy selling for less than all the others.  Stranger things have happened.

 

The Tool Tray and Things You Can Do With It.

There is one new feature we have added to our redesign that appears to have gone unnoticed by most of our users.  I hope that many of them will find it useful once they know that it is there.

They might not have discovered it because it is invisible until invoked. When not being used it hides on the search results page. You may already have noticed the checkbox that sits unobtrusively in the lower left corner of each description.  When you click on it and that book becomes “selected.”  At the same time a rectangular tool tray will appear on the lower right side of the screen. It shows a set of 5 icons which indicate various things you can do with the books you have selected. The first of these lets you select ALL the books on that page with just a single click . (Why that’s useful I explain further down).  Clicking the second icon will put all your selected items onto your clipboard. The third icon  creates and populates  a separate page that displays all your selected items (useful for printing).  The last icon can be used for sharing with social media.

For many, however, the most useful icon will be the one that looks like a tiny trash bin.  Clicking on that tool lets you remove from your search results all the items that you have selected using the checkboxes.  This is not a completely new feature.  Our previous version was also able to do this, only with a few different steps.

The new version was delayed because of a few backend improvements that proved to be more complicated than expected.  We also told ourselves that it was a minor feature that only a handful of power users would be looking for while we worked to finish it off.  On that we were definitely mistaken.  In all the feedback we have had so far during beta testing nothing has received more requests or comments than this feature and its omission.  I’m glad we finally have it enabled again and wish it had not been delayed for so long.

I hope you will have a chance to use it and the other tool tray features soon.  More feedback is welcome, as always.

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.