We have just added to the viaLibri blog an online poll on a question that should be of interest to all our users. It gives them an opportunity to record their opinions regarding European Union regulations, newly proposed, to control the importation of cultural goods, especially early books, manuscripts and prints.
We have also included on the polling page a number of links to documents and articles explaining the issues involved in this important piece of legislation. After you have cast your vote you will have an opportunity to leave your own comments and respond to the comments of others.
If you believe that these issues are important, as we do, then please share our links with your friends and any others who care about protecting the unrestricted international exchange of early books, manuscripts and prints.
Over the last several years much of our energy has been focused on trying to find new and better ways to connect viaLibri directly with the websites of individual booksellers. Our ultimate goal is to provide a place where all the world’s diverse antiquarian bookselling websites can be searched as one from a single online form. Today we are happy to announce another bit of progress towards that goal: we are now able to search websites built using either Shopify or WordPress/wooCommerce.
The popularity of these two platforms with booksellers has been apparent to us for a while now. Shopify has been especially attractive to that brave cohort of sellers who are at home with digital technology and unintimidated by the idea of building a website on their own. It is easy to use and remarkably affordable. There are lots of attractive templates available and a strong support community offers advice not just on technical issues but also on useful topics like marketing and analytics.
And now, if you own a Shopify site, viaLibri is ready to search it. A few tweaks are all that it needs.
We have also been long time fans of WordPress as a platform for building attractive and flexible bookselling sites. It is now the tool of choice for many commercial website developers. We know many booksellers who have gone this route and been very pleased the results. Until recently, the one big challenge for these sites was finding a reliable ecommerce plugin with a full-featured shopping cart and the ability to handle credit card sales. The wooCommerce plugin now fills that bill and many dealers are putting it to use. Those that do now have one additional benefit: installing wooCommerce allows viaLibri to search their site.
Either option provides an excellent way to get your website connected to viaLibri and Libribot. Once you have been set up the rest will happen automatically, without any additional effort on your part. Whatever is for sale on your website will also be for sale through viaLibri with a link directly to you. The monthly fee is only $25 ($250/year) including up to 10,000 books and all the other standard benefits of a Premium Services subscription. There is no set-up fee and you can cancel at any time with a full refund for whatever period remains on your subscription.
Of course, there are still other ways to have us search your website. Most custom-built sites can be easily modified to allow harvesting. For this purpose we have created a special protocol and will be happy to supply the details and answer any questions about installation. It is also possible that your existing site has already been designed to allow viaLibri harvesting, in which case all we need is your access information.
But if you do not yet have your own website perhaps now is the time to take the plunge. We will be happy to build, manage and host your new website whenever you are ready. If you would like to learn more about our LibriDirect websites you can start here:
Our friend Laurence Worms, blogging as the Bookhunter on Safari, has written another of his must-read posts, this time on the subject of erroneous information being spread through the cataloguing of online booksellers. His case in point was 5 dealers offering copies of a pamphlet by Rupert Brooke that they all described as having been printed in an edition of 500 copies. The statement was made even though Keynes, Brooke’s authoritative bibliographer, states clearly that the number printed was 20,000, and there are no grounds for claiming otherwise.
But the title of the post, “Assertive Cataloguing,” actually points to another bookselling firm (William Reese Company) which described the book correctly and then took the opportunity to flash its torchlight upon the multitude of misinformed colleagues who are lazier than they. This juicy bit of cataloguing reads:
“First separate edition, published on 15 November in an edition of 20,000 copies — not 500 copies as is incorrectly asserted in a multitude of online listings collectively offering ample evidence of how the virus-like perpetuation of baseless misinformation originating in laziness rather than consultation with reliable authority — i.e. the standard bibliography — can quickly permeate the collective databases. “
Laurence, of course, is more delicate in his admonishments and focuses instead, and with far more devastating effect, on a the extensive bibliographic evidence available to disprove some further preposterous claims, made by three nameless “culprits,” that “this scarce pamphlet is Brooke’s third appearance in print.” The absurdity of this “third appearance” claim is relentlessly demolished, almost to the point of making me feel sorry for the unnamed and unknowing “culprits” who foolishly cribbed their info from sources that probably knew even less about Brooke than they did. Laurence, of course, named no names, but anyone curious to learn identities (as I’m sure many were) could have quickly gone to viaLibri and seen who these mistaken sellers were – provided they were quick about it. By Friday morning listings were being pulled or corrections were being made, and one imagines that before the weekend is over no more embarrassing evidence will remain to be found. (Except with Google, which takes longer to forget). This is, I’m sure, small consolation for the sellers involved, but at least this one bit of misinformation has now been removed from the internet and, one hopes, will not return.
One central thing, however, is left unresolved: where did the erroneous bibliographic information come from in the first place? This is what I really want to know. We have five booksellers who claimed that there were only 500 copies printed. Did one of them make this up and then have the other four copy him? Or did they all copy from yet other booksellers who had long since sold their copies and disappeared from scrutiny. Or could the information have first appeared in some other erroneous source, perhaps long ago, and been repeated often enough to become regarded as accepted fact that didn’t need to be verified.
Laurence, I suspect, holds the internet responsible. He is no friend of “the appalling ABE, home of bibliographical iniquity,” although in this case he notes that even the ILAB site also offered two of the copies that were incorrectly described. Several others did so as well. But I think the selling sites are not the problem. Clearly neither AbeBooks nor ILAB do more than offer a platform for dealers to sell books they describe themselves. The platforms can no more be expected to vet the descriptions of the books they list than FedEx can be expected to vouch for their completeness when they deliver them.
That said, there can be no question that the internet has now become a primary vector for the transmission of error into the bibliographic record. But it is not the first such vector. In its day, paper and pencil could do the same kind of damage, and anyone now relying blindly on the accuracy of bibliographic records compiled and researched with any previous technology will be equally likely, some day, to repeat the kind of errors committed in this instance by the “’FIVE SONNETS’ Five .” We know that technologies are only as good as the people who employ them. This case is no different. What is more important is to know what can be done to improve the accuracy of all the bibliographic tools we rely on and, in our own ways, contribute to.
Laurence is clearly right that errors such as the one he posted about do damage to all of us as booksellers. Those who are careful and accurate may, to the novice at least, appear less knowledgeable and reliable than those who offer appealing information that just happens to be false. And we should want to do something about this. To blame the internet for bibliographic errors is blaming the messenger. Errors will certainly propagate on the internet, but they will also be exposed there and hopefully, in time, eliminated. This is what has happened here. Those with real knowledge exposed to scrutiny the bibliographic errors of others and helped save future bibliophiles from these probably innocent mistakes. This is a process that we can expect to continue, especially if those booksellers who are knowledgeable will make an effort, like the William Reese cataloguer, to draw attention to errors as they surface.
In fact, I’m inclined to believe that the internet has already been protecting collectors from the type of errors we are talking about, even before corrections are made. Consider this example. If we assume, as I do, that the mistake about the 500 copies is older than the internet, then we have to wonder what would have been the consequence for a pre-internet buyer who was offered a copy of “1914” FIVE SONNETS that had been incorrectly described. That buyer would logically assume that a fragile 8 page pamphlet by a highly collected author, published in an edition of only 500 copies, would almost certainly be rare. And he would have paid a high price for it. Even the bookseller, who might not own a copy of Keynes, would have no reason to think it should be otherwise. But the same buyer today, presented with the same pamphlet and the same claims, would only need to look on viaLibri to find over a dozen copies for sale. This would give him hard evidence that the item was not rare at all, in spite of the claims of the seller. And it would give a seller no protection for claiming rarity that was not, in fact, the case. It seems to me that this new reliance on the quantifiable evidence of online search engines has come to replace reliance on the assertive claims of rarity that dominated before our time. This is probably not the sense of “assertive cataloguing” that Laurence had in mind when he put this title on his post. However, if he is looking for a good tag to use when he teaches his new class of cataloguers about the perils they must avoid, then I think it might be just the thing. But the biggest peril of all, of course, is copying someone else’s “research” without verifying its accuracy on your own. And on this score professor Worms has presented an excellent lesson for all of us.
If you have been giving any thought to selling books on your own website, or if you already have a website but haven’t yet figured out how to get collectors to actually visit it, then we have an announcement that we think should be of interest to you: LibriDirect has now officially been launched. And what is LibriDirect? It is, in a nutshell, how independent booksellers can use viaLibri to bring customers to their websites.
This is, of course, something we have been working on for years. It began with developing tools to harvest websites and put the books of independent booksellers into search results on viaLibri. It was a good start, but the technical requirements, though simple, were an obstacle for many of the sellers who wanted to sign up. We realised early on that we also needed to develop a solution where the technical requirements were already taken care of. We needed to build websites ourselves that came with all the necessary features already built in. And these we named LibriDirect because their purpose, above all else, was to bring booksellers into direct connection with the online customers who bought their books.
But it also became more than just that. In the process of creating websites we found ourselves reexamining the entire question of how to sell books on the internet, especially in the wake of the incredible growth of social media and the dramatic transition of the internet from a primarily textual to an overwhelmingly visual medium. We are quite optimistic about what these trends will mean for the future of book collecting, and, by extension, bookselling.
It was with these things in mind that we took a stand at the London Olympia book fair where we hoped to talk with booksellers about the future of bookselling and to demonstrate, in particular, how LibriDirect websites can help them find their future customers in the advancing digital age.
However, if you wanted to learn more, but couldn’t drop by, you have not been forgotten. We have prepared a special page that describes many of the things we things we might have told you if we had had the chance. Just follow this link to and discover what LibriDirect can do for you.
The annual London International Antiquarian Book Fair happens next week and viaLibri will be there. We hope you will be there too. If we haven’t yet had a chance to talk in person, we hope you will take this opportunity to drop by booth L07 and say hello.
If you do come by you will also get a chance to meet Alasdair North, our CTO and general technological whiz. Al has taken in hand a great digital leap forward for viaLibri and he will be happy to talk about the future, and your suggestions for it, if you are able to drop by.
There is one thing in particular that will be on our screens for you to see. Our recently launched LibriDirect website platform lets us build powerful but economical websites that connect individual booksellers directly to the international stream of bibliophiles who use viaLibri and Libribot on a regular basis. If you are thinking of getting your own website, or already have a website that you would like to connect directly with viaLibri, then by all means come by. And if you want to make an appointment for an in-depth discussion then please let us know.
Of course, if you would rather just walk around and look at all the wonderful books on display then we will understand. You can always contact us later after the fair is over.
For details about attending the the fair click HERE
On Wednesday I added two more libraries to the viaLibri library search page: The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek to be precise) and the Thomas J. Watson Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The first of these is, well, the national library of Germany and one might reasonably ask why we weren’t including it already. In fact, when I first started work on our library search tool the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, as such, had not really existed for more than a few years – although it did have roots going back much further than that. I don’t know when their catalogue finally went online, but I’m glad that one of our regular users did eventually alert me to the fact. It took me far too long after that to follow up, but it has now, at last, been taken off my to-do list.
The second library to be added is the important reference collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This numbers over a million volumes, including 125,000 auction catalogues and a significant collection of early and rare books related to the history of art. I would also note that the online catalogue is named Watsonline after Thomas J. Watson, the CEO and chairman of IBM who, if I may be permitted to digress, could easily be called the founder of the commercial computer industry. Except that there were actually two Thomas J. Watsons, father and son, both of whom ran IBM, one after the other, and could equally claim this credit. And on top of that it seems to be a secret which one of them should get credit for the library.
Digressing yet further, I feel compelled to mention that when my father and the younger Watson were growing up in Short Hills, New Jersey, my father beaned the latter with a rotten tomato during some great battle the other details of which I once knew but have since forgotten. I do know that no return strike was registered on my father’s own person by either Watson or his cohorts. My father did later move on to some fame and glory as the starting pitcher for his college fraternity baseball team. After that he became a management consultant who was often quoted on the subject of computers with the observation that “they’re faster, but they take longer.” Watson Jr. did also have some success in other fields.
In any case, you will need to look for “Watsonline” if you want to find the button that will search their books.
I should also point out that both of these libraries were added as a direct result of requests from regular users. It’s not that I was holding back and waiting for someone to ask; it’s only that sometimes a specific library just hadn’t occurred to us yet, or in other cases it is a library that did not have workable online access when the Quick Query feature was launched, but has since been upgraded and can now easily join the group. If you know of such a library please let me know.
And if you happen to notice a broken link for one of the libraries we already search then that is also something I am eager to hear about. Our latest update includes fixing a number of links that had gone bad since the last time we tested them thoroughly. It is an endless task. Progress and improvement are wonderful things (or so I’m told) but when they happen to websites and online services the most frequent result is broken links. So if you do happen to stumble upon some new outbreak of library improvement please let me know so that I can fix its aftermath as quickly as possible.
We have just added to our search results a short notation indicating the country from which a listed book will be shipped. The information will be found, in brackets, to the right of the bookseller’s name. If you are concerned about delivery time or shipping costs, this feature will help you to identify books that can be shipped from someplace near by.
Over the years many users have asked us to include this information and we are very happy to be able to do so at last. Unfortunately, a couple of sites do not yet give us the location data we need and cannot be included in this feature; but we think that “most” is still better than “none”.
If you are among our many users who regularly search for early editions only to receive search results that are swamped with modern reprints then our first new feature should be of great interest. We have now added a check box that allows you to exclude from your search results all books which have been assigned an ISBN number.
The general use of ISBN numbers did not begin until the 1970s, so it is fairly safe to assume that any book which has been assigned one will not have been printed before then. Most online second-hand booksellers are careful to include ISBNs, when known, as part of their descriptions. By checking the box marked “No ISBNs” you can thus filter out a large number of modern reprints of older titles.
The filtering is not complete, since there are still some booksellers who do not use ISBN when cataloging their books, but the number that can be eliminated in this way is substantial. When used along with our “No PODs” check box you should be able to avoid much of the annoying chaff that would otherwise clutter your searches for old and rare books. And we have also updated the Search Manager to make use of this new filter, so if you are using Libribot you can also update your wants to reduce the number of unwanted matches.
We have just added a pair of new features that we know will be of interest to at least a few of our most active users. It is now possible to perform multiple deletes of unwanted match results without having to manually check the check box for each separate item. Once this feature is activated you only have to check the items you want to keep.
We have also added the ability to perform bulk deletes of Libribot matches that no longer need to be saved. This feature has been requested by several of our users and we are pleased to finally make it available.
Details on using these new features will be found HERE and HERE.