Two New Libraries Added To viaLibri’s Quick Query Library Search.

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.

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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.

You can now see where books will be shipped from

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”.

viaLibri adds ISBN filter

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.

Two new features

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.

Welcome NVvA

We have just added another important group of booksellers to our search results: the Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren (NVvA). The members of this Dutch bookselling association, founded in 1935, are all affiliates of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and include the most prominent and respected antiquarian booksellers in the Netherlands.

Their newly created book search engine has just been launched and is expected to grow quickly in the near future. We are very pleased to welcome them on board.

May we please have our description back?

Plagiarism has been in the air lately.  Its latest draft blows our way from a recent report in the Guardian about an award-winning poet whose award-winning poem (with many others) turns out to have been written by someone else.  And he wasn’t even the first prize-winning British copy-cat poet this year.

You might expect otherwise, but the latest victim, Canadian poet Colin Morton, is more puzzled than angered by what seems to be a growing trend. Why steal a poem, of all things? Well, there was a prize, but the imposter has had to give it back.  It has not been mentioned whether Morton now gets the prize money instead. He is probably disqualified by some technicality, but I doubt he will complain. Poets are like that.

And besides, in most cases when this sort of thing comes to light the author whose work was cribbed does not actually suffer as a consequence.  If anything, his stature is enhanced and his creative work receives public attention that might never have come to it otherwise. It was, after all, the poem’s previous lack of recognition that made it suitable for theft.  No more.  One can well imagine that it has been read more times during the  last two weeks than during the first 30 years following its publication.   Its author has become, for the moment at least, a celebrity among his peers

All of which I would not have thought worth commenting on if it had not been for a book we almost bought at about the same time.

The book was Les Jardins Precieux by Raymond Charmaison, a copy of which appeared at auction in Paris last week. It is a book we know well.  There is not much to it in the way of text, but the 8 large plates are a tour de force of pochoir color printing. It is a beautiful book that begs for display, or, unfortunately,  for sacrifice to the framer.  If you happen to be in possession of a copy of Hinck & Wall Catalogue # 54 (“Garden History,” copyright 2002) you will find a lengthier and even more enthusiastic description of it at item number 29.  For those who do not have a copy readily at hand I will reproduce our description here:

Edition limited to 300 numbered copies. Illustrated with eight stunning pochoir plates colored by Jean Saudé. Each plate presents a garden view focused on a special garden feature – a yew walk, an oil jar, a berceau, etc. – rendered in the richest colors of the pochoir technique: for example, the “Salle Verte” is a profound green hedge room with a yellow sky and a pool reflecting all the green variation as well as the vibrant color combinations of the flower plantings in the setting; the rose trellis is set against a star-lit, full-mooned midnight blue sky, again with pool reflections and with a rich parterre and border planting colors. These imaginary “Precious Gardens” are a testament to the power of the printed book as a vehicle for transporting the viewer/reader into the garden and a world of dreams. As Henri Régnier observes in the book’s gold-printed preface, “Il contient quelques feuilles avec des lignes and des couleurs, à peine les aurez vous considerées que vous serez transporté dans un pays de lumière et de soliel...” Pierre Corrard, novelist and poet, established his publishing house in 1912 and began working with such noted illustrators of the day as Georges Barbier, Charles Martin and A.E. Marty. After his death his wife, Nicole Corrard, resumed his publishing efforts under the name “Collection Pierre CorrardSuccessive issues of “ALBUM DES MODES ET MANIERES D’AUJOURD’HUI and similar luxury productions made the house’s fame. Much as their luxurious pochoir renderings of fashion designs helped express the artistry of French haute couture during this period, so did the stunning plates of LES JARDINS PRÉCIEUX give graphic expression to the new artistic visions of the “jardins d’artiste.”

It is, I think I can say, a nice book. We had easily sold our first copy and so thought we might like to buy another.   Naturally, before making a bid, we checked on viaLibri to see if any other copies might already be for sale.  We were not surprised to discover that there were.  What did surprise us, however, was how familiar the descriptions sounded.   Ann Marie had written our catalogue description over 10 years ago, but she immediately recognized her own words and comments in the current listings she found online.

Ignoring the framed prints, there were, in fact, two different copies offered for sale, and each of them included significant chunks  that had apparently been copied from our original description. But not all the same chunks. In neither case had we been consumed whole. Instead, we had served more as a banquet at which the two cataloguers had each picked out just those dishes that appealed to them the most.  Some other parts were, on the other hand, completely ignored.  Perhaps those were parts that we still needed to improve.  We were never told. But if you are curious to know the parts which did satisfy the standards of these particular plagiarists you will find them in boldface in the excerpt above.

All this is nothing new.  I probably would not have thought about it further if I had not made this discovery on the same day that I read the story in the Guardian.   At first I looked at the obvious parallels and thought that, in some diluted way, our copied catalogue description might be like a stolen poem.  I quickly realized, however, that it is not.

In truth, no one can steal a poem.  Once you have written it and shown it to the world you can always put your name on it and claim it for your own.  And that seems to be true of almost any published work that later comes into the grasp of a plagiarist.  Once the author reclaims his authorship the plagiarist is readily exposed.  An author never loses the ability to republish or recite what is rightfully his.

But I now see that there is an exception…

Once a catalogue description has been copied online it is, for all intents and purposes, no longer available to its creator.  In our case, we can no longer use our description of Les Jardins Precieux.  How could we?  If we tried to catalogue another copy our potential customers would almost certainly do what we did: they would check first to see what other copies were available online.  Doing this they would find two others  described with the same words we were presenting as our own.  Two thirds of our description would appear to be plagiarized from other booksellers.  Any expertise or integrity we might previously have had in our customers eyes would be destroyed.  That is something we dare not risk.

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As I said before, plagiarism is nothing new.   The internet has, however, significantly changed its dynamics, both for the good and the bad.  Much of the commentary about Morton’s stolen poem focused on this.   One the one hand,  the plagiarist is presumed to have found the poems (there were many) by searching online.  This is certainly where the lazy booksellers hunt and trap.  A quick cut and paste and it’s theirs.  They will not always be foolish enough to copy current online listings, but any unlisted item that can be found by Google is regarded as fair game, especially if it doesn’t show up on the first one or two pages of results.

On the other hand, the internet is an equally powerful tool for discovering that copying has taken place.  The first stolen poem discovered in the most recent case was recognized  by its author at an online poetry site.  After that, it only took an hour to find a dozen more.  Obviously, internet search tools make this sort of theft much harder to get away with.  It may mean the end of an era, at least as far as poetry plagiarism is concerned.

It is an encouraging thought, and it inevitably lead me to wonder whether internet search engines might not at some point also bring a similar benefit to antiquarian booksellers.  Unfortunately, I tend to think not, at least as things stand now.   The reason is that, in order for the plagiarists to be easily exposed, the original material that they copy must be easily found.  At present, booksellers do everything they can to keep their descriptions off of the internet once the books are sold.  They do this precisely because they do not want others to copy them.   But the plagiarists will find them anyway, especially if they also once appeared in printed catalogues, as much of the most useful specialist material has always done.  By hiding their intellectual property from easy online discovery the only thing they really accomplish is making it safer for plagiarists  to use their material without fear of exposure.  Hiding material from search engines will become an increasingly futile task as the age of Big Data rolls forward. In the long run, the only protection that will work will be one that makes is it harder and harder for plagiarism to go undetected when it occurs.

Most booksellers claim copyright for their catalogue contents, and a few even threaten legal action against violators.  The law may be on their side, but I have never heard of a bookseller actually taking a plagiarism claim to court.  Copyright is, it seems, a toothless protection.

But I have an idea for something that might actually provide the protection that copyright alone does not.  As you might expect, it involves, once again, the internet.  If that is where the crimes are now being committed, that is where we should put our cops to work.  What I have in mind is a descriptive bibliographic database where booksellers can publish all their copyrighted descriptions in a way that clearly establishes priority and ownership.  It would be a public place where you can claim what is yours.  But it would also be much more than that.  If enough booksellers participated, an open searchable database of this nature would soon constitute a valuable bibliographic reference that collectors, librarians, students and scholars could use for all types of research.  It would make a useful permanent resource out of information that is now mostly ephemeral.  It would also be a magnet for anyone with an interest in old books.  An entry could be freely quoted, but only with complete and unambiguous attribution to the bookseller who was its source.    This wouldn’t make it impossible to plagiarize, but any booksellers who tried to use these descriptions as if they were their own would be soon exposed.  Once established, I would expect the incidence of plagiarism in book cataloguing to decline dramatically, at least among any booksellers who hoped to claim a reputation for expertise and integrity.

And if such a database existed today we would still be able to use our own words to describe our next copy of Les Jardins Precieux.  What Ann Marie had created would once again be hers.

This is my suggestion.  I think it is a good idea.  As it happens, I also have the means to put such a thing in place, but only if I knew that there were others who agreed and were willing to join in.  I am now, as they say “all ears”.

 

Welcome TomFolio

We are pleased to announce the addition of TomFolio (www.tomfolio.com) to the bookselling sites we now search. This puts nearly 2 million additional listings within our reach, many of them offered exclusively on their site. Libribot is also including books from TomFolio in its searches.

TomFolio was launched 13 years ago. It is unusual among multi-dealer bookselling websites in being organised as a cooperative owned and directed by its booksellers. As booksellers ourselves, we are always happy to see other bookselling sites being run by actual booksellers. Welcome TomFolio; long may you prosper!

Massive update to viaLibri

The latest viaLibri upgrade has now been launched. It includes several new features and numerous enhancements that we believe will make viaLibri even more powerful and useful than ever. Much of what is new has come in response to suggestions received from our users. We hope our latest efforts have satisfied those requests. Other less visible improvements have also been made to improve performance and reliability. Work on these will remain ongoing. If you are one of our many regular visitors we hope you will be pleased with the new version of viaLibri we offer to you now. Please try it and let us know what you think. As soon as the last bugs have been eliminated from this new release we will start work again on the next set of improvements. As always, your continued feedback in that process will be greatly appreciated. Here is a summary of the most important new features you will find:

Book Search

  • Unwanted search results can be removed. It is now possible to remove items from your search results using a checkbox that appears with each item. You can check all the items that are not of interest and remove them from your results with one click of a button.
  • Improved translation. We are now able to identify the language used with each book description. If you click the “translate” button the text will automatically be translated into your native language, as recorded in your browser language preference settings. (Or you can choose a different language if you prefer). The scroll menu is no longer required and over 60 languages are available as both source and target.
  • Improved grouping algorithm. Some careful back-end modifications have further improved our ability to group multiple listings for the same book under a single entry. Repetitive entries are now significantly reduced..

Wants Manager / Libribot

  • Updated Display. We have significantly revised the way want records are displayed in the Want Manager. Readability and navigation are now much improved.
  • Note Field. All want records now include a “Note” field that can be used to record information you may want to save regarding an individual want. Bibliographic references, customer names and any other related details can now be saved for future reference.
  • Libribot Match removal. You can now delete records for any Libribot matches you may not want to save.
  • Match Results for Individual Wants. It is now possible to view a separate list of Libribot matches for each of your specific wants. These lists can be accessed directly from the Wants manager, or from the individual wants records that can be accessed from Libribot match results.
  • livre-rare-book. livre-rare-book has recently been added to libribot searches.

A New Feature for Premium Services Subscribers

  • Libristat. Summary valuation statistics are now generated from each manual search and can be displayed a the top of your results screen. Statistics include average, median, highest and lowest prices for all matching items along with a count of the total of unique matches made, excluding most duplicates. Statistics are recalculated when items are removed from results. Libristat is optional and can be easily turned on and off. It is only available to viaLibri Premium Services subscribers.