Archive for April, 2006

Tools of the trade

Not so long ago, Oxford University Press made a very wise decision, and moved the Dictionary of National Biography online. Now, you pay a subscription and do your lookups online. You can check the DNB from anywhere in the world and you can use whatever computer system you like, as long as it connects to the internet and has some form of web browser. Some years back, you used to get a CD-ROM disc for the DNB that would include each year's updates. The software was old and written for Windows 98, and as operating systems moved forward bugs started appearing that meant that the software's days were numbered. Further to this, uptake of non-Microsoft operating systems is on the increase, and OUP was losing out on a whole market. Moving their data to the Internet was possibly the most sensible idea and the result has been obviously very successful.

Every year, we update our other tools of the trade. Applications like ABPC, ESTC and Gordon's still arrive at our shop on CD-ROM, and more often than not although the data is changing the applications themselves remain woefully in the past. Certainly, a number of them have issues on Windows XP computers and the software itself looks as antiquarian as the books and prints that they document. So, I decided to have a scout around online to see whether any of these had taken similar steps into the future.

Certainly, Gordon's Print Prices are now available through an online subscriber section and the ESTC is apparently also available online through a subscription service. The BLMC has discontinued the publication of a CDROM version altogether and we can now rely on COPAC or on the British Library Integrated Catalogue. And so we come to ABPC.

ABPC looks much like it was developed at the end of the nineteen-eighties when Windows 3.1 was still wonderful. ABPC frequently struggles to run or install under Windows XP/2000.  And ABPC still costs a fortune to update. I'm left wondering why this company hasn't caught up with the times. If it has problems with an online business model, the least they could do is rewrite their application to take better advantage of features in new operating systems. Certainly, for a free subscription to the service, I would happily take their data and develop a subscription based site for them. Let's hope they catch up with the rest of the world soon.

Meanwhile, this little review has helped highlight that we've been using older technology because we haven't followed these data-goldmines online. Its time to take full advantage and sign up for a few subscriptions. It will certainly be handy for the staff when they're at fairs or at home and working on a new catalogue. 

April 27, 2006 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Life is Beautiful

I just received a virus warning from the ABA. The email stated:

 A member has reported an apparently genuine warning about a new virus against which there is no protection.  An innocent-looking e-mail message comes in with a Powerpoint file titled "Life is Beautiful".  If opened, the message "Too late now…" is displayed and life on your computer becomes no longer beautiful.  We thought it best to put this message out immediately – it came from reliable sources.

A quick google for: "Life is beautiful" powerpoint email resulted in a masses of articles on this apparent virus, the first page of google covered in the word "HOAX". And of course, following through on some of these links finally arriving at Symantec's response to the email.

I find it distressing that in an organisation as big as the ABA and with so many mail links to customers, that nobody bothers to check these things out before sending out a mass email. Not only does it make the organisation look a little foolish, but it is an irresponsible use of the email addresses that the organisation stores. Sending out mails like this just slow down the net and clog up people's Inboxes. They also spread fear and panic and have managers phoning IT staff to know exactly what we are doing about these things. All in all, it is a waste of time and resource.

When you receive warning messages, or for that matter anything asking you to forward on to everybody you know, take the time to do a bit of research for yourself. It took me less than a minute to type a search query into google and see that this was a documented hoax. Probably less time than it would have taken to mail everybody I know. 

April 27, 2006 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

So, what’s with the links and feeds

I'm amazed at how many bookdealers haven't caught on to RSS (Really Simple Syndication). To begin with, it makes it really easy for people like me to add a whole bunch of dynamic links to your website on my website. I get free news and updates, and you get a bunch of links back to your site. That means that on one side, the search engines are going notice that your site is well linked to and therefore maybe a little more popular and on the other, it means that visitors to my site might see something they're interested in and click through to your site.

Also, you can use some really nifty RSS aggregation software to group together all of your favourite feeds on your workstation and receive updates as they happen. I use software like this all the time to keep track of technology news. If I was a dealer or collector, RSS is something I don't think I could live without.

Maggs has done some really beautiful work with their RSS feeds, breaking them down by department, so you can watch items you're particularly interested in. Bernard Shapero has given a feed of their most recent items, but could do with further breakdown on their site if they really want to use this technology. That said, I've noticed that Bernard Shapero includes images of their books in their feed, while Maggs doesn't even seem to have images of their stock on their site (which is something I think is critical in this trade, particularly if you're trying to sell online). Nonetheless, both of these dealers are embracing new technology and in the long run its going to help put them ahead of the pack. I hope to see other dealers catching on soon, and certainly it would be useful if some of the portals like ABE or the PBFA started doing the same. Its certainly something I'm going to be pushing for.

The other links on the page are to book dealers in the UK that I know and deal with, I would be happy to add links to any other book dealers or collector sites that are interested in being featured, but if my links list grows too long too quickly, I might have to trim them down or create a separate page for them. I'm also linking to portals and sites that I find interesting or useful with regard to the book trade. I'm going to try to leave off all my technology links as they're too specific and probably won't be useful to most people who visit this blog. If you want any suggestions though, you're welcome to ask for them!

April 25, 2006 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

Welcome to my new site

I am not your regular rare book collector. Nor am I a dealer. Which puts me in a strange position within the whole trade. I am an IT professional working in the book trade for a well-known dealer. I have started this blog with an intention to share some of my thoughts about the trade with a leaning toward the technology used and the news that I get to overhear. As a result, I am going to keep my identity anonymous as many of my opinions may not tie into those of my employer. Nonetheless, I will try to keep this blog updated on a regular basis in the hope that the things that I use and come across are useful to other dealers, or to collectors, and hopefully to other people in similar roles to myself.

I suppose in some ways calling this a Rare Book Blog is a bit of a misnomer, because I'm not an expert on rare books. But I've been in the trade for quite a number of years now, and I know a few things both about the books themselves and about how the whole industry works. As such, I hope that some of the time at least, I am able to put my own technocentric views to one side and just chat about the books themselves. So bear with me while I get started and let's see how this whole thing works.

If you have any opinions about what I have to say, or you just want to share something with me, or you want me to link to your website. Just leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Thanks for visiting and come back soon.

April 22, 2006 at 5:17 pm Leave a comment


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