Archive for May, 2006

RarusLibri reviewed

My last posting discussed some of the book cataloguing software available out there. Not content with mere writeups and recommendations from other booksellers, I decided that it might be worth actually trying out some of the software and seeing what it has to offer. First on my list of applications to experiment with (largely because I found the multiplatform approach appealing) was RarusLibri, by ClaroLogic.

The people at ClaroLogic have been extremely accomodating  and friendly and sent me a demo CD of their still-to-be-released latest version of RarusLibri 3.0. Currently, they only provide a Windows binary for the demo (although they promise that the application will be installable across platforms). I don't see this as a problem for them, as they have used tools which are traditionally multi-platform, although if their java application makes use of too many windows libraries, they may have trouble porting to other platforms in the future.

The install was relatively simple, requiring only the traditional Next-clicking mania that one generally goes through installing any windows application. Once installed, I could start the application and get an idea of what was on offer. Of course, the demo application was slightly crippled (only allowing a limited number of books to be added to the software, and preventing the editing/deletion of the books that have been added). However, this was enough to get an idea of performance. The application is a single-user application and as a result, can only really be run off one PC. This is a major pit-fall for most booksellers, as any bookseller is likely to have more than one computer to deal with sales and cataloguing. As with all java applications, the program does start relatively slowly, but admittedly it is as quick as nearly every other book cataloguing application I have seen. I would, however, love to know what its performance is like once one has a database of several thousand stock items, and a huge customer/supplier base.

As with all good stock systems, the application is password protected and the data is stored in a secure encrypted database (that is built on Apache's Derby database, which supports SQL and has partially been built by IBM) . Unfortunately, the database is locked down, so you lose most of the advantages of a SQL backend, and it is not clear of ClaroLogic would provide any access to this backend data in the future.  However, the SQL backend presumably gives ClaroLogic the ability to provide seamless integration with their web product (RarusLibri Web), and from brief talks, they seem willing to give access to the data on the web database. So one would have the ability to develop one's own web application around their own data schema. Certainly, with a SQL database backend, ClaroLogic would do well to at least provide ReadOnly access priveleges to the backend data to allow internal developers to produce their own reporting applications and exporting facilities.

The application itself looks good and has a very userfriendly interface. However, adding books is a click-intensive process requiring you to open up a variety of windows to catalogue your books properly and support for characters outside of the normal latin character set is questionable (I didn't test this in detail, so I may be wrong here). There is no markup facility, so it isn't possible to bold or italicise particular parts of your description. I don't believe these would be huge additions to the application, so they may eventually be available in the final release. Most frustrating was the fact that once an item in the book inventory was selected, adding an item required a right click and then choosing not unselect items before you could access the Add new item button. This seems an unnecessary hindrance.

Perhaps I have a biased view about the database schema, but I was frustrated with the way in which the authors table is clearly treated as something different from the stock database. This means that the addition of a book requires that you select from an existing author, or add a new one in a separate window. While this makes some sense as a primary lookup field in most of the bookselling trade, rare books do not necessarily treat authors as special fields. Frequently the illustrator may be more important, or the Title may be primary. Often an author is an unknown or is presumed. In these cases, I believe that the author table in the database is likely to grow rapidly and quickly become a mess to search through.

Other useful facilities that I found lacking (although many of these would be custom additions) include:

  • the ability to mark books as shared with another bookseller (and the percentage of the share); many booksellers buy shares in rare books in order to split the cost before the sale.
  • more purchase information for a particular stock item, including seller reference (so that it is easier to find a related invoice for the book purchase)
  • better customer/supplier information, particularly a secure space to store credit card/banking details for future purchases, and even a general notes section so that one can store other relevant information about a customer (like alternative shipping arrangements). and of course, the ability to create customer groups for mailing lists.
  • wish list searches are currently based on book authors, titles and publishers. in the rare book trade, wish lists are frequently more general and are more category based. so customers might be interested in rare travel books about egypt published in the 19th century. as a result, the wish list needs a lot more flexibility and search funcitonality.
  • stock export functionality for external portal uploads is sadly missing, and this is probably one of the more critical features that many booksellers will be looking for, in order to add stock to portals like ABE.

All in all though, the application looks exceedingly promising for the smaller bookseller looking for an alternative to many of the other applications out there. The developers are clearly looking ahead and are building in a certain amount of web functionality, so that you can search comparative prices and data within the application using resources such as Amazon and the US National Library of Congress. However, the developers seem lacking in some of the primary resources used in the trade, a search on ABE would probably prove more useful than Amazon when dealing with rarer stock! Oddly enough, the developers seem well aware of ABE and have provided an import facility to bring in stock from HomeBase (ABE's own cataloguing software), so this sort of functionality is probably not far off the horizon.

In our enterprise, RarusLibri would require too much modification to be a feasible alternative to our current software. Nonetheless, this review has been extremely valuable and I would recommend the software to new booksellers who have not already established odd requirements for their cataloguing software. ClaroLogic is a software development house that is not likely to go away soon, and will have developers onhand to listen to your particular needs. I believe that in the future, RarusLibri will have a good running chance in the book trade. Their use of opensource software to develop their tools also means that they can reduce your total cost of ownership significantly as you will not be paying various licencing fees for lower level systems. And finally, their promise of cross-platform compatibility is a great feather in their cap. 

Advertisements

May 30, 2006 at 12:07 pm 1 comment

Software for the Bookseller

A number of people have asked me about software that can be used for cataloguing stock and managing sales and invoicing in the rare book trade. A number of UK booksellers use some software developed in FileMaker Pro called BookSeller and sold by Tom Dupre. This system seems very flexible and Tom has a good reputation among many of the booksellers that I have spoken to. One of the big advantages of a FileMaker based system is the rapidity with which application components and reporting facilities can be developed. This means that Tom can customise your installation pretty quickly, and equally you can perform Filemaker exports of your stock and then develop your own little applications in FileMaker to perform reports that are not covered by the BookSeller application. On the downside, FileMaker requires its own licencing on top of the cost of the BookSeller application and this can be costly. Furthermore, FileMaker is a closed application making it very difficult to integrate with external applications such as external web-databases and other third party software. Nonetheless, for the small-to-medium sized business with relatively small requirements, this software does the trick.

Outside of Filemaker, I have recently discovered an application called RarusLibri, developed by a company called ClaroLogic. This application is written in Java, which means that it runs on absolutely any operating system you choose. Which does mean that it is fairly future proof if you decide to change tack when it comes to your choice of operating system. Also, ClaroLogic develops a range of other software and as a company it gives you the security of knowing that any future development on your application is not in the hands of a single individual. RarusLibri makes use of a SQL database built by Apache. This means that it will allow for better integration with external applications, however the database is closed and encrypted by ClaroLogic which means that any integration components that you require will need to be developed by ClaroLogic directly. On top of this, RarusLibri is currently a single user application, which means that only one person can work in it at a time. Great for single-man shops, but useless to the majority of booksellers out there. That said, ClaroLogic is likely to work on making a server-centric model in the future and allowing multiple clients to work on the application at once. On top of this, RarusLibri also comes with a web-component as an additional module that will provide you with the opportunity to get a live website up in no time. Using the SQL engine behind RarusLibri, updates can be catered for in close to real time.

RarusLibri 

If you're hooked on ABE, an alternative to look at is ABE's own software, known as HomeBase. This software only runs on Windows variants and ties directly into ABE's search engine. This software is hardly as feature rich as the other offerings I have discussed so far, and effectively works out to something very similar to managing your stock in an Excel spreadsheet. On the other hand, it does tie in directly to ABE's system and allows you to do rapid price checks and update your stock on ABE's site quickly and with relative ease. On the whole though, I wouldn't recommend it as your primary stock database.

Unfortunately, I've run out of time to discuss software much further, but hope to come back to it soon. If you have any recommendations or ideas of alternatives out there that work really well (especially for the multi-user market), I would love to know. 

May 23, 2006 at 11:12 am 3 comments

Another great blog

Wow, everyone seems to have a blog out there and it leaves one wondering how anybody can keep up with all their interests. I was just searching through googles blog listings and was becoming terribly disappointed with the amount of blog-spam that has been created, when finally I stumbled on this great site. The most beautiful thing about it is that its author is clearly passionate about the books that he/she writes about. Most of the content is dedicated to old scientific and medical books and is incredibly well illustrated. The author is also liberal with the provision of links to further information, but provides enough detail to make the site a resource on its own. Thanks to somebody else who makes a difference to the web out there!

May 22, 2006 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Catalaloguing and the Librarian

In my job, I deal a lot with databases and categorisation of things. And I watch how books are catalogued and ordered and identified. And I'm all too aware of the many frustrations that arise from the shortcomings in software design and in the history of book categorisation. I'm also aware of many of the things that are happening on the net in terms of taxonomy and search, and the arrival of tagging that first appeared on sites such as del.icio.us.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing when dealing with rare books (and perhaps with other books as well) is the problems related to cross-categorisation. Traditionally, in a library, books would be categorised according to the Dewey system and then where a book was relevant to more than one category, a dummy pointer card would be entered into the system to reference the same book. Very few software systems (at least in the rare book trade) seem to do this sort of thing. And yet, increasingly we are caught in situations where books belong to more than one category. A travel book that describes, in beautiful detail, somebody's travels around Africa may also be illustrated with numerous colour plates and possibly belongs in a number of categories as a result. Technically, the tagging approach seems to be one of the best ways of dealing with this. Frequently we simply rely on a number of keywords and hope that our built-in search engines are going to find the items in question.

Unfortunately, our book stocking system is never going to cater for this cross-referencing that I would love to see. And moving our stock to a new system would turn into a mammoth task. But I would love to see developers of book cataloguing and stocking systems starting to take these things into account.

An excellent starting point for these sorts of ideas with relation to the book trade and written by a library student is at http://washtublibrarian.blogspot.com/. Have a wander over and check out some of the things he has to say. He links to some fabulous articles and good discussion areas and certainly has his own opinions on things. 

May 19, 2006 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

Google Base

I've been looking at the newly released Google Base site. At its simplest, its simply a user generated directory of links that are searchable using google's old search engine. But its rapidly becoming a competitor in the online classifieds world, competing with the likes of craigslist.org. So how is this useful to booksellers and book collectors? Well, a large number of sellers have already cottoned on to using Google Base, and a quick search for Rare Books in the search engine yields some very likely candidates. But even better, searches for particular items such as 'piranesi' or 'baedeker' give you a pretty good idea as to what's out there.

Give the base a whirl and see what you come up with. You might find it useful when hunting for books or when doing comparative pricing, or simply as another portal to add your stock to. 

May 18, 2006 at 4:23 pm 1 comment

The bookhunter

I wonder how many dealers and collectors are really well connected with each other. And how much they take advantage of the net and the millions of facilities that are available to them all. We all know about the standard tools like the major booklisting and comparative search engines like ABE and AddAll. And of course, if you're reading this, you probably have caught onto the world of blogs just to keep up with the general news and chatter in the industry. But what about Instant Messaging, Bulletin Board Services and News groups on the Usenet?

I decided to hunt around a bit, and certainly there is a fair amount of chatter left in the comments on people's blog sites. But the best space that I've found that is an attempt to build a community is rarebooks.tribe.net. The moderator that set this up is known as Peggy (from the SF Bay area), and she's a strange woman who describes herself in her profile as looking for "Sex with intimacy". Wow! These book people sure are whacky.  Anyway, apart from peggy's private interests, she seems to have created a small community of people interested in rare books. And they happily post away and share tips on pricing and on where to find things. And of course, they sell to each other. Another useful feature is that the site supports RSS, so you don't have to keep going back to check if there have been any more postings. You can get them fed to your client on your desktop while you're at work. Unfortunately, the community is very small and the postings are few and far between. But the idea is there.

What the rarebook market really needs is one big sharing space where people can communicate a lot more freely and where the distinction between dealers and collectors is levelled. If there is a safe space for rare booklovers to meet, it can only do good both in terms of sales for dealers and for collectors hunting down the things they want. Sure, it makes for a competitive space, but it also provides some good hard ground for you to put your ear to. If I ever get around to developing anything good like this in the near future, I'll certainly let you all know.

May 12, 2006 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

Spanking

This morning I got an email from our friends at L'ARENGARIO STUDIO BIBLIOGRAFICO, announcing the release of their new erotica catalogue, which is available online. I generally don't bother checking out each new catalogue that's announced on the web, as there are so many of them, and my job doesn't really require that I know what's being sold where and for how much. But what the hell, it was an erotica catalogue and I had a bit of time on my hands and I decided to have a quick browse through some of the items.

SpankingThe first thing that hit me when I got to the site was the extreme garishness of the front-page. I guess, on a very simple level it was hard not to understand that this space was dedicated to erotica. Of course, at the same time, you could easily be led to believe that you had stumbled on one of the seedier sites on the net. 70's porn cheese comes to mind. These people need a serious lesson in clean web design. Tiled wallpaper made up of a single censored image of a woman exposing her genitals just doesn't work. Its really old fashioned and has very little appeal, even for the most deviant in mind. On top of this, the use of frames on the website is so old school its depressing. The poor guys are going to battle to get rated by search engines like google and the whole user experience is not particularly enthralling.

Techcrit out of the way, the catalogue is an interesting collection of old-world smut that is worth paging through just for interest's sake. I was amazed to discover how many of these items focussed on spanking and flagellation. It seems to me that while we live in an age where we are caught between a deluge of online pornography all competing to the extremes, and the critics fearing that we cannot venture much further into the darkness of our erotic interests, the beginning of the 20th century (and indeed somewhat before) marked some of our greatest exploration into this territory. Perhaps the most disturbing thought in all of this is that the majority of spanking and flagellation images came from a time when my grandmother was probably in her prime. Was this the norm of the time? Was this the stuff that got gramp's rising to the occassion? Perhaps this is the greatest value in erotica collections like this. It grounds us solidly in reality and acts as a social comment on our sense of social respectability and moral leaning.

A snapshot of history that is usually completely ignored and kept behind closed doors acts as a social compass against which we can map the changes in our attitudes through time. This is a wonderfully dark collection of pickings from the erotic landscape, presented on the appalling background of a severely ugly website.

May 11, 2006 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Recent Posts

RSS New books at Shapero’s

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS New Books at Maggs

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.