RarusLibri reviewed

May 30, 2006 at 12:07 pm 1 comment

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. 


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