I once saw a picture of how many books the average person would read in their lives, and it made me sad. Four bookshelves’ worth. Four! In a lifetime! And since we only get one of those, it seems a tragic waste of time to spend unnecessary hours just trying to find the book we want to spend some time with.
Obviously in the Information Age we’ve progressed to the point where it’s easy to obtain nearly any piece of literature we want, if not literally in our hands, at least in a digital format. But there are still volumes of old books evading digitization and even discovery, and these are the ones that can start piling on hours of search time. Far be it from me to begrudge book archaeologists their exploration – I do love a good treasure hunt – but right now I’m thinking about the majority of people who just want to find out something about a certain book and then move on with their day. Unfortunately, when it comes to old, valuable, and rare books, oftentimes even connecting with the people who might know something about the book can be an exercise in frustration.
In this field, so much of the knowledge is stored inside the heads of knowledgeable rare book experts, established dealers operating their bookstores, and the occasional individual researcher or collector. It’s absolutely wonderful when you can connect with one of these people and they’re able to answer your questions right away, and spend a fun 20 minutes talking about books in general. The trouble is, it can be maddening to figure out where to start: What kind of person do you need to talk to? Where can you find them? How do you get in touch? Is Taco Bell even open at 3:00 AM?
These are the questions I found myself asking recently as I started doing some research on rare books. As a relative outsider, I didn’t know how this field worked, and as a web professional, I found the online resources rather scattered, and I ended up bookmarking dozens of sites in my browser instead of referencing a single rare book portal website that I could use as a jumping-off point. That’s what I intend to build here. This is not to say that there are not plenty of very detailed and helpful sites to be found – there are (and I will link to them). What I am saying is that they tend to be more highly specialized in one area of expertise or another, and therefore don’t serve the spectrum from novice to expert equally well. I want to provide a place where anyone wanting to learn more about this topic can come to find value and the resources they need to take the next step in the right direction, whether that’s a college kid asking introductory questions about the topic, collectors looking to buy certain pieces and move others, or dealers reaching out to make new connections in the community.
I don’t have a background in valuable and rare books, unless you can count hours curled up in a reading nook, time spent in the dusty basement stacks of libraries, lurking around corners in bookstores, and generally never going anywhere without a book handy. What I do bring to this project is not only a love for books but a fresh outlook, with 20 years’ experience in building the web, connecting communities both online and off – that’s what I do for a living and for fun.
With this project I want to build and curate a resource that’s useful to everyone, and at the same time I’m going to document my journey here on the blog as I learn more about the industry and become an active part of what already looks to be a colorful community. Along the way I’m going to do what I do best – make all of this stuff easier to understand, more accessible to the average person, and start building even more efficient ways for everyone to connect with one another, both digitally and physically.
It’s funny – I’m a web developer by trade, and when I see someone with “social media enthusiast” in their Twitter bio, I’ve always wondered what that means. Well, now I know. I am certainly a social media expert, but when it comes to valuable and rare books, I am nothing of the sort. I am, however, a rare book enthusiast, and so that is where we begin this project.
I look forward to learning from all of you.
Let’s get started…
(Image source: My 1973 Houghton Mifflin copy of “The Hobbit”)