A Great Tool for Booksellers: <i>The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography</i>
If you don't want to read your biography on a screen, no problem. A simple selection allows you to email the text to yourself (or to anyone else, including a customer), and you can also print out the pages you see.
The Oxford DNB goes up to 2004 and includes no living individuals. Although the focus is on individuals who were born and lived in the British Isles, the DNB includes people who went on to make a mark in other countries, who lived in British territories or under British rule, or who made a mark on British life.
Not confined to individual biographies, the DNB also offers up shorter related biographies, as well as histories of groups and families.
One feature I found particularly exciting is the Highlighted Search. You can use the mouse to highlight a name or a group of words, click on "Go" and the DNB will search for all the other instances of that name or phrase in its database. This is an excellent way to find important related material.
In developing bibliographies for clients, the DNB is also invaluable. It includes lists of each author's works, as well as primary reference material, and so is a great place to start. It is also considerably more authoritative than random searches via Google.
I initially balked at the $300/year subscription fee, which to be honest seemed more appropriate for a library than a small shop like ours, but as a timesaver, the DNB is really unparalleled. The biggest bottleneck we all have in Internet bookselling is getting our books online and getting them online well. Especially in the case of rare material, where one cannot just swipe a barcode to get all the information, developing descriptions is particularly time-consuming. I find that I can get much better information about books and authors much faster by using this tool, a time saving that is easily worth the money spent each month on the subscription. Is saving me hours and hours of time, plus accurately upgrading the quality of my listings worth around $30/month? I think so.
For more information, go to www.oup.com, select the DNB, and take the guided tour. You will have a great time browsing the DNB and you may find it useful in your business as well.