Enter the Internet and the ability to run searches on Google and other sites to create a personally interesting focus. Perhaps the county focus is too or unnecessarily large. Perhaps a single family in a single place is more appropriate. Here is an example: Hasbrouck Ulster History. Hasbrouck is a family name, Ulster a county and the orientation of the search history. The result, on Google, is a timeline in graph form that shows both the breadth and depth of related results for this family in this place. The timeline is the compilation of many sources, in effect a history with bibliographical overtones. As all references are linked, the timeline becomes the constant connecting a cobweb of related materials. If a family was important between 1850 and 1900 the volume of Google’s references will invariably reflect this. In this way so many subjects, too small and too specific for bibliographic attention become, via the framing of an internet query, bibliographies on the fly.
For the book business this is a stunning development because, while it makes it possible for new collectors to find subjects of personal relevance, it also reduces interest in what have been the primary collecting focuses. For dealers who stock material by traditional subject the field may grow but interest in these general subjects decline.
The Google search is a single example of the ability to organize subjects around personally appealing perspectives. Free searches of the AE databases accomplish the same outcome and confine the results to material relevant to collectors and collections.
We live in a world of intellectual possibilities that few could have surmised twenty years ago. Such changes both confuse and transform. The pursuit of collectible material employing the traditional approaches seems to now be in parabolic descent. We are living in a unique moment, unknown, even unimagined to generations of collectors who have collected in traditional ways for the past three hundred years. We are also now living in the genesis of the new collecting. The possibilities have never been better but the process is so new and still evolving that fertile opportunities today go wanting because so few understand what the process offers. The pursuit of highly specific personally defined collecting is, as traditional collecting declines, beginning its parabolic ascent though barely making a ripple yet. In the future it will become a tidal wave. Who knew?