Markets and Information

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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The Rare Book Hub is an information project about books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera, and the goal is a complete record of auction lots offered and prices realized over the past 150 years.  It is a substantial project, already more than 12 years in the making, with six million records currently and millions more to go.  We think it matters.  Here’s why.

 

We are living in an age of increasingly broad information and becoming accustomed to immediate comprehensive access.  Many people for decades have used databases for quick clarification because they save time, are empowering and over time transforming. The difference today is scale.

 

But because such databases take years to build and further time to become mainstream the impact of such projects can take a generation to register.  The Rare Book Hub Databases fit into this model.  Our database of auction records is far larger, more complex and extensive than other databases and often provides information that is otherwise unknown.

 

For serious bibliophiles, be they collectors, institutions, or dealers, such information is the life-blood of collecting.  Connecting copies, appearances and collections provides perspective that with experience define how material fits into a collection.  From experience I know that extensive records help.  They have refined my focus.

 

What has long been missing though have been the older records.  They’re useful because they show a title moving through time, showing both relative price and rarity.  Instinctively I know that markets rise, fall and rise again but rates of change vary in many ways.  Our primary database clearly shows this.  In other words:  there are both general and specific trends.

 

These trends, both economic and social, will and should be the subject of interpretations that will differ widely.  Librarians, collectors, dealers and historians will all see different things in the data.  Our responsibility then is to provide the data in a neutral way.

 

And this is how it should be.  We will all play our part and in time, together, find the emerging future of the rare book, manuscript, map and ephemera fields.   There will never be one right answer but there can be one unified field.