I confess, I’m old enough to remember the “Summer of Love” (and what’s more I was there). That makes me over 70 and counting. In the intervening 50 years the content of the antiquarian, rare and collectible book trade has stayed pretty much the same, while the delivery system for information, sales, communication and shipping has changed dramatically as new technology evolved.
For a change-resistant older person (“Moi,” as Miss Piggy would say) who stayed analog long after the rest of the world went digital, this was an ongoing problem. Though I've been a dealer for more than 40 years, I made the tech transition reluctantly, slowly, late or not at all.
The items on the list are meant to reassure our older Rare Book Hub Monthly readers that if I can do it, you can do it too.
Here’s hoping that this Geezer’s Listicle has at least one piece of information you didn’t already know.
1 SIZE MATTERS: LEGAL SIZE FLAT RATE ENVELOPES
The USPS has generously provided us with array of free high quality packing materials. The problem is that sellers often don’t really understand what’s available.
For example, the plain priority mail flat rate envelope measures 12.5” wide by 9.5” tall. This size mailer is readily available at almost every post office in America at no cost.
However, you’d be surprised how many people don’t know about the next size up: the legal size priority flat rate envelope. Though it is the same height, the legal size is substantially wider. It’s 15” inches across and it will hold quite a bit more material for only a very small increase in the cost of shipping.
The caveat is that it is not readily available, in fact it’s not available at all at most post offices. The legal size and other specialized sizes and products have to be ordered directly from the USPS. For the legal flat rate envelope the minimum order is a 10 pack, it is free, and the USPS will ship as many as you want to you for free. The link to order this product is: https://store.usps.com/store/browse/productDetailSingleSku.jsp?productId=P_EP14L
While the flat rate and legal size priority envelopes and many of the other supplies are free, there are some products shown that do cost money, so look before you click. And be prepared to wait at least a week and sometimes considerably longer before your supplies arrive. You can view all the shipping products offered by the USPS at: https://store.usps.com/store/browse/category.jsp?categoryId=shipping-supplies&q_pageSize=30&viewAll=true
2 SHIPPING BY PAYPAL EVEN IF THE ORDER DID NOT COME THROUGH EBAY
Most people by now, even the old slow learners, have Paypal accounts, especially if they buy or sell on eBay. Sellers use these accounts to receive funds from buyers and to pay for shipping. The good thing about Paypal is it’s reliable and almost everybody knows how to work it. But did you know you can ship using your Paypal account to pay for postage and generate a label even if the order did not originate from eBay? Well you can, you only need to know the link (which has never been easy to find). You can use this link to buy postage for anything, it does not have to be an eBay sale or even a business transaction. That link is: https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_ship-now
Clicking on it will take you to your Paypal account and allow you to generate a label for most (not all) sizes and classes of US mail. The cost of shipping is somewhat discounted over going to the post office. There are numerous other ways to pay for shipping and generate shipping labels, but since Paypal is easy, convenient and most people already have it, this is a link worth knowing.
3 LEARNING TO USE A SMARTPHONE
Talk about late adopter, I got a smartphone less than a year ago. Until then I had one of those little flip jobbies. I fed it pricey minutes (25 cent each) and used it hardly at all. I’d figured out Skype (and paid for minutes there too) so why would I need anything fancier or more sophisticated?
The truth is in the 21st century you need a smartphone, defined as “noun: a mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded applications.”
You need a smartphone to text, because texting (not calling) is the way the world communicates these days. Yes, there is a learning curve, and I might add for an older person, a rather substantial learning curve.
You’ve probably noticed all those thick colorful photo illustrated manuals at your local big box store aptly titled: “iPhone/Android for Seniors.” Personally I’ve found them useless.
It’s hard to learn a smartphone from a book. It’s also not so easy to learn a smartphone from a YouTube video (of which there are many.) But you can - I guarantee you - learn a smartphone, and faster than you might think, from those wiz young customer service reps at T-Mobile.
Let me repeat that T-MOBILE. One more time: T-MOBILE. My tech smart friends steered me to them precisely because their customer service reps were so good and I’ve been truly grateful for the advice. My T-Mobile rep Lynnie (age 23, on the job for five years) taught me the basics in five installments spaced out over a month. There was no charge for the service once I’d signed up for a plan.
Be warned your aging brain can only learn so much in one sitting, so when you set up your account make arrangements to come back multiple times for about a half hour each. Do it with the same person each time and by the end of the first month you will be able to text, use the camera, and search, and the heavy lifting in the settings, customizing, and installing apps department will be done by somebody else (somebody young, smart and tech oriented) who will be only too pleased to help you, and help you again and again and again.
Repeat T-Mobile: trust them, use them. They know what they’re doing, their customer service is superior and you are never too old to learn how to do it too.
4. GOOGLE DRIVE & DOCS
Did you hate it when Microsoft stopped supporting XP? Do you have a Google account? Do you use gmail?
It’s time to learn Google Drive and some or all of its many features like Google Docs. Google Drive provides most of the same functions that can be found in Microsoft Office (where they are called more familiar names like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) but the Google versions are free, shareable and editable in a variety of ways. Most of the functions including documents, spreadsheets, photos, slides, etc are available on Google Drive in similar (but not identical) format as the more familiar Microsoft products. Google Drive is not hard to set up and it comes with 15GB free memory.
Unlike Microsoft office where your files live only on your computer, using Google Drive your files can be accessed, edited, shared anytime anywhere from any computer by logging into your Google account/gmail and then clicking on the little icon with nine little squares forming one big square in the upper right of your Google toolbar. (Reminder: You’ll only see those little squares when you are logged into Google). Clicking on it will take you to a multi-icon display. Click on the Drive icon and you are ready to begin a very useful learning experience.
Like the smartphone there is a learning curve for Google Drive, unlike the smartphone it’s pretty easy to pick it up from YouTube videos. Start with “beginner tutorials” (of which there are many) and go on to the specific videos that cover what you want to learn.
For booksellers Google Docs is a good way to catalog material either individually or in groups in a way that can instantly be shared with anyone in the world with a Google account. There are also photo features that are appealing, albeit not instantly self evident.
Like the smartphone you can only learn so much at a time. I’ve found my attention span for this kind of instructional info is about a half hour at a time, then I go into overload and forget it all. It’s not hard, it’s free, a lot of it is semi-intuitive. Once you get started you’ll wonder why it took you so long to try it.
5 Online (mainly YouTube) videos and images
You already use YouTube videos for news and entertainment like viewing the latest Saturday Night Live skits, but you can learn anything, and I do mean anything, from these on line “videos.”
I use Google as my search engine. Say you want to find videos about “identifying first editions,” type that phrase into the search box and what will come up is mostly text.
Now look to the top of your screen just below the search box and you’ll see the words: All, Shopping, Images, Video displayed as the first line across the top of the screen. The word “All” will be highlighted in blue. Now move over to your right and click on the word “Videos” and you’ll see a very different selection consisting only of videos, short and long, that have to do with the topic.
Here’s the link for identifying first editions in case you’re wondering what’s available: https://www.google.com/search?q=identifying+first+editions&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#q=identifying+first+editions&tbm=vid
A word of caution, when it comes to knowledge based info (as opposed to tech based instruction) you have to be pretty cautious. If you have a choice between a video by Joe Shmoe, the Amazon selling ace, and an ABAA dealer’s version of the same topic, the video generated by the ABAA dealer is almost sure to be more accurate and reliable.
Another good place to start is on that very same line with the word “images.” I recently picked up an early 20th century German children’s book illustrated by Gertrud Caspari. The book was in a language I didn’t read, and it was an artist I had not seen before. To find other visual examples of her work I Googled "Gertrud Caspari," when the first screen came I went to that same top line, clicked on “images” and a vast array of her work opened in an instant. Want to see what that looks like try:
Did you like any of the individual pictures? Click on the pix and more information and choices, including the source page and the ability to share can be found.
6 TINY URL - Make a long URL shorter
Notice that the last two links I’ve given have long URLs. If you are looking for a way to make them (or any) URL shorter try TINY URL https://tinyurl.com/.
Copy the long URL, go to the TinyURL.com site, and paste the long URL into the box and in a fraction of a second you’ll get a short one.
For example I pasted the long Caspari link with 137 characters into the “Make tiny URL” box, and came up with https://tinyurl.com/hbvhtjr which will take you to exactly the same place but with a lot fewer characters. Very simple and very handy.