Book Collecting in the Age of the Internet
By Bruce E. McKinney
Who would have figured the fields and industries that would gain so much from the creation and development of the internet. Well, okay. Pornography makes sense Its mostly pictures and people are embarrassed to be seen buying the stuff. Voila: the internet. But book collectors flocking to the internet? Well, yes. And why? Because books and information about them have up until now been very poorly distributed. The internet is the perfect way to resolve many of the problems that people who are interested in books face. That great masses of people are interested in books is evident in the enormous success of such sites as ABE.com, where over 35 million books are offered for sale today. But exactly which book or books should I buy? Information about books can be extremely obscure. Of course it exists and if you have a PH.D, time and experienced friends to call for advice, you will certainly eventually find some information on the subject you are pursuing. But cost efficient, and time efficient information about used or antiquarian Americana books is generally rare.
The web has been first populated by sites that sell something even if what they sell is nothing more than the claim to have your eyeballs on them momentarily. Until recently, the net was so full of free sites that the public was generally unwilling to pay for much more than access. With the coming of eBay, online banking, RealOne music, online stock trading, and myriad other choices it now becomes practical to offer a variety of services that even a year or two ago, would have seemed almost impossible. Surfers have given way to consumers. Now a new era is beginning in which huge amounts of useful and essentially previously unavailable data are starting to become not only accessible but also broadly searchable. For those people interested in Americana and European-Americana it is truly a new day and we at the AE feel very good to be part of this.
If bibliophiles and book collectors are among the smartest people in the world, they are also among the busiest and frequently the most impatient. The net always held the promise of making the world of books more understandable. A great database was inevitable and with the creation of the Americana Exchange it comes into being initially for one segment of the book collecting world. It is not perfect. It is not close to being all that it will become. But it is an interesting and promising beginning. We have started with Sabins Bibliotheca Americana, twenty-nine volumes comprising more than 106,000 bibliographical records. This monumental project was first published in 1868 and completed in 1934. To that we have added Charles Evans American Bibliography, Howes USiana, one of the few resource books in the Americana field that provides relative value guidance. We've included Bradford's 5 volumes which is very strong in local history and includes auction records from the 19th century. We've included E. D. Church's Bibliotheca Americana, which is extensive in its reporting of exceptionally important Americana. We have the Streeter auction sales from the 1960s, a great reference for collectors. We also have Pillings American Indian Bibliography, Maggs Bros. Bibliotheca Americana from the 1920s and 7 volumes of the American Imprints Inventory. To this we expect to post an additional 100,000 records by the end of the year.