Rare Book Monthly
Articles - November - 2008 Issue
Wiki Bibliographies: The Way to the Future
By Bruce McKinney
This month I write about a mostly forgotten place, Rondout, New York, once a transportation hub at the intersection of the Rondout Creek and Hudson River [map link] that rose on opportunity and fell with its withdrawal. It was alter-ego to a Kingston that was better known, a lucky place where many found work and a few made fortunes. I return to Rondout to suggest that its now forgotten history, relating maps, books, ephemera and pamphlets provide an exceptional opportunity to consider an alternative way for material to be organized and presented on the web. I'm speaking of Wiki Bibliographies in which broadly accessible bibliographically complete snapshots by subject provide an ever evolving picture of all known and all available material including books, manuscripts, maps, ephemera [including postcards] and newspapers available on stationary sites [the listing sites] and transitories [eBay and traditional auctions].
Today there reside upon the net as tens of millions of faint stars, interesting and relevant materials, that must rely upon the perception and understanding of those searching to find, among the truckloads of sand, the single grains that suit specific interests. I suggest the market has it backwards. The material should, and I think will, be organized into living [ever adjusting] online bibliographies that incorporate related material under tight subject headings to provide a place for currently available examples and past transaction history as well as full text versions all to be accessed via a single forum. Today sellers upload to listing sites. I think in time they will allow, even encourage, their inventory to be drawn up into many such Wiki Bibliographies where rather than waiting for the material to be found by the knowledgeable, such material will be continually displayed in its logical collecting and research contexts. This will answer the question: where is the new collector? They have been overwhelmed with choices. Wiki-bibliographies will turn subjects into road maps.
Because the array of material will far exceed the typical self-imposed inventory constraints of booksellers I believe that many historical societies and libraries will find in the development of Wiki Bibliographies a natural place for themselves as administrators of what I expect will become the intellectual core of many entirely new and as well as other elaborated and reconsidered fields. Typically in the wiki world, dealers will offer and auction houses sell; collectors and acquiring libraries obtain and researchers analyze – all within a single context. For collectors such an approach will also make reselling a natural possibility. In addition to institutions collectors, collector-dealers and specialist dealers will also find this approach valuable for the development of their fields and their role within it. Wiki Bibliography administrators will consider, confirm or reject material for appropriateness. On many wikis a wealth of pamphlets and ephemera will be contextualized for the first time and material that has floated under the radar for generations will now enter the subject cannon. For historical societies and libraries such wikis will I believe attract a natural audience and with it opportunities to broaden membership. In the new world of associations affinity will trump proximity. Additional members will help sustain such institutions.