Frequently students in Library Instruction sessions ask questions about how to find resources on the Internet that relate to a specific topic. In this document I shall attempt to look at some of the ways in which students who are looking for material on the Internet about one specific topic (i.e. "rare books") can discover what kind of resources are available and customize their search to suit their particular needs. Search engines, subject directories, specialized lists, and individual web sites of particular interest will all be examined in an attempt to discover not only what type of information about rare books is available on the Net but also what type of search strategies might be appropriate in particular circumstances. Since "rare books" is a topic that relates to many disciplines (e.g. Fine Art, Literature, History, etc.), it is hoped that this exploration will be of particular value to those who face the challenge of finding material that relates to more than one discipline.
One way of finding web resources about a particular subject is to use one of the directories that list guides to web resources in particular disciplines (like The Argus Clearinghouse). Having connected to The Argus Clearinghouse, if I were to enter the term "rare books" I would not get any matches (since this is not one of the headings listed by The Argus Clearinghouse) -- but if I were to enter the term "books" by itself I would get a number of matches to sites which relate to rare books including Peter Verheyen's The Book Arts Web and The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing's SHARP Web, both of which are well worth exploring.
A similar process could be used in The Librarians' Index to the Internet . In this case, if I enter the term "rare books," I will find a number of matches (with brief annotations) which include BookFinder.com , one of the many sites on the Web (like ABE (Advanced Book Exchange) and WORLDBOOKDEALERS) which provide listings for the buying and selling of rare books, and the University of Idaho's Repositories of Primary Sources, which (together with the University of Houston's Special Collections Web Resources page) provides one of the most comprehensive listings of rare book libraries, archives and special collections.
Another way of finding material about "rare books" is to use one of the subject directories, like Yahoo. If I were to connect to Yahoo and then enter "rare books," Yahoo would provide me with a number of relevant sites grouped under a number of categories (and subcategories), thus giving me an opportunity to follow-up on those links in which I might have a particular interest. This would permit me to focus my browsing in a variety of ways -- depending on my particular interests. If, for example, I were to enter "rare books" in the Yahoo search box, I could follow-up by clicking on the category "Rare and Antique Books" under the heading "Arts > Humanities > History of the Book," and this would bring up links to a wide variety of sources including the home page of The International Book Collector's Association, the home page of The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries and a page called Your Old Books (originally written by the late Peter M. Van Wingen), which attempts to give some answers to frequently asked questions about rare books. If, on the other hand, I were to click on the category "Rare and Antique Books" under the heading "Regional > Countries >United Kingdom > Arts and Humanities > Humanities > Literature > History of Books and Printing" I would find a link to The Digitisation Project at the British Library .
Another way to find information on the Internet is to use one of the large search engines like AltaVista, but if I were to go to AltaVista and enter "rare books" in the search box, I would very likely be overwhelmed by the thousands of documents that AltaVista would bring up. So I might well want to reserve AltaVista for searches that are more specifically focussed (e.g. on a particular person or topic). If, for example, I were to go to AltaVista and enter the term "edwards of halifax" I would get a much shorter list. Using a search engine can also provide a way to find an online facsimile of a particular book or manuscript like The Aberdeen Bestiary . Although many rare books for sale are listed in the major search engines, specialized sites like ABE (Advanced Book Exchange) or BookFinder.com can sometimes save time especially if one is interested in comparing prices.
Another way of discovering web sites that relate to a particular topic is by subscribing to a LISTSERV. For example, when I subscribed to a LISTSERV about the History of the Book and sent out a message that I was looking for sites relating to rare books, within two days I received messages from England, Canada and the United States with excellent suggestions about sites, some of which might have been difficult to find in any other way. A good place to find LISTSERVS on book-related subjects is The Internet Library for Librarians . Two LISTSERVS that relate specifically to rare books and the history of the book are SHARP-L (from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) and EXLIBRIS (which provides a forum for a wide variety of questions and discussions about rare books and related topics).
Once one has discovered a web site with a specific focus that appears to be relevant, it is often worthwhile to explore that site in some detail. In this case, I would recommend exploring Jack Lynch's Literary Resources: Bibliography and the History of the Book.
Finally, I would suggest that often we might want to combine a number of different ways of exploring the Internet (e.g. browsing through a subject directory, we might want to follow-up on a specific concept by using a search engine).
By using the approaches outlined above, we should be able to discover that there is a wealth of information on the Internet which relates to "rare books," including: (1) information about rare book libraries and other special collections (2) information about bookdealers and buying and selling rare books online (3) general sites about the history of the book and the book arts (4) essays, commentaries, and discussions on particular topics that relate to rare books and (5) some excellent facsimiles of images and texts.
In any case, I hope that this brief survey of some of the ways in which resources about rare books can be found on the Internet will be of some assistance not only in expanding awareness of the scope and quality of resources that are available on this particular topic but also as a way of exploring some of the different strategies by which electronic resources can be located on a variety of topics -- especially those of an inter-disciplinary nature.
Links to other sites on the Web by Albert Masters
Rare Books on the Web: A List of Resources
Medieval Manuscripts on the Web: A List of Resources
Medieval Manuscripts on the Web: A Brief Introduction
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