Building A Bookselling Reference Library

by Craig Stark

#29, 18 October 2004

Part IV: Online Resources - Questia

In Part II of this series I recommended adding Geoffrey Ashall Glaister's Encyclopedia of the Book to your reference library, then noted that it could probably be purchased used for $30 to $35. But were you aware that the entire text of this book, including its illustrations, can be accessed online? As regularly amazed as I am at the volume of information that's available on the Internet free for the taking, there are occasions when, if you're willing to pay a modest subscription fee, you can gain access to a volume and quality of information that's comparable to that contained in some of the best libraries.

For example, I presently pay what works out to be $9.16 a month at Questia for access to Glaister's massive book glossary - not to mention 50,000 additional books and almost 400,000 journal, magazine and newspaper articles (and growing). That's right. This is the world's largest online collection of academically vetted full-text books. And I can access any and all of these 24/7 at my computer, copy and paste text or illustrations to whatever I'm working on.

To be fair, some of these books and articles are in the public domain and available free of charge on other sites, but most are not. Over 235 publishers have working agreements with Questia that earn additional revenues for their copyrighted material; in addition, there are many public domain books at Questia that are available only at Questia. The best part is that many titles in this library are reference books, the very resources that would make valuable additions to a bookseller's or collector's reference library, and many of these are specialty titles not always found in libraries - e.g., Greenwood Press publications, which are noteworthy for their deliciously in-depth studies/bibliographies of important writers.

Resources at Questia are primarily focused on social science and the humanities, but this is exactly where so many of our book-related needs can be met. Example: bibliographies. Though obviously (and sometimes critically) useful to us, they're almost always expensive, sometimes hard to find. Worse, there's almost no end to them. Building a representative collection could take years. Questia's library contains 100's and 100's of dedicated bibliographies of authors and topics and 1000's more titles that contain extensive bibliographic information, all instantly searchable by word, phrase, title, author or subject. No downloading. No scrolling through endless pages. The format is such that accessibility is as prompt as having the book in your hands, perhaps faster.

To give you an idea of the scope of this bibliographic collection, take a look at these titles I picked at random from a search results list:

  1. A Bibliography of the Writings of Washington Irving: A Check List

  2. The Native American in American Literature: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography

  3. Zora Neale Hurston: An Annotated Bibliography and Reference Guide

  4. Rock Stars/Pop Stars: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1955-1994

  5. The Juvenile Novels of World War II: An Annotated Bibliography

  6. A Bibliography of Virginia Woolf

  7. James Fenimore Cooper: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism

  8. The Ku Klux Klan: A Bibliography

  9. American Women Photographers: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography

  10. The Kurds and Kurdistan: A Selective and Annotated Bibliography

  11. Black Slavery in the Americas: An Interdisciplinary Bibliography, 1865-1980

  12. William Morris in Private Press and Limited Editions: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books by and about William Morris, 1891-1981

  13. The Works of Allen Ginsberg, 1941-1994: A Descriptive Bibliography

  14. A Bibliography of the Samaritans

  15. A Bibliography of Jazz

Just for kicks, I checked to see how much it'd cost me to purchase these 15 titles today on fixed price sites - $1500!

Bibliographies are by no means the only bookselling/collecting resources at Questia - in fact, there's a impressive variety in place, and though I've been a subscriber for some time, I'm still discovering new ones. In some cases, I happen across valuable references that I didn't know existed. Non-subscribers can view the entire list of titles before committing to a subscription, read a sample book, and - I strongly recommend this - take a tour of the website. The tour will familiarize you with both the resources themselves and an array of useful tools for working with them. A few tools include: bookmarking specific passages, highlighting text, writing margin notes, looking up words in the resident dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopedia, and creating a bibliography. Here's a bibliography of book-related titles I searched that Questia assembled for me in an MLA format (one of 6 available) in matter of moments:

Works Cited

Bennett, Paul A. Books and Printing: A Treasury for Typophiles. 1st ed. Cleveland, OH: World Pub. Co., 1951.

Benét, William Rose, ed. The Reader's Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts. New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1948.

Carpenter, Charles. History of American Schoolbooks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963.

Geiser, Elizabeth A., Arnold Dolin, and Gladys S. Topkis, eds. The Business of Book Publishing: Papers by Practitioners. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985.

Hall, David D. Essays in the History of the Book. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996.

Hart, Horace. Bibliotheca Typographica in Usum Eorum Qui Libros Amant: A List of Books about Books. Rochester, NY: The Printing House of Leo Hart, 1933.

Johnston, Paul. Biblio-Typographica: A Survey of Contemporary Fine Printing Style. New York: Covici, Friede, 1930.

Kaser, David. Messrs. Carey & Lea of Philadelphia: A Study in the History of the Booktrade. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957.

Kent, Elizabeth E. Goldsmith and His Booksellers. Clifton, NJ: A. M. Kelley, 1973.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut. The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States. 2nd ed. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1951.

Mair, Victor H., ed. The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

R. R. Donnelley and Sons. A Rod for the Back of the Binder: Some Considerations of Binding with Reference to the Ideals of the Lakeside Press. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1928.

Orcutt, William Dana. Master Makers of the Book: Being a Consecutive Story of the Book from a Century before the Invention of Printing through the Era of the Doves Press. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1928.

Putnam, Haven. Books and Their Makers during the Middle Ages: A Study of the Conditions of the Production and Distribution of Literature from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the Close of the Seventeenth Century. Vol. 2. New York: Hillary House Publishers, 1962.

Winterich, John T. Early American Books & Printing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1935.

So, if you're serious about bookselling, Questia is a reasonably priced resource that can, if exploited, help you take things to the next level. Subscriptions are available monthly, quarterly or annually.

Finally, as long as you remain a subscriber, you'll be granted free access to GuruNet, an eye-blinkingly fast reference tool that enables you to click any word on your screen, whether online or off (in Word, email, Excel, Web pages, etc.) for instant search results from over 100 reference works. For more information on GuruNet, visit their site.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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