Research aids of yesterday and today

by The bookworm on January 29, 2013 · Rare Book Education

Library reference cards

With thousands of rare book websites available, finding information on rare books can seem less time-consuming than ever before. There is now no need to run to the library to peruse the reference section for pricing catalogues that are current and detailed enough to indicate an accurate valuation. It no longer seems, however, that the computer with access to the Internet is the only medium. Today, hand-held devices such as phones, tablets, scanners and so forth are as popular and as much in use as personal computers.  Technological advancement has indeed brought about vast improvements in the speed of searching, comparing and even analyzing the content and attributes of rare books.

Reference materials are not all the same. A scanning device, for example, that reads a bar code to produce some output is as good as the data that it is based on. Good reference material includes information on a book’s rarity and importance along with a complete detailed description, edition, printing and state information. Google searches can lead to some extensive reference material that can bring up details about a book and its author, along with related and sometimes not so related information. It is for this reason that a methodological approach to research is still necessary to utilize despite the abundance in technology tools.

Let us now examine more closely the historical progression of book research, by concentrating on a single American Ivy League institution’s offering of research material – Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

One hundred years after the University of Rhode Island was renamed to Brown University, in 1804, the John Carter Brown Library was opened with an unsurpassed collection from the historical study of John Carter Brown and John Nicholas Brown – father and son. The result was the establishment of Brown University, as a research university.  A block away, the Annmary Brown Memorial Library, was also opened in 1907, primarily through the contribution of a retired Union Army brigadier general, Rush C. Hawkins.  A third location, the John Hay Library was most recently used to house some of the more valuable as well as the expanding collections of the university. Reference books in use then, contained all essential information for cataloguing, locating and comparing what was available.

Today, it is a different story.  Researching Brown’s vast accumulations can easily be done without taking walks through the campus, by using a number of devices.  Furthermore, the access is not limited to Brown’s possessions:

–          RIAMCO  (The Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online) at ,  is an on-line reference of historical materials that are available for research in Rhode Island from  Brown University, John Carter Brown Library, Naval War College, Newport Historical Society, North Kingstown Free Library, Providence College, Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island State Archives, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, University of Rhode Island and Westerly Public Library.

–          Josiah at – includes records of some 1.8 million bibliographic records, representing the items owned by the Brown University Library system except the print, manuscript/codices and the archive collections.

–          MoBUL (Mobile Brown University Library).  MoBUL has a great new way to search their books.  Pattern matching of words is conducted real time to search for the most appropriate results. So for books on “Cuban Missile Crisis,” for example, one can type “”cu mi cri”.  Or to search for Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” one way is to simply type “f w bell.” The app is available for download on a number of the popular devices.

–          LibX Brown Edition is a browser extension that provides direct access to the Library’s resources from any page on the web. It allows searches on Josiah, eJournals, Google Scholar, Open WorldCat, and Ocean State Libraries directly from the LibX toolbar.

This is quite an impressive advancement. The offering is lacking of course specific rare book market valuation material, which is of primary concern to rare book collectors.  For pricing analysis you may still need to refer to content such as the one that we publish here at, as well as inventory available for sale from more than 40 on-line bookstores and 20,000 dealers, listed through

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