Wikis, The Next Step
By Bruce McKinney
Every few days someone sees past the existing world of books, manuscripts and ephemera into the new world of Wiki Bibliographies where material is grouped by relationship, context or connection to a specific collecting subject. Today, on listing sites, interesting and obscure material is stacked like cord wood, searchable by author, title or keyword but accessible only to those with deep understanding of their fields. For everyone else it's tough sledding. Wiki bibliographies resolve this problem by aggregating related material under single banners that permit collectors to review, in a few minutes whenever they choose, new listings in the bibliographies, Books for Sale and upcoming auctions. Wiki subjects elaborate over time into anthills of both the known and hither-to unknown that find themselves on the same page for the first time because their contexts match. There collectors can appraise the length and breadth of subjects, understand pricing and over time relative availability. For collectors this is the necessary antidote for the mind deadening millions of undifferentiated items on listing sites that require the patience of Job, the power of Zeus and the intelligence of Einstein to successfully navigate. That many collectors can do this says everything about them but nothing good about sellers. It's an unnecessary hardship, a huge barrier for the less-than-obsessed collector and the fundamental reason that new collectors are hard to find.
A collector, who can buy a ticket to a hockey game in a city two thousand miles away, book a hotel and make a dinner reservation - all in a few minutes online - is then supposed to be willing to figure out what is or isn't relevant to their collecting focus whenever they have time to devote several hours to it? We no longer live in a world where two hours can routinely be set aside to do for ourselves what a better-organized field would recognize must be done: simplify the collector's task.
These days the world shifts to Blackberries and Apple smart Phones because they hasten response, add convenience, broaden options AND save money. But talk to most book dealers and they are still using traditional handsets. The new collectors they are sure don’t exist are and they are buying more efficiently elsewhere. They are checking their emails, bidding at traditional auctions and on eBay, checking the status of a UPS and Fedex arrival, and sometimes even looking up material in the AED before bidding or buying. In this new world many dealers can't hear the dog whistles of the world of collectible books, manuscripts and ephemera because they are closed to its possibility. It exists and, on the other side of the eventual economic recovery, will dominate the new world of collecting. The world as it was will disappear. In its place efficient collecting will emerge, as clear as sound, as certain as death and taxes.
The new collector will employ Wiki defined subjects logic because they are as appropriate to broadsides, postcards, photographs and maps as they are to books. They don't prefer or exclude books. They simply accept that they are an important part, but not the only part, of the larger field of works on paper. Books, because they have been well documented, tend to yield few surprises while ephemera is mostly surprising. It turns out that subjects are far more complex than most bibliographies suggest and more interesting and economical to collect with the random and unknown added in.