How to catalogue a collection and plan a rare book sale
June 9, 2014 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for general advice about how to bring a garage collection of many hundreds of valuable books to market. Part of this process will likely involve software choices.

My brother-in-law, Colin, has a garage full of about 7000 books and of those, he suspects maybe 500 would fall under the general heading of "rare or desirable". It's those 500 that he wants to sell, but the whole collection needs to be assessed and catalogued. It *might* be the basis for starting his own display/sale website. Or he might do that and list items in auctions or on Amazon too.

It's almost certain that the books won't be sold at a single time or on consignment; he's going to want to rid himself of them one by one, depending on market circumstances, ease of advertising and level of motivation when he (soon) starts to retire from his regular job and get into these books as money-making hobby. He was once a part-time trader of books, so the remainder of his stocks are books he's collected himsef; the ones that interest him most.

He's considering making the assessment and unloading of his book collection a part-time paid project for someone like a book history student or a bookseller who wants some weekend work. Colin will be helping to some extent, but for the moment, he just wants to chart out a practical way forward. Colin is tech-illiterate and I'm only a modest dabbler at best (and won't be on-hand anyway), so please give simple explanations if possible. His only input on a computer will be data entry. But he might look for a tech wizard with rare book skills as a worker; so nothing is off the table. But simpler is still best.

With the above in mind (and noting that we are in Australia, so no regional esoterica please), here's some of the information sought from AskMefi:

- are there any recommended paid or open source database programs that would be good to use for cataloguing his collection? If there are many, what are the pos/neg features? I guess Colin's going to want to be able to enter a photograph, title, author, publisher, year, description and maybe a few more categories. The more versatile and automated the better and it might be a good thing if it could auto-load to a blog too (I'm simply riffing from a conversation I had with him - I have a bookish hobby, but it's not much help in planning a commercial venture.)

- is there a free or subscription site where book sellers can go to get help to value a book (I thought there might be some trade portal that includes auction results over a few decades, plus all amazon and rare book sales details) ??

- any other tips or ideas people have relating to getting a big stash of books into a digital metadata form, to ultimately bring it to market
posted by peacay to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There are some sites for book valuation



He can also register to be an seller, since I'd say that over 90% of people go there to find books, rare or otherwise.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2014

Have you tried talking to a local bookseller? This seems like a task where local networking could be very helpful in finding someone to help and to get specific advice. Chances are that good sellers would be willing to chat for a bit, if only in the hope that you might eventually come back to them for help or to sell.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:24 AM on June 9, 2014

I would think you'd like to create a database... here's an article about scanners and prices. Here are a couple of places that talk about apps for smartphones for personal collections. Depending on how computer savvy you are, databases aren't that difficult to build.

My hubby as a similar collection so I built a database for his collection. I've never used any of the software linked above because I can build from scratch. I used to have the Apple version of the ISBN scanner until my ipod died and it worked quite well. The information ported fairly seamlessly to my Access database. But, for me, it seems that having a database is a good place to start.
posted by patheral at 8:28 AM on June 9, 2014

If you have a university with a library science program nearby, this would be a great project for a student getting a master's degree. They are trained in best-practice collection management and also often have a lot of relevant technology skills.

For valuation Amazon's used book market (for non-rare books) and Alibris (for older/rarer) are good.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make a LibraryThing account, buy a CueCat from them, and start scanning. Once you hit everything with a barcode (which is none of the valuable stuff), move to the 20th Century stuff -- a lot of which is in LT already. Finish with the super-rare stuff, and then export he data.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:07 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks: all useful advice. My bro-in-law will check it out and have a think about it (I'm not saying he's a procrastinator, but: SEVEN THOUSAND BOOKS! In his garage!! For YEARS!!!). Heh. This Q is meant to be his motivating prompt.
posted by peacay at 8:09 PM on June 9, 2014

(I thought there might be some trade portal that includes auction results over a few decades, plus all amazon and rare book sales details) ??

The serious database for book pricing is American Book Prices Current, but at $800 to set up, it's probably disproportionate for a project this size. Invaluable reports auction prices in all categories, and is even more expensive overall, but does have a monthly option--if you got everything cataloged first, you could look it all up rather quickly. A site like ABE is a good free option for figuring out prices, but obviously the rarer a book is, the less likely you are to find it for sale at any given moment, and it only represents the price someone hopes to get for a book, not a price anyone actually has.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:51 AM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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