It began, however, with this post on Saturday by Mike Widener, of Yale University Library. Widener has added over 500 descriptions from 40 book dealers to catalogue entries for rare book holdings at Yale. Widener wrote, "The description adds value to our catalog. It records a wealth of information about the book that would be impossible to include in the online catalog record."
In example, Widener included this entry, from Leo Cadogan Rare Books, into the description of Iustinianae constitutiones civiles (Bologna, 1608):
"Attractive and rare set of decrees concerning the functioning of the judiciary in the papal city of Bologna. These city statutes were promulgated by the Pope's legate, Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani (1554-1621). Despite the issuing authority, the constitutions (a word indicating legislation of the highest level) are entirely non-religious in content, relating to civil law justice in the city. They shed considerable light into how courts worked in Bologna. Included are instructions on cases involving poor people; rules for notaries; the keeping of registers; seizures of property; taking of suspects; payment of officers; expert witnesses; and the governing of appeals. Pages 192-198 comprise papal edicts on the salaries of Bolognese judges and notaries." -- Leo Cadogan Rare Books (Dec. 2011)
Widener follows these guidelines when including book dealer descriptions:
- I must first obtain the dealer's permission to use the descriptions for all books and manuscripts the dealer sells to me. The descriptions are the dealer's intellectual property and dealers are sensitive (rightly so) about whether and how their descriptions are re-used. I assure the dealer that I will understand if he or she prefers to refuse permission.
- I enter a dealer's descriptions only for the books and manuscripts I buy from that dealer.
- I copy the description verbatim, editing only for length, punctuation, and spelling.
- I enclose the description in quotations, and I attribute the description to the dealer, including the catalogue (or if not in a catalogue, by the date it was quoted to me).
- I never include the price.
And then the Twitter conversation ignited. So, go read the chime-ins from dealers and librarians on both sides of the Atlantic at the Storify archive.
The general consensus seems to be very positive -- dealers are happy to have their descriptions preserved and librarians are happy to include them. A win-win situation.
(On a related note, be sure to check out our occasional blogger Brooke Palmieri's post from last fall about scholarship and the rare book trade. She focuses in particular on the famous catalogues issued by E. P. Goldschmidt).