One of the biggest changes in the 40 years that I’ve been an art librarian is in the ease of locating out-of-print books to purchase for the library’s collection. In the old days (pre-Internet), librarians needed phenomenal memories and endless amounts of time. We would identify titles that we wanted to buy and then try to match them with offerings from favored dealers through scanning the printed catalogs or slips sent to us by dealers. Many were the hours that I perused dealers’ catalogs looking for specific titles—usually without success.
The reason I needed the o.p. work would vary. Sometimes it was an item that had been checked out and not returned—or possibly returned damaged—and I needed to replace it in the collection. Sometimes it was to support a newly hired faculty member whose specialty was new to our institution. Occasionally, it was simply a title that I missed buying when it was first published in a short print run.
My current process for finding an o.p. book is to look through one of the booksearch engines like addall.com, biblio.com, or bookfinder.com. These meta-searches will often include not only individual dealers but also sources such as Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris, and European resources like ZVAB, Antiqbooks, Livre-Rare-Book. When searching, you can usually indicate your binding choice, price range, and even condition restrictions. The resulting list of offerings will usually be arranged by price and you need to have some criteria in mind when making a selection. My institution wants the condition to be Very Good or above and needs to have the vendor accept a credit card payment. I prefer not to have other library’s markings in the books that I buy and I definitely don’t want underlining and highlighting. Having a book jacket in pristine condition will usually raise the price but is irrelevant to a library that routinely discards the jacket during processing. I also look at the shipping cost since a cheaper book may have a high shipping rate. When prices and conditions are similar, I will select a vendor who specializes in art books—especially those whom I’ve met at ARLIS/NA conferences.
Very occasionally, I will not be able to find a copy at a price or condition that I want to buy. At that point, I would consider contacting a specialist art book dealer and asking them to “search” for a copy using my criteria and alert me if they find one. This process can be lengthy so I only do this when the title will have lasting value for the collection.
Finding o.p. art books is so-o-o much easier now that it used to be and my library’s collection is the better for it.
Susan Craig, University of Kansas. August 2014.