By Jill Ball © 2021.
Does the excitement you feel when you find a promising reference to a book suddenly disappear when you are unable to locate a copy?
On rare occasions we can simply beg, buy or borrow a copy of that book but often it takes some sleuthing to track a tome down. In this post I will discuss some of the places where you may be able to find that elusive title.
In many cases we cannot examine the book we wish to purchase before investing our hard-earned cash. It is wise to borrow and examine a book before committing to purchase. Many of the books we seek will not be new but older books found in reference lists or bibliographies in journal particles, blog posts or other books.
In order to be organised and have a list of what you wish to procure at your fingertips I suggest using a spreadsheet or document to record your list of desiderata. This can be saved to your phone or mobile device so that you can access it whenever you are near a collection of books for sale. I also have a collection of the books I have read saved to Librarything to prevent purchasing duplicate copies.
Friends may have copy of the book you wish to borrow. Following the guidelines in this article, 15 Rules For Borrowing Books, So You Don’t Lose Your Friends In The Process, will earn you a reputation as a model borrower and ensure that you will be able to borrow more books from your friends.
I love libraries! Over the years I have saved hundreds of dollars by borrowing books from libraries in which I have worked, I could have saved more if I visited local libraries more often than haunting book shops.
Since eBook services came online in Public Libraries I have borrowed and read nearly two hundred books on my list, including After this : survivors of the Holocaust speak, Esther : the extraordinary true story of the First Fleet girl who became first lady of the colony and Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends: Tales from a Colonial Coroner’s Court.
These days most libraries have their catalogues online. Rather than searching many individual catalogues you can search in the Books and Libraries catalogue on Trove which, as well as listing the holdings of public libraries, lists collections in universities, institutions and other organisations such as The Society of Australian Genealogists. Another Union Catalogue that lists books from libraries all around the world is Worldcat. Once you have located your book you can approach the holding institution and request an interlibrary loan or lookup. You may find Union Catalogues like Canada’s National Union Catalogue in other countries.
A Google search will assist you in locating catalogues of libraries that are not included on Trove or Worldcat.
The Librarything Platform on which many individuals and organisations list their holdings is not a Union Catalogue but a social media platform for books. You can do a search on Librarything for an item you wish to find in the whole database or in an individual collection. While you may not be able to borrow the item the person or organisation that has a copy might allow you to visit and look at the work or do a lookup for you.
Among the Family history groups that have their resources listed on Librarything are Cairns & District Family History Society, Narre Warren & District Family History Group, Cooroy-Noosa Genealogical and Historical Research Group and Lake Macquarie Family History Group. It is likely that you will find copies of books on Librarything that you cannot find elsewhere. I suggest that any genealogy group or genealogist that does not have their books online and properly catalogued should consider using this free platform.
Purchasing New Books
If the book is new and in print there should be no impediment to purchase except perhaps exorbitant cover prices and shipping costs. Prior to purchase I would want to peruse this Australian title, Family History and Historians in Australia and New Zealand : Related Histories, to be published last year at the princely price of $252 hardback. I hope a library near me can stretch their budget to purchase it.
There are very few on the street retailers in Australia that have large inventories of new genealogy books, one retailer based outside Adelaide, Gould Genealogy and History has a decent collection for sale on their premises. Several Genealogy Societies have limited collections in their bookshops, GSQ has 32 assorted titles listed while The SAG has a longer list.
New titles we wish to find may not be genealogy titles, they may be local histories, biographies, fictional accounts, memoirs, or histories of organisations and institutions. There are many independent booksellers in Australia that are likely to have copies of locally produced works. Newsagents, museums, historical and family history societies in rural areas may have local books for sale.General booksellers like Angus and Robertson, Dymocks and QBD also have online facilities.
There is a long list of local and overseas retailers that will supply to Australia. I’ve had good service from Booktopia in Australia that claims to have 6 million titles for sale and the Book Depository that offers free shipping to Australia. At times I have purchased several eBooks from Amazon which has an extensive genealogy collection.
If you can’t locate a work in a retail outlet you can contact the publisher who may also have copies for sale.
You can also source new facsimile copies of out of print works through various copy direct services from larger libraries. I have not used the copies direct service from our National Library but I have purchased a facsimile copy of a poetry book written by a family member from the 60,024 titles in The British Library Historical print editions available through the Book Depository.
Purchasing Secondhand Books
One needs a strong measure of patience when seeking copies of secondhand books. If you are desperate to find a book immediately it is worth approaching established online secondhand or antiquarian book dealers. Australian dealer Berkelouw has a long list of rare books while ABE Books list books not only from Australia but overseas. I noticed several recently published genealogy titles at World of Books.
If you are not in a hurry then check your desiderata list regularly at Brotherhood Books, an online charity bookstore. Another online charity bookstore is from Save the Children, unfortunately this site does not have a good search capability.
Genealogy groups in your area may have secondhand books for sale at their premises or online, The Society of Australian Genealogists has a listing of used books for sale on their website as does my local group at Lake Macquarie.
Queensland Genealogist Jacqui Brock set up a successful Facebook Group, Family History and Genealogy Buy, Swap and Sell where members can list items for sale or post details of titles they wish to acquire. One of the 2,300 members of this group may be able to help you locate an elusive work.
A search on the eBay or Gumtree sites might also prove successful for you. At the time of writing there were 185 titles for sale in the “Genealogy Australia – Non-Fiction Category” on eBay.
Since late last century many organisations and institutions have embarked on digitising projects in which they located out of print books, digitised them and put them on websites that could be accessed freely or for a small fee by members of the public. A few years ago I was wanting a copy “Of Old Scottish Clockmakers” so I put the title of this book into Google and discovered a link to archive.org from which I was able to download a copy that mentioned my ancestors thus obviating the need for me to purchase a copy.
Although Google Books indexes many titles you may not find mention of the one you are seeking there. When seeking a particular title it is worth searching directly in one of these sites: Familysearch Digital Library, Free Irish eBooks, The Genealogy Gophers Index, The Hathi Trust, The Internet Archive, Project Gutenburg and The Rare Book Room, Your National Library of Australia card will give you access to the EBSCO eBook Collection.
If you want it – Share it
Compile a list of books that you want and share it. Ask around your friends, mention it to people in your genealogy society and post the details on social media.
Editors note: A special thanks to Jill Ball for agreeing to be a GSQ guest blogger. Jill Ball reserves the right to publish or repurpose this article elsewhere in print or on the web