QOTD: small books

From Larry McMurtry’s reminiscences as a bookseller: Books: a memoir.

At Booked Up one of our favorite eccentrics was a gentleman we called the “little book” man.

Once or twice a year this customer would show up at the shop with a ruler and work his way around the main room, measuring the books.

He was not cheap in the least, and seemed to have no exact height limit. Every time he showed up he spent $2,000 at least, and often more. He never said much – indeed, I can’t recall him sayinganything. But he always went away carrying a box of short books. [Books: a memoir, p 138]

I mentioned this to Thom Hickey yesterday in the context of an ongoing conversation about bibliographic data and the size of books.
The dimensions of a book are an important piece of metadata for some; if you are shipping books it is useful to know in advance what size they are. It also provides an example of how requirements can change over time. I was talking to somebody involved in an offsite storage facility a while ago where they had to measure incoming books who said that it would be so nice if they consistently knew the heights of the books from the metadata.
I wonder what they guy wanted the short books for 😉

5 thoughts on “QOTD: small books”

  1. We can never predict all the metadata we’ll ever need. But one thing this says to me, is that when you DO need to analyze more metadata — RECORD it and SHARE it.
    What if that off-site storage facility, that needed to measure all the books ANYWAY (and presumably record them somewhere, probably in a custom database), instead had software that integrated into their workflow and made sure to add the measurements to the MARC record — and that these new fields were then shared back with Worldcat. And automatically updated on everyone elses copy of that worldcat record. (Both of which would require worldcat infrastructure that works a bit different than it does now, to do all these things automatically).
    Then, NEXT time someone ELSE needed the measurements on those particular books — they’d have em.
    But I can almost guarantee that’s NOT what happened. Just one of many examples of people spending expensive human time making metadata determinations, and then NOT persistent recording and sharing them. So next time, someone else has to do the whole expensive thing all over again.
    (Of course, this particular example is made more complicated by the fact that we use the same Worldcat record for several different physical packages that may have different measurements, like paperback and hardcover on the same record.)

  2. Marginally related… In the earliest days of the mail order catalogs (Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, etc.), many of the publications were larger in footprint (height and width of cover, not thickness of the book) than they are today, or in recent times. Some were tabloid size when flat (11×17). Over time, though, there was an ongoing “one-down-man-ship” race for the catalogs to have a smaller footprint. What the publishers found was that in households with multiple catalogs, the larger ones got put on the bottom of the pile; smallest catalog on top. Eventually, they stopped shrinking at about the size they are now. But I found that to be an interesting bit of trivia about why book dimensions might “matter” beyond simply being large enough to house the words.

  3. Jonathan, you pointed out a few examples of issues with your own suggestion. Another one is it would have to be restricted to monographs, and other usually singly bound pieces.

    Libraries have a habit of binding the differently sized pieces that publishers send us together. Our local use requires us to know the physical size of the bound volume but the materials bound together may easily exceed a 10 cm. difference.

    I have seen too many serials titles have their size changed because they were bound with something larger, although the entire serial run (1st title) was all of the same size and appreciably smaller than the other title it was bound with.

    This is locally important metadata but it is a outright lie more globablly.

  4. Perhaps the “little book” man was a collector of miniature books, defined as having a spine height of three inches or less. I once received a large collection of miniature books as a gift to a library. Several hundred of them easily fit into a standard 1.5 cubic foot archives box.

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