Weirdos like me
For more than a decade now (which is to say centuries in Internet time), individuals and companies have been making a living by scanning hard-to-find publications and putting them out on CD-ROM. The daddy of them all is Archive CD Books, with franchisees in the US, Canada, Australia, Britain and Ireland. The connections between the territories are fraternal but loose: local knowledge is absolutely vital to identify which titles might be of interest to researchers.
In Ireland, the brand (archivecdbooks.ie) is run by Eneclann, a Trinity College spin-off company also well known for its research and archival work and its partnership with FindMyPast.ie. The Trinity connection is extremely useful, since TCD Library has had a right of legal deposit since the Act of Union in 1800. In theory, then, the Library could have a copy of everything published in Britain or Ireland since 1801. Reality, as ever, falls a bit short. But there are still many, many wonderful things – ephemeral local directories, rare printed genealogies, valuations, biographies, pamphlets, surveys … and Eneclann/Archive CD Books have dug up many treasures for researchers.
Now, in an act of commendable pragmatism, Eneclann have begun to convert their CDs to downloadable PDFs, and dropped their prices to reflect the cheaper distribution costs. See eneclann.ie/acatalog/New_download_releases.html for what they’ve converted so far.
But as a business model, doesn’t the whole arrangement look a bit dated? Isn’t it all out there in The Cloud somewhere? Surely the problem with selling PDF versions of hard-to-find books is that very little is actually hard to find any more? Emphatically not true. Maybe eventually everything ever printed will be instantly available. In the meantime, there are still weirdos like me who actually want a full copy of all 800 pages of The Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon, 1832, and want it now. Our time is at hand.
['Irish Roots archive from 2009 at www.irishtimes.com/ancestor/magazine/column]