A brave new world for the bookshop

We are rebuilding our online bookshop. Yes, I know, not exactly raising the Mary Rose or rebuilding Iron Age crannogs at Loch Kenmore, but exciting for us. We are booksellers, we don’t get out much.

The Colossus electronic digital computer

The Colossus electronic digital computer (catalogue reference: FO 850/234)

You are going to love it. I know what you will say. I do understand, really. Anything new is suspect. I speak as one who has moved cities three times and countries twice rather than find a new best friend. You get used to them. They have their quirks, it would be great if they ever turned up on time or remembered that you don’t have pierced ears (four birthday presents in past years) but I know the good bits too and they are so worth it and the thought of learning a new set of idiosyncrasies is far, far too frightening. I simply don’t have the energy. Far easier to dig out the boxes, pack up the stuff and call in the movers. However this is not a person, this is a only website and you can do it, have faith in yourself. You can even look forward to it. Later this summer there will be a Brave New World in The National Archives’ bookshop.

We are planning to keep the good bits of our existing site and, with any luck, keep our loyal customers too. All those of you who through the years have persisted with the current system, you will be rewarded. The new site will be so easy to use you will be able to buy books in your sleep thereby freeing up more time for reading.

We are keeping the content pretty much the same: a mix of British history, genealogy and military history titles with new titles, classics and a fair sprinkling of irresistible bargains. We are also trying to bring the online and the on site shop closer together, to spread some of the love from our little bit of Kew into the cold hard world of the internet. Hitherto we have had a fraction of our stock online and to be fair when we launch it will be ever thus but, over time, and hopefully not too slowly (we are no slouches in cataloguing) we will move closer to mirroring our on site and online book stocks with a great range of titles for those interested in reading and researching our past. We won’t stock everything though; both shops will continue to pick and choose, to select the best titles in the field (yes I really mean the ones we like) in the areas we think will be of greatest interest to our customers. What this means to you is that you won’t need to wade through hundreds of titles (how do some of them get published?) to find something worth reading on the Battle of Loos or good advice on tracing your Mormon ancestors.

Patent for moving bookstand

Patent for moving bookstand (catalogue reference: C 73/26 m20)

The place I think we will stand out in is in how we will arrange our shelves. In the shop we have this already. If you’ve visited us you know. You can walk over to the First World War section, scan the shelves and, wonderful, there are the books on Gallipoli, nicely arranged together so you don’t have to stretch too far. Naturally this is provided that a random shelf-boggart hasn’t been through and moved things, and if you are that shelf-boggart – Shame on You! Those shelves don’t arrange themselves you know. I find it calming to sort by campaign and Mike has been known to hum as he tidies the maps but we do it for you, so you can find what you want quickly, we know you are busy.

Anyway, with the nice people from Nitrosell (our software supplier) we have, we think, found a way to make our online shelves nice and tidy too (and safe from boggarts). Books are shelved in sections and grouped by theme. They are arranged by people who care and who know the difference between the Middle Ages and the 1960s (not so much as you might think) and have taken the trouble to arrange the books by subject and not just by keyword so you won’t miss a vital tome just because the author picked a witty and clever title instead of calling his book English History from 1550-1630.

We will have other features too. To quote the Bard, ‘I will do such things—. What they are yet I know not, but they shall be. The terrors of the earth’. However, I’m not going to tell what they are yet – you must wait. Embrace delayed gratification. Visit the online bookshop in a month or so and be amazed.

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