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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
New hi-tech world of bookshops
Secondhand book sellers are taking to the internet
The magic of the dusty secondhand bookshop where treasures lie waiting to be discovered, is in danger of vanishing forever.

Since 2001, the number of secondhand bookshops in the UK and Ireland has halved.

There were more than 1,200 such shops four years ago. Today, there are just about 600.

In Northern Ireland, Joseph Leckey, bookseller, shut the door on his Saintfield shop last March after 40 years in the business. Now he has set up in a corner of a comfortable room.

"You want to see how a modern bookseller operates? You need a very small corner of a comfortable room, your computer, your desk, telephone and preferably a lovely view across County Down for 30 miles to the Mourne mountains," he said.

If there is an antiques shop or a book shop in Northern Ireland in five years' time, it will be in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Joseph Leckey

Mr Leckey has swapped the high street, for the internet and his book selling website.

"We were one of the first websites in Ireland. We have 6,500 books listed on it," he explained.

Orders go out all over the world "from Saintfield to Shanghai".

The move made sense. The overheads on the high street had become enormous, he said. In 10 years, he paid more than 40,000 in rent.

"That's a lot of books," he said.

But there is a note of sorrow in his prediction about the future of secondhand book and antique shops across Northern Ireland.

"The market is changing and I think that if there is an antiques shop or a bookshop in Northern Ireland in five years' time, it will be in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum."

People like Ruairi O'Boyle and Mary Denvir are hoping he is wrong.

Mr O'Boyle, a freelance archaeologist, enjoys the atmosphere of the secondhand bookshop run by Ms Denvir on Belfast's University Road.


"It is a Pandora's Box, there's always the hope of finding a gem you have been looking for for years," he explained.

And, he points out, you don't get to handle books and dip into them, when you order them over the net.

Ms Denvir just loves what she is doing. Every day she is meeting people, talking about books, learning something new. She would like to keep on trading in her world of high shelves and dusty volumes.

Artist and antiquarian Graham Ovenden has spent a large part of his adult life rummaging in bookshops.

Between the leaves of old books, he has found 19th century treasures like the earliest known photo of Lewis Carroll and the letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

"Rossetti's handwriting was quite broad and really rather handsome," he said.

However, the joy of coming upon a real treasure or merely whiling away an afternoon pottering in an old bookshop may some day be confined to the history books.

Book swap hits streets
17 Aug 03 |  Manchester


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