Book detective Toby Wools-Cobb will help find that lost book

1 July 2022

It sounds like a scene from Adam Brooks’ 2008 film Definitely Maybe, where Ryan Reynolds’ character trawls through American bookshops, searching for a particular copy of Jane Eyre. But for Launceston, Tasmania, based bookshop owner Toby Wools-Cobb, it is something the self-professed book detective does all the time.

Mr Wools-Cobb uses the investigative skills from his career as a librarian and the archaeological expertise from his studies in Egyptology to find copies of books from his shop, Quixotic Books. Special algorithms help him scan the millions of titles listed in publisher databases, but he also must understand the “life cycle of books to figure out where they may have ended up”.

Some of Wools-Cobb’s clients are people who sold a little-known book, perhaps at a garage sale, and are trying to locate it years later. And incredibly, he often succeeds in tracking down a copy.

“I managed to find some information that the author had partnered with a book chain to do a promotion,” he said. He tracked down the shop and asked the staff if any promotional stock had been left behind in the storeroom. “They were saying, ‘Oh, we don’t have it in stock on our system’, but sure enough, they go out and sheepishly come back and say, ‘We’ve got a whole box of them’.