50 YEARS OF ABAJ AND THE CHALLENGES ILAB HAS TO FACE AT PRESENT
This year, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Japan (ABAJ) celebrates its 50th anniversary. On this occasion the Japanese rare book dealers invited colleagues and bibliophiles from all across the world to meet in Tokyo for an International Antiquarian Book Fair in March 2015. ILAB President Norbert Donhofer officially opened the fair on 5th March together with ABAJ President Masaji Yagi and ILAB Member of Honour Mitsuo Nitta in a traditional ribbon cutting ceremony. In his speech he thanked ABAJ for its various contributions to ILAB within the past 50 years and spoke about the present challenges ILAB has to face.
A Speech by ILAB President Norbert Donhofer
Dear Mr President, Mr President of Honor, Members of the ABAJ, dear colleagues and friends,
As President of ILAB I am deeply honored by the kind invitation of the ABAJ – thank you very much. I appreciate this invitation even more as this is the first time since my election as President that I am able to attend a ceremonial event. The normal activities are much more unpleasant: to deal with thefts, fakes, or Amazon.
Let me have a short look back into the history of the ABAJ. When the association was founded by ten booksellers in 1964 there were several reasons to do so. On the one hand the Japanese economy was booming, and Japan had become an important force in the global market for antiquarian books. On the other hand Japan had opened up to the whole world. This led to a huge demand for academic and scientific publications, and from the mid 1960’s onwards newly founded Universities – around 200 up to the mid 1970’s – also wished to build up rare book collections.
Soon after its foundation the ABAJ applied for membership with ILAB, and was unanimously elected as its 15th member during the General Meeting in Stuttgart in 1965. Since that date, the ABAJ and its members have played an important role in the international antiquarian book trade. Not only were they buyers of rare and valuable books, or suppliers of academic publications to Japanese libraries, but they also built up invaluable contacts with other countries in South East Asia. This led to the election of Korea as the 18th member of ILAB during the Congress of 1990 in Tokyo, and to the establishment of the Hong Kong Antiquarian Book Fair in 2007. Although the election of China as a member of ILAB had to be suspended due to governmental problems, I am very sure that, with the help of the ABAJ and its members, we will be able to solve this matter in the nearer future.
So far the ABAJ has organized two ILAB Congresses: the 22nd Congress and the 5th International Book Fair in 1973; and the 30th Congress and the 13th International Book Fair in 1990 – both in Tokyo. In addition to these major events, the ABAJ also hosted an ILAB Committee Meeting in 1981 in Kyoto, and members of the ABAJ have also served in the Committee of ILAB.
The present time is totally different to these booming years in the second half of the 20th century. It seems as if the whole world is recovering slowly from economic turbulence, that longstanding political and economic strategies seem to have collapsed, and concrete answers are scarce from the governing authorities. Only renewed effort and strategic planning will help to overcome the troubling effects of nationalism, war and terrorism.
However, ILAB continues to persevere. We will join the UNESCO “World Book and Copyright Day” on April 23rd in 2015, and affiliates from all around the world have agreed to organize Pop Up Fairs on either unexpected or popular and highly frequented places. The idea is simply to show the public more about our profession. The ILAB internship program, which was established in 2011, helps to educate a new generation of booksellers, and it helps those taking on an intern to build up invaluable contacts for the future.
I am not going to bother you with all the details of the massive thefts in the Girolamini library in Naples but it seems that we have made some progress since ILAB had addressed a note of protest to the Italian authorities. We are far away of a sort of cooperation with them but we are in permanent contact with the prosecutors. ILAB will also organize a conference on “Security and Protection of Cultural Property” at the end of March in Milan, and we have invited librarians, journalists, investigating authorities, and prominent persons like Umberto Eco to this workshop.
Our profession continues to change rapidly, and although I am sure that it is ILAB, its members and affiliates who show the way forward in the world of rare books, I am also confident that multiple challenges are ahead of us. It is therefore important to show the public, the customers, and the librarians that it is us, ILAB booksellers, whom they can trust. It is also evident that all of us have to work hard to regain the confidence of our customers, confidence that was seriously damaged by all the reports about thefts and fakes during the past couple of years, and I trust that the ABAJ and its members will join us in our efforts.
On behalf of ILAB, its members and all of its affiliates I want to express my deepest thanks for what the ABAJ and its members have done for, our profession, and the international trade with antiquarian books. Furthermore I wish the ABAJ all the best on occasion of its 50th anniversary!
Norbert Donhofer, President of ILAB