The ABAA and ILAB, Part 1 and 2
By Tom Congalton
ABAA headquarters recently received a letter, or perhaps more accurately, a petition in the form of a letter, signed by several ABAA members urging the Board of Governors to explore the relationship between the ABAA and ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers), and to clarify for the membership the costs and benefits of that relationship.
The letter, instigated and written in part by Peter Stern, as he revealed to me in conversation, was carefully neutral in its tone. However the underlying subtext seemed apparent: that at least some of the signatories were skeptical that the ABAA derived any or sufficient benefits from its association with ILAB when considering the costs involved.
As the American member of the ILAB Committee, that is, the eight-person group that oversees the day-to-day business of the League, I received a copy of the letter, and was engaged in the ensuing and very lively exchange that this letter engendered on the Board of Governors online discussion group, a group to which I am subscribed and allowed to participate.
In the course of that discussion it became clear that there exist certain misunderstandings about ILAB, and what ABAA’s representation is within that body, as well as how and from whom ILAB derives its funding, and for what it uses those funds.
I lay much of the cause of this confusion at my own door. As ILAB Committee member, I have a standing invitation to attend ABAA Board meetings, where I might have helped in ameliorating some of the obvious misunderstandings that seem to have been perpetuated. I admit that after ten consecutive years of attending ABAA Board meetings, for the past couple of years I have too often denied myself the pleasures and delights in attending these meetings. Mea culpa. I will remedy this in the future.
Before I address the costs and benefits, a short review of just what ILAB is, how it is governed, and how each member nation is represented seems in order. I apologize in advance (and once again), for what might seem needlessly technical, but it is necessary to understand the functioning of ILAB and the ABAA’s relationship to it.
ILAB is an organization of organizations, or an “umbrella organization”. Technically and organizationally, the actual members of ILAB are the national organizations that represent the antiquarian book trade in a specific country. In other words, ABAA is a member of ILAB, but my company, Between the Covers Rare Books, technically at least, is not. Between the Covers is what is known as a “member affiliate.” In practice, member firms do and are welcome to refer to themselves as “members of ILAB”. However, the firm Between the Covers does not have a vote at ILAB meetings. Between the Covers is represented at the League by the ABAA, most visibly at the ILAB Presidents’ Meeting, in the person of the ABAA President.
The day-to-day administration of the League is maintained by an eight-person Committee and the Executive Secretary of the League, Neveen Marchiset. However, important decisions, such as the annual budget, the location of Congresses, major alterations to the ILAB Website, etc. are submitted to, and voted on, by the Presidents of the ILAB member organizations.
The By-Laws of ILAB mandate that there be one Presidents’ Meeting and two Committee Meetings every year. Every other year, the Presidents’ Meeting is held in close proximity to the biennial ILAB Congress. On the alternate year, the meeting is hosted by one of the member associations. This past year, the Presidents’ Meeting was held in Vienna, hosted by the Austrian Association; this year it will be held in Bologna, hosted by the Italian Association, right before the ILAB Congress. The Committee Meetings are held, one right before the annual Presidents’ Meeting and the other usually in February or March.
Agenda questions contain proposals submitted by the member associations or by the Committee and are sent at least 60 days in advance. The four largest organizations, as determined by having 150 or more member affiliates, have two votes each; every other organization has one. The four national organizations that have two votes are ABAA, ABA (UK), SLAM (France), and DVA (Germany).
One clear and recurring misunderstanding is that the members of the ILAB Committee represent their home organization. When the letter or petition in question was received, it was referred to me as the “ABAA’s representative to ILAB”, but technically this is not so. ILAB Committee members are urged, repeatedly, to check their national biases at the door.
Practically of course, this is not entirely possible, or indeed to some degree desirable. An ILAB Committee member who cannot express the sentiments or mood of his or her own home organization might be of little efficacy. However, we do our best to think and act beyond the particular concerns of any one organization, or in other words, to see the other guys' point of view.
These technicalities dispensed with, let me now address the costs and benefits to ABAA as regards our membership in ILAB.
ILAB derives the overwhelming majority of its income from two sources: subscriptions and book fair levies. The subscription, or what in the ABAA we would call dues, is a charge of $33 per member affiliate per annum, paid by each member nation. The most recent figures I have, from 2008-2009, indicate that ABAA pays $14,124 in subscriptions, or $33 x 428 members. The total income to ILAB from subscriptions is $62,370. The ABAA’s portion amounts to 23.24% of that total, as we also have that percentage of the member affiliates in ILAB.
I should here note that ILAB budget figures are available on the members only section of the ILAB website.
The second and greater portion of ILAB’s income derives from book fair levies. The book fair levy (or as it would be referred to in the ABAA, booth tax) is a 2.5% surcharge on the cost of every ILAB sanctioned or affiliated book fair. If the booth fee for a book fair booth is $1000, each exhibitor is charged $25 by the promoter. If the book fee is $10,000, each exhibitor is charged $250 by the promoter, which the promoter, or if the national organization has collected it independently of a promoter, forwards to ILAB. The total income to ILAB from book fair levies is $105,500. Of that number $41,989, or 39.80 % is collected at ABAA book fairs.
It should probably be noted that the ILAB book fair levy was conceived and introduced by the ABAA, in order to strengthen the League.
Some have argued that this book fair levy represents a significant cost to the ABAA because the percentage of income to ILAB that comes from ABAA Fairs (we have three successful fairs, while most ILAB member nations have only one, or in the case of most of the smaller nations, no fairs at all) is out of proportion to the number of member-affiliates that ABAA has in ILAB.
This has made for some lively debate on the Board of Governors online discussion list about whether the “cost” of ABAA belonging to ILAB is either too great, or too disproportionate to that of other nations.
However, in the course of that debate it was pointed out, convincingly I think, that the book fair levy paid has never been part of the ABAA budget. It has never been available or asked for by the ABAA. The levy is a separate fee collected from individual booksellers who participate in the book fairs, regardless of their national affiliation, and forwarded to ILAB.
And although an argument can and has been made that this is a cost that is borne disproportionately by ABAA member affiliates, it should also be noted that the tax is levied on all book fair exhibitors, a significant number of whom - at the New York Book Fair often close to 40% - are not ABAA members, but foreign members of ILAB.
If one counts the cost of subscriptions to ILAB alone, as the ABAA budget does, then the cost of the ABAA belonging to ILAB accounts for 3.7% of the total ABAA budget.
I would urge you again to visit the members-only page to look at the ILAB budget for further information.
I think the benefits of the ABAA’s participation in ILAB are substantial. Here are some of them:
Philosophical: Membership in a body that unites the sellers of rare books and attempts to facilitate collegiality and joint understanding between diverse and often cacophonous and disparate elements of the trade. Our Latin motto, Amor Librorum Nos Unit means "The Love of Books Unites Us.”
In the course of the Board's online discussion of this subject, one Board member, and a signatory of the original letter noted: "We may not have much in common with our overseas brothers and sisters other than the fact we are all booksellers." I believe that this is precisely incorrect. Beyond ties of blood, there are few ties in my life that are stronger than those to other booksellers. If one takes the time to get to know booksellers from other countries, those ties often become immediately apparent. If one doesn't take the time, well, it doesn't matter if your overseas colleagues are plumbers or booksellers, you won't reap the benefits of that contact. But I'll address the social and trade benefits more below.
The philosophical reasons for the existence of ILAB, and the reasons for ABAA to belong to it, are perhaps the least tangible or provable. However, in many ways they are also the most important. Our recent admission of China and Russia to ILAB, while mildly controversial, is an example - the booksellers of other nations want to belong to ILAB and be united by mutual interests and trade, not just separated by national boundaries.
Associations in Hungary, the Ukraine, and Argentina are in nascent form, and while not quite ready to apply, are being formed with the expressed interest of joining ILAB.
A worldwide organization to promote the rare book trade is a natural outgrowth of the trade itself. If the ABAA were to lessen its participation in ILAB, it would not only greatly diminish the prestige of the League, but it would also lessen the prestige of the ABAA as well.
Ethical: ILAB maintains standards and a Code of Ethics (not coincidentally based on ABAA's own) and while the legal ramifications of enforcing them internationally can be mind-boggling, the moral implications are clear: transgress and your membership in your home association is in jeopardy. For practical purposes, this has been so.
Indeed when one of the signatories to the petition that has engendered the discussion, Peter Stern, recently had a complaint against an English dealer, he brought a complaint to ABA (the United Kingdom member), which was bound by ILAB practice to adjudicate it - he was paid and the dealer was censured. Peter maintains a sort of chummy "yeah, but that's the Brits" attitude, and his idea, as expressed to me in conversation, is that we could craft individual agreements with other nations, especially the English-speaking nations, for reciprocal courtesies. I do not see that as an improvement, and I rather doubt many others do either.
Presidents of ILAB nations are honor bound to address complaints from foreign colleagues, and for all practical purposes, they do so. These discussions are usually conducted on a President-to-President basis. They are generally, and appropriately, not widely publicized, but I have been witness to several, as both ABAA President, and as a Committee member, and they are usually effective.
Social: The various interactions, particularly at Congresses and ILAB sponsored book fairs, as well as at the official Presidents’ Meetings, and their attendant activities, create an atmosphere for dialogue and better understanding between dealers of many nations.
This is a pleasant thing in itself, but these social interactions can have many practical and business implications. In one instance, in conversation with a European autograph dealer with whom I had become friendly at an ILAB Congress, it became apparent that if he could include the item in his catalogue, he believed he could probably sell an expensive signed Mahler photo that I had in inventory, and that I had not been able to sell. In short order, he catalogued and sold it. He suggested that he take 5% of the net price as his commission. I suggested 20%. Now I have an ally.
Just a few days ago, I was considering buying a very expensive French book. Filtered through my "title-page French", and using Google translator, the book sounded like a superb copy. I emailed a Paris dealer, whom I had met at an ILAB Congress and become friends with, for advice, and promptly saved myself several thousand dollars after he translated or “interpreted" the dealer’s description for me. I am happy to advise foreign dealers who act reciprocally, and have on occasion helped them to collect debts from American clients.
These types of interactions have occurred many times for me. My specialty of modern first editions does not lend itself necessarily to interactions with non-English European dealers, but my participation in Congresses, as ABAA President, as a private "citizen", and obviously, as a Committee-member, has given me a broader understanding of my foreign fellows, opened up markets to me that I would otherwise find difficult to navigate, and generally helped to increase my business.
Plus ILAB functions such as the Congresses are fun! I urge anyone who can to attend the Congress in Bologna later this fall, which promises to be a wonderful event. I will be there, and would be, even if I weren’t on the Committee.
Additional Practical or Trade Considerations
The Internet: The ABAA pioneered the sale of rare books by professional dealers on the internet, and ILAB by necessity, with a very small budget at that time, piggybacked its own response on that effort, with the search engine, as you all know, provided by Rockingstone.
Just as ABAA has recently found a practical alternative to Rockingstone, so too has ILAB. For essentially the same amount that ILAB has been paying Rockingstone each year, ILAB has completely revamped the ILAB website, instituted a metasearch, and is in the process of cramming the website with rare book information. The metasearch, generously provided by Jim Hinck of ViaLibri, a member of both ABAA and SLAM, is essentially free to both the League and our member-affiliates. The League has a great deal of say in how it is run, and a contract with ViaLibri that provides us with the code, which could be easily transferred to another host, if ViaLibri was unable to function for any reason.
The cost to the ILAB dealers that were searched by Rockingstone is not completely known by us. This information was the proprietary business information of Rockingstone, which is a privately held company, and additionally we don't know what, if any, deals they might have made with individual dealers: some charges were based on the size of inventory. However, an average of about 550 ILAB members were searched by Rockingstone, approximately half of them were ABAA members.
However, I can estimate with some confidence that the amount paid by ILAB dealers to Rockingstone in order to be searched by Rockingstone on the ILAB search engine must have been about $500,000 EVERY YEAR. Remember, this was money paid to Rockingstone, not to ILAB.
With a one time payment ... ILAB has completely revamped the old website and provided a free metasearch. The costs to ILAB will drop dramatically to a small annual maintenance fee, plus the costs of whatever additional improvements we contract for, after this year. And we will be making improvements, as our budget allows.
As I write this, the metasearch has been up for less than two months, and already more ILAB members are being searched than were ever searched by the Rockingstone/ILAB search. We expect that number to increase dramatically as more dealers become aware of it.
We keep sending out emails, Newsletters, etc., but we can't force people to read and understand them and sign up for the ILAB metasearch. Probably word of mouth will do that, and we are fairly certain that ILAB will be searching at least 1000 ILAB dealers by this time next year. This will save ILAB dealers approximately $500,000 this year, and next year, and the year after that - you get the picture.
If you approximate that half of the searched dealers were ABAA members, that means that ABAA members who were being searched by ILAB using Rockingstone are now being searched by ILAB at a savings of somewhere around... well you do the math.
As an aside, when ILAB launched the metasearch, several rare book databases were reluctant to be searched by the ILAB metasearch. I guess this was because they either (a) thought that it would dilute their brand or undermine their sites; (b) were reluctant to do the programming necessary to isolate ILAB dealers from their general group of dealers in order for them to be searched; or (c) in several instances, wanted to be paid a fee to be searched by ILAB.
This made it harder for dealers that had books in only a single database to be searched if that one database was not compliant with the ILAB metasearch. I am happy to report that virtually every rare book database has now seen the light, and realizes it is in their best interest to isolate ILAB dealers in order to be searched by ILAB. Now every rare book database has complied at no cost to ILAB, except for ABE, which has however, recently agreed to comply and is currently doing the programming necessary to be searched by ILAB. Only Amazon is left out. Amazon is a different kettle of fish, and isn't really a rare books database, but we have instituted substantive contacts with them as well. What may come out of those contacts I can't say at this time.
Services: Before the increase in subscriptions (dues) proposed by the ABAA in 2000 (by me, in fact, as President), and the institution of the book fair levy, ILAB had a very small budget. Our entire infrastructure was the Committee: eight volunteers, busy booksellers all, who were partially reimbursed for travel (we still are partially reimbursed - it costs me money to go to every meeting, although happily, my air fare is reimbursed).
Now we have a part-time Executive Secretary, Neveen Marchiset (who also serves as our French translator, saving us a considerable sum), and a part-time Website Editor, Barbara Werner. They are sort of the equivalent of Susan Benne and Annie Mazes in the ABAA office. They both speak excellent English. They both work very hard, and are paid modestly (but don’t tell them that I said that). As you see when you look at the ILAB financials, salaries for these two people, who do much of the day-to-day work, are now one of our major expenses. They are worth it.
Neveen is largely responsible for the Newsletter, Directory, and for managing all of our online discussion groups and committee discussion groups. She does the day-to-day work of communicating with Committee, Presidents, and individual ILAB member-affilaites. As I write this, Neveen and Barbara just went to Avignon to meet with Marc Simon at Neteor, the website designer and host of the ILAB website, for another round of improvements for the website.
Incidentally both the search, provided by Jim Hinck at Vialibri, and Marc Simon of Neteor, who does the website, are Americans living in France: Marc full-time, and Jim part-time.
Barbara Werner has amassed a huge amount of material for the ILAB website, and indeed one of my latest problems as ILAB Internet Chair was dealing with our disappointment that the website wasn't being developed quickly enough for her to upload it all in time for our launch, a delay engendered mostly because of problems with the transfer of data to Neteor from our former webmaster.
Barbara is now working on the ABAA videos that Mike Ginsberg made, and plans to put up the first ten shortly. Incidentally, I watched and listened to all sixty of them, and contacted every interviewee for permission, and Mike is to be commended for this project. They are fascinating, and I hope they will drive additional traffic to the ILAB website.
Incidentally, ILAB's Google ratings are improving dramatically every week. Neteor is indexing everything on the site and Google is recognizing virtually everything at this point (and remember the site and metasearch were only launched about six weeks ago, as I write this).
Let me take a moment to curry sympathy for myself: the Committee itself works hard. I receive approximately 40 to 50 emails every day on ILAB business, most of which need to be considered and responded to, and I spend considerably more time on ILAB business than I ever did on ABAA business, including when I was President. This is not by choice. I'd be happy to molder away and just conduct my own business.
Representation outside of the Rare Book Trade: ILAB has just become a voting member of CINOA (Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d'Art – now you know why we just call it CINOA), an organization that represents the world's major antique and art dealers. They attempt to facilitate the passage of cultural artifacts between nations. CINOA maintains multiple government contacts and in some cases lobbyists in order to accomplish this.
Through the impetus of the Committee, the vote of the Presidents, and negotiations with CINOA, we have managed to get ILAB a new class of membership in CINOA - a sort of associate membership at a greatly reduced rate but with full voting rights. It should have cost us something like 35,000 Euros, but we were given membership for around 2,600 Euros, because CINOA wanted to be able to add the 1875 booksellers that ILAB represents to the roster of 5,000 art and antique dealers that they already represent.
It is getting increasingly more difficult to transfer "antique" material across international boundaries - in many cases defined as items that are 100 years old or more, and will continue to be so. Two new treaties: UNESCO and UNIDROIT, have been monitored, and in some cases altered due to CINOA influence. Our livelihood depends on this. We want and need to participate in assuring the relatively free flow of cultural artifacts in the future. ILAB is contributing to that effort.
Communications: ILAB has been issuing an annual directory, bi-annual Newsletters, and will soon be issuing monthly email bulletins. Work on the new ILAB Security website is almost completed. We are looking to institute members-only forums on the ILAB website, after the discussion group idea engendered some controversy.
Education: In the past few years, ILAB has, largely through Bob Fleck's influence with the Breslauer Fund, managed to endow the ILAB-LILA/Breslauer Bibliography Prize so that the interest from the endowment should fund the Prize in perpetuity. This used to be a considerable expense to ILAB every four years between the cost of the Prize itself, plus the cost of meetings of the jury. Now it is just an essentially free way to promote ILAB and the rare book trade outside of the community of dealers - to the librarians, scholars and collectors who are occasionally our customers.
So What’s Wrong with ILAB?
I started my service on the ABAA Board of Governors nearly 20 years ago, and I've periodically seen the sort of vague dissatisfaction with ILAB that seems to occasionally make the rounds of the ABAA, most recently as expressed in the letter that the Board received and that has necessitated this report.
A few times in the past I’ve heard ILAB referred to derisively as sort of a European dining club, and 20 years ago this may have been so. I imagine with the miniscule budget that ILAB had at the time, there was little else to do.
However, through the efforts of many people, and especially some ABAA dealers, including Rob Rulon-Miller, who revamped the ILAB Code of Ethics, and Bob Fleck who served two terms as President and escorted ILAB into the Internet era, the emphasis of ILAB has shifted from a largely fraternal or collegial group into a fully functioning trade organization; and with the help of a decent budget (only about 1/4 of the budget of the ABAA), ILAB now is in a position to do substantive things to promote the rare book trade, and IS doing these things. We are a small committee, but with the help of Neveen and Barbara, we get a lot done. Perhaps ILAB isn't communicating that fact efficiently enough, but there are only so many hours in the day.
I have also heard it said that the benefit’s of ILAB participation accrue mainly, or even only, to those dealers whose business is primarily international, and again, a couple of decades ago, this may have been true. It is no longer so. Of late, an increasing percentage of my own business has become international. And while I have already cited the advantages of dealing with international colleagues, my participation on the Committee of ILAB is the least of the reasons why this has become so. Between the pervasiveness of Internet buying, in combination with the recent weakening dollar, virtually all the ABAA colleagues I talk to exclaim about their greatly increased volume of overseas business. It seems clear that the rare book trade is likely to become more international rather than less so. Why would ABAA isolate itself from an organization that has been specifically formed to foster and facilitate that trade, just at the point in time when that organization can do the most good?
Additionally just as the trade in rare and valuable books has become more international, these kinds of books have also increasingly become a form of international currency, both easily portable and easily converted into cash over international boundaries. Rare book theft has become an international problem, and ILAB has had some notable successes in combating this. It will be even more so as the ILAB stolen books database becomes a reality, which should occur shortly - perhaps even before this article is published.
In response to the letter questioning the relationship of ABAA to ILAB, I have a question in response. What does ABAA want from its relationship with ILAB? ILAB is more than aware of the importance of ABAA within the League, and is doing its best to respond to ABAA needs, when those needs are made clear.
It should be remembered that the value of membership in an organization does not consist in the possession of that membership, but of the use we make of it. Participating in ILAB activities is not only pleasant and collegial, but is good business too.
The ABAA & ILAB, Another Viewpoint
[Placing the following in context, a letter was sent to the ABAA's Board of Governors, signed by 18 colleagues, requesting that the board and officers examine the association’s relationship to the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.]
Without prompting, I revealed to Tom Congalton and Adrian Harrington (ILAB Committee Member and ILAB President, respectively) that I was the instigator of this document, often referred to as a petition. While this term is accurate, it was framed as a request, not a demand. Others participated in its writing, and are among its signers, but the draft letter was not widely circulated for signing, and was sent only to a few colleagues so that it could be quickly forwarded to the board and officers for discussion at their February meeting. Of those to whom it was sent, three didn’t respond, but not one refused to add his name.
The question of the ABAA-ILAB relationship has surfaced numerous times over the years, but what brought it up again was that Sandy Smith--Show Manager of the New York Book Fair--mentioned last summer that the ILAB booth tax comprised part of the New York booth fee increase. I concede that, given the cost of this fair, this amount is negligible, but nevertheless, it made an impression on me. The foolish, childish, and insulting responses of many ILAB colleagues (admittedly, a small sampling) to the nearly still-born ILAB listserv spurred me to begin this letter.
Those involved in composing this letter were not close to agreement on the topic. I will claim some credit, however, for encouraging its neutral tone. More than one of my co-conspirators accused me of being “passive.” This characterization has not been applied to me in living memory, and I hope never to hear it again. I disclaim that I am a spokesman for others, ad hoc or otherwise, but I am pressed into service here primarily by Tom, who insisted that I share his suffering, and respond to his comments, which he has fairly supplied me in advance of their publication.
This letter was, aside from a request for discussion, a plea for clarity and explanation, and Tom has provided this in his message, particularly regarding the structure of the ILAB, about which he is especially informative. He also leaves no doubt in my mind that the ILAB committee is dedicated and hard-working.
I have always been a fan, and through his descriptions of co-owned books, also a beneficiary of Tom’s prose. Brevity has never been his strong suit, nor has it been my own, but I will at least attempt to be brief. [Looking at this later, I have clearly failed. – P.S.]
Basically, I look at this as two issues: is the ILAB worth belonging to? If so, is it appropriately financed?
This is, if I say so myself, a fine approach, but I’ll violate it immediately by taking up the second part first.
I am aware that the ILAB booth tax was originally proposed by the ABAA leadership. It was initially modest enough that it was barely noticed, but is higher now, and noticed. Is there any bar to it being raised further? For my part, that possibility (or inevitability) is less important than justifying the tax itself. Through the haze of years, I recollect that if I wasn’t the father of the ABAA booth tax (as ABAA Secretary and head of the Book Fair Committee), I was at least an enthusiastic supporter. However, the purpose or rationale for this fee was not simply to raise money for our treasury, although it proved to be very useful in that regard. The ABAA assumed financial liability for these fairs, and as a matter of fact, was called upon more than once to provide seed money to get fairs off the ground. If we were on the hook for a loss, then it made sense for us to also seek gain, if for no other reason than to provide revenue to offset potential financial reverses.
The ILAB has no such liability. Suppose that it’s renamed a “franchise tax.” Is this ILAB franchise worth this fee? In my opinion, it is not. If we held the ABAA New York Fair, rather than an ILAB sanctioned fair, would dealers refuse to exhibit? I think not.
While it is true that ILAB members who do our fairs also pay this tax, given the number and size of these events, it is paid overwhelmingly by our membership.
It has also been claimed that should we withdraw from the ILAB, our own members could not exhibit at international fairs. On the contrary, our association would be free to enter into agreements with counterparts abroad, or, for that matter, with the ILAB itself. We could agree with other organizations to maintain the same application
and fee terms on a reciprocal basis, or we could charge more and favor our own members, as our governors or local committees deem fit, although, in my view, a free and open market should be favored. If other parties violate this policy or these agreements, we would be free to respond immediately and decisively.
This stance has been characterized as “isolationist.” At one time, membership in the ILAB might have been an essential factor in successfully dealing internationally. However, the Internet, e-mail, delivery services, travel, and phones have shrunk this world.
The ILAB was of no help in my own ethics complaint against an ABA member (in all fairness, their help was not sought). While it is true that ILAB Presidents are meant to arbitrate disputes between members of their respective associations, there was no dispute in this case. The ABA would have been obligated to deal with an ethical
and fiduciary breech whether I was an American ILAB colleague or a rice farmer in Thailand. Furthermore, even should these national presidents determine a just solution, there are no sanctions to assure that these decisions are implemented. The ILAB in such cases is toothless and often useless. Worse yet, it might be harmful in claiming to colleagues and the public its dedication and enforcement as to accuracy, fairness and protection, while actually providing little.
By the way, as this incident has been brought up by Tom, I must add that our own President, Stuart Bennett, was a stalwart, and very helpful in seeing that my own complaint was seen to promptly. I have no negative comments regarding the ABA’s process or result, which was decisive, quick and satisfactory.
So far as the philosophical and social considerations are concerned, these are as difficult to argue against as motherhood and apple pie, but I am skeptical. There is no way to quantify such supposed benefits; these nebulous, well-intentioned points can only be judged emotionally. I am fond of and friendly with many colleagues, some of
them in other countries, who belong to no bookselling organizations in which I am a member. It has been touted with great pride that the Chinese and Russians have been brought into the ILAB fold. Reading the Economist, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, it is no secret that much larger trades and corporations than our own are
poorly and unfairly treated in those countries. If the ILAB is our only trade access to the world beyond our borders, then we are in a more precarious state than already evident.
As to communication, the ILAB can only improve on the miserable experience of their collapsed listserv.
The ILAB’s new web initiatives have been widely praised, but others more familiar with this ought to be consulted. I’m still struggling to understand how a light bulb works.
A penultimate thought: if it is determined that our ILAB membership is justified, each constituent member of a national association ought to pay the same as every other member, whether they operate in Italy, Japan or Alabama. I know it’s easy for me to say, as it is unlikely to be instituted, but I would be willing to pay the $100.00 or however much in ILAB dues is necessary for each association member to contribute to this organization’s operating budget.
A final (for now) thought on a way to consider this: If we, the ABAA, were not already a member, and were considering joining the ILAB, would we do it?
The articles are published in the ABAA Newsletter 4 (Winter 2010), and is presented here by permission of Peter Stern and Tom Congalton.