'The Most Agreeable Servants of Civilization', Booksellers and Librarians in a Changing World – A Conference Report
By Barbara Hince
Three categories of people attended the recent joint conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB) and the National Library of Australia, held in Canberra on 19 and 20 May 2014 – librarians, booksellers and collectors. Its title was 'The Most Agreeable Servants of Civilization', Booksellers and Librarians in a Changing World. You can see the program at www.anzaab.com.
The organisers were pleased to find that a hundred people enrolled for the two day event. The natural audience was librarians and booksellers, but, in an inspired move, the conference was also open to book collectors and the general public. When he opened the program, ANZAAB's President Jorn Harbeck explained that the aim was to offer some education and to strengthen relationships. Speakers came from the fields of bibliography, photography, librarianship, book collecting, bookselling and conservation. Dr Shef Rogers from the University of Otago presented a morning session on bibliography, covering terms of the trade, format, collation, bindings and provenance with engaging and practical tuition.
The afternoon was given over to photography and the book, with speakers including Philip Jackson on woodbury types, Robert Holden on the camera in war, Nicolas Peterson on aboriginal images, and Warwick Reeder on the landscape photography of John Eaton. Facebook has already taught us about selfies, but from Dr. Doug Spowart we learnt the buzzword shelfies, photos of our own shelves. Such a thing is appealing, since many of us identify ourselves by the type of books we enjoy and collect rather than by other aspects of our persona.
Tom Congalton (Between the Covers) and Dan de Simone (Folger Shakespeare Library) offered an American perspective on libraries and the trade, via Skype. A panel of dealers and librarians answered questions on notice. Apart from talking about their favourite books, which in the case of the dealers was either the one they'd just sold or the one they were about to buy, they talked about why the condition of items is paramount especially since they need to be suitable for exhibition, and about the importance of provenance. Mick Treloar gave a compelling talk demonstrating the dual benefits of research in specialist areas– a marriage of adding to the commercial value as well as contributing to the sum total of book scholarship.
The conference concentrated largely on the intellectual rather than the commercial value of books, but there was also a pop-up fair that allowed the booksellers to make sales. And a second opportunity to admire and discuss came through the Library's display of highlights and favourite items from the pictures, maps, manuscript and rare books collections.
The Library also presented optional evening talks. The first was interviews with three of Australia's best known booksellers, Kay Craddock, Anne McCormick, and Nicholas Pounder, who spoke about their own paths into bookselling and their experiences in the trade. The second was Nicolas Barker and John Baxter, respectively editor of The Book Collector, and author (including the memoir A Pound of Paper): both long-standing collectors. Nicolas Barker gave a scan of book collecting over the past five decades, and John Baxter spoke about his bower bird habits. From quite different perspectives, they shared the conviction that bookselling and book collecting will continue to survive and adapt. As Barker said in his conclusion:
“I don't collect books, books collect me”.
Published by permission of the author and ANZAAB. Pictures: ANZAAB.