Report from the Front – Carol in Colorado

Carol Brussel from Laura Nevada’s Library is liveblogging from the 29th Annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar.

8.9.07 –
i confess i started the latest range war. yes, the book seminar today was chock full of great presentations and fabulously helpful information, particularly for the internet-selling-impaired. we began by hearing from kevin johnson, who gave up a career with the CIA but not the period eyeglasses, in order to become a fabulously successful bookseller, one who makes ten million per year. this is to give us hope about our future in the biz. all you have to be able to do is buy thousands of fabulous books, cozy up to famous booksellers and buy their spare buildings at a low cost, and then sell them books out of it. this is probably all made possible by advanced surveillance skills.

fast forward to the afternoon, from whence cometh the feud between the jets and the sharks. we all know the cattlemen hate the sheep men, and vice versa. during the open forum, someone mentioned problems with FOL sales. it turns out the crowd is heavily salted with FOL officials. i did know this, having cornered the president of the national FOL organization (“Friend of Friend of Libraries”) immediately upon her arrival at the seminar, possibly before she was even registered, when I shared with her a piece of my mind that i could not spare. specifically, i mentioned my unhappiness with book listings that say, in their entirety, “Your purchase benefits the blah blah city library.” you’ve seen ’em. no mention of an actual book, vulgar as that appears to be. or its condition or description or RFID number or something else useful. nope, just the argumentum ad misericordiam, give us money for our library.
an admirable request, surely, but. in the big wide world of bookselling, those of us who actually pick up a book and describe the book (“as object”) surely resent losing sales to – you know – them. she wisely promised to inform her constituency of this minor quibble. so this afternoon, when others began to mention difficulties with FOL sales, i arose from my pre-five-o-clock caffeine stupor (how can i be a real bookseller if i am longing for latte instead of scotch and soda?) and pointed out that FOL sales seem to resent the necessary presence of dealers, what with their uncouth buying of multiple numbers of books, and what not. the methods by which these dealers buy their books fills the FOL people with fury. “scanners,” they hiss. they have invented elaborate schemes by which these shameless dealers are reigned in.

they don’t seem to realize a few home truths. dealers are their best customers. dealers buy the most numbers of their books. little aunt tilly, who comes to the FOL sale just to find another copy of the methodist church cookbook, will not buy another fifty boxes of books. actually, the truth is more venal than related to protocol. FOL sales personnel resent the concept of selling a dealer a book at a low price, when that book is filled with potential profit. they wait by the door, little glass animals in hand, for the same people who check out the books for free to arrive and buy hundreds of them. “i have to ask you,” said an earnest FOL manager, “would you pay $25 for a book that is worth $50 at a FOL sale?”

of course, i said no. “but,” he persisted, “if it is worth fifty, surely you would?” i laughed my best scornful bookseller laugh and said “no.” i further explained that there would be very, very few books at a FOL sale that would be worth that sort of investment. perhaps only one. or only none. he persisted, offering up varieties of valuable dream books, such as “old ones, from the late 1800s for example.” ah, i sighed to myself. the canard of the valuable old book. the conversation went on in this vein for a while, until i left behind the visions of fifty dollar gems dancing in his head.

of course i love libraries. yes, ed glasner, they are indeed the incubators of future book buyers. perhaps even readers. but the evolution of FOL groups into professional bookseller clones merely points up the validity of all we are learning at the seminar. the need to specialize, the need to gain all the knowledge possible in your field – is that possible in a situation where 80% of the books are going straight to the dumpster? where the books are measured by the bale? and all this in the hands of volunteers?

i can’t continue to think about “all analog media wants to be digital, all digital media wants to be free” with the same brain that is contemplating little FOL groups in every hamlet across amerika busily erasing “mint” from their book descriptions and writing in “first edition, first printing, second state, fourth issue THUS.”
look for little postcards in your mailbox about books i am searching for, and send me back a postcard with a pencilled notation as soon as you have me a quote. meanwhile, i made nice with the deeply offended library lady who rendered teary-eyed by my bookseller brutality – i swear, i didn’t mean any of it!
-Carol

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