The first session, though rather basic (how to handle rare books), was an admittedly appropriate prelude to the rest of the day, which became more detailed and information-packed by the hour (we were all panting by 5:00). Rob Rulon-Miller and Kevin Johnson held forth on the culture and best practices of antiquarian bookselling (stressing the paramount importance of relationships and honest dealing); Dan Gregory talked for just under an hour about technology for the book trade (a rapid-fire performance containing some very helpful database design advice); then we had lunch (more book talk, with two faculty members at our table); then Terry Belanger and Dan DeSimone gave a superb overview of reference sources for antiquarian books (stressing the need for verification), wherein I got to visit old bibliographical friends, and learned about some very important new ones. Finally we broke into three groups and cycled around to presentations on binding materials, binding styles and illustration techniques, and the proper way to put a dustjacket into Brodart protectors.
I especially appreciated Dan Gregory’s discussion on book description, which came out of his advice about database design. The question was, how much information and specialist knowledge about a book that you (the bookseller) have developed through experience and research should you commit to the internet at large (i.e., you can’t un-ring a bell—once you put it up, it’s out there). How much is necessary to sell the book, and how much is giving away hard-earned knowledge to those who will copy it and use it as their own? The caveat that you can always promise (and deliver) more information in a more private way (a specific e-mail, or a closed website inventory, or a printed catalogue, or a phone call) was well taken. It’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, but a valuable one to kick out there and make you think.
There were some disagreements between faculty, but most were in the nature of chummy and mutual roasting, stemming from a thorough knowledge of each other’s quirks. In all, a collegial day that sowed many seeds which (for me) bore fruit during the picnic (actually a reception with an open bar—a VERY nice way to end the day).