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Each year the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) holds a four day Preconference focused on special collections. The location of the conference and the theme change annually; this year the event was held in Las Vegas and explored "space, place, and the artifact in special collections". The conference allows special collections librarians and developers from across the country to socialize and participate in meaningful conversations about the field. In addition to the variety of workshops, seminars, and social events, a main component of the Preconference is the ABAA's Bookseller Showcase (read Greg Gibson's impressions of the 2014 showcase here). The showcase is like a book fair amuse-bouche: there are usually between 30-40 exhibitors who bring a sampling of their inventory, giving attendees a small taste of the type of material they specialize in and what they currently have to offer. Booksellers who participate in the showcase frequently describe it as an invaluable opportunity to meet customers face to face and to forge new relationships with special collections developers. 

It's worthwhile to note that one does not have to work in special collections to attend the annual Preconfernece. Registration is open to anyone who may want to attend, and many ABAA booksellers have found the Preconference to be a wonderful opportunity to network with librarians and to further educate themselves about the field so they can apply this knowledge to their own business practices.

This past year, the ABAA instituted a reimbursement program for members interested in participating in the full Preconference (this benefit is available on a one-time basis for up to ten members per year). Six members applied and participated in the 2014 Preconference, and wrote about their experiences. Read some of the attendees' feedback below.


I was very pleased to be able to participate in RBMS Preconference this year, both as a first-time exhibitor in the Showcase and as a conference attendee. I attended the Plenary Sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as some of the discussion groups and seminars. I found each session I attended interesting, and each provided me with some useful insights about the unique concerns of rare book librarians. In particular, I came away with an increased awareness of the impact of digitization (and the increasing assumption of researchers that "if it isn¹t on the internet it doesn¹t exist") on their priorities for collecting and budgeting. I also learned of specific resources for locating digital texts that I was not previously aware of (e.g. DPLA, Calisphere). I also became more attuned to issues of data management-- that is, how catalogers struggle to capture all of the useful information about a book-- including not only its subject matter and publication information, but also its physical characteristics and any associations or annotations-- in a way that it can be easily found and used by researchers. It was pleasing to hear that they found booksellers' descriptions very useful in this regard, if also a bit disheartening to learn how often our careful research is discarded when there is no appropriate field in which to record it in the library's catalogue.

Although I must admit that some of the week is a blur (and I wish I'd taken more notes), on the whole I got a lot out of the entire RBMS experience. I appreciate the support of the ABAA in encouraging first-timers to attend the conference portion of the event, which not only added to my knowledge base, but also gave me an additional opportunity (i.e. beyond the showcase) to learn more about the collecting interests of individual librarians and institutions. 


Ah Las Vegas - I flew to you, sat within you, contemplated the surreal qualities of you, felt your warm breath engulf me and then as Sheryl Crow sings - I left you. I did not find  the ‘Vegas’ (Spanish for meadows) that Rafael Rivera first encountered in 1829, nor did I find the evocative material lure that so captivated Fremont in the mid-19th century -  but what I did discover was an engaged, intelligent, unjaded, curious body of professionals - upon provocative, thoughtful stages set - there was indeed still uncharted territory to unearth and beckon others to.  

The nuts of bolts were a Monday arrival, four full days and nights of plenaries, keynotes, roundtables, networking breaks, and receptions, with the Oreo creme of it all being our ABAA reception Tuesday evening and a full Wednesday alongside our chosen materials. Word on the street is that this was the most attended RBMS in years, with the largest number of bookseller participants yet. Great news that I can only hope spreads - for this week of discourse is a conversation that needs to build and flourish.

In the often insular network of fairs and digital interface of our tribe - we want for an important agent - the noble professionals that are the guardians of repository, shall we say consul of cultural material and text - those that stand at the gate of the sacred spaces we hope will be the charges of our treasures and scholarship. It is so much more apparent after ‘quality time’ with the men and women of this order that we are all needed, welcome, and required at the roundtable. Eager to exchange ideas, goals and specific, detailed wants, I found the rapport with the “Specials” to be intimate, refreshing and profoundly inspiring. They are as happy to find us and we are them…yes, I felt a near-sacred symbiosis...there is passion and life in this trade and we must all beat the drum!


I would like to first thank the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America for the opportunity to attend the Rare Book and Manuscript Section's Preconference on scholarship. This was an educational and valuable experience for me and will help contribute to the growth of our business.

Through the sessions I attended, I gained unique insight into the challenges and opportunities facing a segment of our customers – special collections librarians. It's always nice to put a human face on the people who you interact with mostly through email and telephone calls. But even more valuable was the opportunity for a short time to step into their shoes, listen to them talk with their peers about what is going on inside their profession.

One of the most interesting conversations I had during the week was precipitated by a comment made by [the curator of a major university]. She expressed frustration during a plenary about booksellers quoting her material out of field. Following the session, I had a one-on-one conversation with her, during which we talked about ways we in the trade can help educate ourselves to better support special collections. She expressed a willingness to be a part of an educational session to speak from a curator's point-of-view about this issue.

I also had the opportunity to have some fun! One evening we went to dinner with a group of librarians and ate German food. 


Attending the conference was a great idea. I attended the plenary talks "Book as Archive" and "Marketplace". Both had some interesting insights. Some of the other seminars that I attended include [the workshop sponsored by ABAA member Priscilla Juvelis] "Unveiling the Past:  Hidden Diversity in the Archives", the panel on "History of Science", and a few of the seminars regarding space allocation. While many of the details I found to be too technical for me personally, overall I gained a greater understanding of the inside toils of libraries. Also, sitting and chatting with members of the library profession was a good bonding experience.


Thank you and the ABAA for selecting me to attend the RBMS Preconference. I have been selling to libraries for almost forty years and do attend some library conferences. I also sell to special collections and I wanted to attend to meet some existing customers as well as to meet new ones. In addition, I was interested in seeing how the RBMS conference works so I could exhibit [at the Booksellers' Showcase] next year in Oakland. I found it was worthwhile and I did find a few new customers out of it just by going to poster breaks and a few panels. The best thing to do to get more contacts would be to exhibit. There were just a few panels relating to special collections. I have sold large collections to libraries so it was interesting to see how some of them end up as jewels in libraries. It was interesting to attend one panel in particular [about] collecting sexually explicit material. The librarians went on and on about their stuff. I have sold similar materials to major universities but have always been wary of offering it. But I guess I should not be.

I look forward to exhibiting next year.


Anyone in the trade should consider attending the annual Preconference, and ABAA members should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to attend (and/or exhibit at the Booksellers' Showcase!).