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The Accidental Antiquarian

Educational Programs for Booksellers

by Chris Lowenstein

#153, 14 February 2011

I didn't discover antiquarian bookselling or consider it a viable career option until I was well into my 30s. Had I known the world of antiquarian books even existed prior to then, I would have found a way to major in it in college.

Fortunately for me and for those of you who want to learn more about antiquarian books and bookselling, there are several educational programs available which can improve your level of expertise.

If you're new to bookselling, the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO is a week-long course that gives an overview of the bookselling trade. Founded 30 years ago by Jake Chernofsky (editor of the now-defunct periodical AB Bookman's Weekly), the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar aims to provide education for those interested in entering the used/OP/academic/rare book trades. According to its website "more than 2,100 students have graduated from the Seminar, many of whom have gone on to become prominent members of the bookselling community."

Do you finding yourself pondering questions such as these:

Should you open a shop or sell on the internet? Both? What internet sources should you use to sell your books? Are images of your books necessary if you sell on the internet? Are print catalogues worthwhile, and if so, how do you go about developing a mailing list? How do you sign up to sell books at a book fair? How do you know which book fairs are right for the kind of books you sell? What kind of computer program is best for keeping track of inventory? What kind of agreement is necessary for accepting books on consignment? How do you appraise books? How do you find out which reference books are the most appropriate for the type of book you sell? How do you develop a network of booksellers who are willing to share information when you need it?

The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar will assist you in finding the answers you seek. The faculty is made up of an impressive range of book people, including booksellers with open shops, those who sell books online, a Librarian of Congress, a book conservator, and several members of the Antiquarian Bookselling Association of America. The faculty represents a spectrum of all types of bookseller and make it possible for new booksellers to learn about the options available in the trade and make it possible for you to determine where you'd like your own business to fit in that spectrum.

In the spring of 2007, only a few months after I had established Book Hunter's Holiday, my mentor encouraged me to try to attend the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. He'd taken it himself several years earlier and highly recommended it because of the diverse amount of topics covered by the faculty: buying books, selling books (both brick and mortar and online), pricing books, auctions, how to judge condition, the traditional terminology for bibliographic description, technology for bookselling, marketing one's business, taxes and accounting, appraisals, and book conservation.

I attended the Seminar in August, 2007. The week spent there was nothing short of fantastic. Though there are other rare book schools at UCLA and the University of Virginia that teach about rare books and their history, the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar is the only one I know that teaches people about the various types of bookselling available (open shop, online, specialist dealer, generalist dealer, catalogue-only, etc.), about what is needed to be considered professional, and about how to get established in the trade.

I came away from my week in Colorado energized, inspired, and ready to make plans for my business. I also came away having met and gotten to know about 60 other booksellers with whom I still keep in touch. I've shared booths at book fairs with a few of them, bought books with a few of them, and sold books to a few of them. It's nice not to be the only new person trying to establish a book business, and this network of colleagues has been a helpful and reassuring presence more times than I can count in the past four years. Moreover, the excellent faculty is always available to answer questions during the seminar and are very generous with their time. They even have an email list that is open to all alumni of the Seminar, a place where one can go to ask (or answer) questions. I am impressed by the faculty's ability to satisfactorily address both those students (like me) who were brand new to the trade and those who already had some experience.

With the shrinking of the US economy, you may find your book business shrinking as well. You might be thinking, as I was in 2007, that now is not the time to spend money on something that does not involve selling actual books. You might be thinking that the last thing you need to do is take five days away from your business. If your life situation is like mine, you might also be thinking that it is near impossible to arrange for kids and family members to be taken care of so you can travel to an antiquarian book seminar.

I'm here to tell you that such thinking is just plain wrong. Investing in your knowledge of the trade is necessary to your future success in the trade. When I've been confronted with seemingly unanswerable bookselling questions, that seminar has saved me from re-inventing the printing press - on many occasions.

Now is the perfect time for booksellers, whether aspiring or new in the trade or just wanting to learn more than what you already know, to sign up for the 2011 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. Among the many already available, there are three additional scholarships being offered this year, so there's no excuse not to try for one of those as well.

Whether you're already a bookseller or you're just wondering how to start selling books, click here to see the list of faculty, topics to be covered, housing and travel information, scholarships available, and applications. You can also read comments from alumni on their experiences at the Seminar. This year's seminar will be held from Sunday, August 7- Friday, August 12, 2009. The deadline to apply is July 1, but there is a $100 discount to those who apply by May 1.

If you want to be taken seriously in the business of selling antiquarian books, the Seminar is a very worthwhile investment that will help you establish bookselling as your career.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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