Over the last weekend of July, I had the distinct pleasure of hosting a visit from my gifted colleague Zhenya Dzhavgova, who was on her way home from Rare Book School in Charlottesville. She repaid me with the following excellent blogpost. Aside from her endless flattery of me, there’s much here worth reading, and I commend it to you.
Having just returned home from a glorious week in Virginia, I feel compelled to gather my thoughts and impressions in a Lorne Bair-worthy (debatable) blog post. I have been dubbed by said Lorne to have had rather idiosyncratic views on various subjects, thus for all purposes the opinions expressed are just a “Thank you” to all those who have made my summer a memorable one and have helped me make the next leap into the trade.
Rare Book School exceeded expectations but then the name and the fame have always spoken
for themselves. I expected to be impressed and greatly influenced. What I did not expect was the
fun I had slogging through hundreds of reference sources. Yes, definitely fun, and Joel Silver was the man. Hats off to this incredible person who managed to make studying bibliographies interesting and amusing on top of educational and important. I sincerely hope he stays on the RBS faculty for many years to come.
The surroundings and the ambiance in Charlottesville were simply-put gorgeous, but my classmates and the RBS staff were the ones who would leave lasting impressions. Rubbing shoulders and talking with a myriad of Special Collections librarians – Yale, the Smithsonian, Harvard, The University of Texas at Austin, and La Salle University just to mention several of them – unveiled for me quite a few mysteries enshrouding these exotic individuals. The most pressing and annoying question, namely “Why in the world is that lady not answering my email quote?” or “What will make this librarian open my catalog and place an order?” turned out to have several very easy answers. Special Collections librarians are humans and very busy humans at that. They get hammered with quotes and catalogs every single day and they have to wade through an impressive load of them to find that one item they are trying to buy for their institution. Sometimes they miss an email and other times they just do not feel like riffling through a catalog. They also have to get to know you and trust you before they even consider buying your books. One of my favorite professors and curators confirmed that sentiment with “For the most part, it’s whom you know and ‘how’ you know her/him.” There is a very fine line to be walked between slowly making yourself memorable and preferable with carefully timed and perfectly executed quotes and exasperating a librarian to death.
Incidentally, while at RBS, I got my first order from THE institution – the biggest and baddest of them all. And that was THE lesson learned – trekking across the United States to attend CABS and RBS, leaving my business hanging for a week, and fraying my nerves with pre-seminar jitters was more than worth it. Getting a reality check as to how difficult it was to make it in the trade and grabbing the initial nudge and the subsequent help I got from the faculty members and running with it certainly helped tremendously. Working my way – mulishly, tenaciously, diligently – for a whole year and being knocked down and having to get up, dust myself off, and plow ahead was what did it.
The culmination of my Virginia adventure was my visit with Lorne and Lee Ann. We drove around in The Minivan of the Revolution, visited the most ridiculously adorable ‘Dinosaur Land’ park, went to the worst book auction in history, and we talked…a lot – about books, about the trade, about hopes and difficulties, and about life. His taking me under his wing has been a privilege but also a recognition of sorts…because having a friend whom you can call for help, give a hard time to, and share a drink with is just half of the equation. The other half is trust, business opportunities, and as sordid as it sounds – money. As Lorne himself said: “It’s not all altruistic and it’s not all about shooting the breeze, but it’s also not entirely about cash.” It is, in fact, all about creating and maintaining the perfect combo of a true friendship which remains outside of the trade and joined business ventures which are based on trust and good will.
The abovementioned book auction was the most spectacular flop I have ever seen and a great lesson in “what looks too good to be true is probably too good to be true.” Meandering about Winchester, Lorne and I overheard somebody talking about an ongoing auction for over 10,000 books. We hightailed it in the trusty Revolution Van just to find out that by the time we reached the place the auction was about over. We did, though, get to take a look at the books while the happy buyers were loading them. Possibly good for whomever bought them – the books seemed to be a big-10 000-disaster for Lorne’s and my own business. The good part of it was the prompt of another discussion about quality and shrewdness in scouting.
All in all, Virginia taught a lot. Feeling a bit sad it was over was OK, because that has proven to be just the beginning.