Ahh, the University of Delaware, my ol’ alma mater. Though I’ve maintained a relationship with UD through Oak Knoll’s connection to the Morris Library, I never thought that I would be back there, standing up in front of a class to give a speech.
Stella Sudekum, a business student, had asked my father if he would be interested in speaking to her Entrepreneurial class about starting and running his own business. He had a schedule conflict and asked if I wanted to give the talk instead. Since elementary school, I have always had a fear of public speaking. It wasn’t a ‘if I get up in front of a class I’ll hyperventilate’ feeling, but a fear nonetheless. That is why it was surprising when I said yes. Was it my subconscious wanting to overcome the fear of public speaking? Even after the talk, I still don’t know, however I’m still glad that I did it.
Now that I was excited to do it, it came time to prepare for zero hour. Practicing in front of a mirror is the traditional method of preparing for a speech, however I felt walking up and down the hallway was much more helpful. I only had a couple of weeks and I wanted to make sure I didn’t cut any corners in getting myself ready. It was through practice that I became comfortable with what I was going to be talking about.
When the day finally came, I parked my car and headed over to Gore Hall (where I had many classes myself). The class had two speakers that day, and luckily (or unluckily for my nerves) I was the second to go. What I thought that was going to be Rob Fleck fumbling over his words actually turned into a very detailed, organized, and energetic presentation about the history of Oak Knoll and where I was going to take it in the future. The presentation started off with my father’s education and the start of Oak Knoll Books & Press. The second half of the presentation focused on the exciting part: where I wanted to take the business in the future. Obviously we are in a digital age, and to focus on how to sell physical books (not ebooks, yet!) is a challenge in today’s world. However, I feel that there will always be a need for a physical book. To my surprise, I received many insightful questions regarding bookselling, publishing, Oak Knoll Fest and how to print books by hand.
Overall, it was an extremely gratifying experience and it seemed to spark an interest in bookselling among the students in the class. Perhaps some of them in the audience will join the ABAA someday!
Here’s a video of the presentation. (Apologies in advance for the sound quality, especially at the very beginning. It gets better!)
It all started because my wife Millie wanted to visit her old homestead in Flat Lick, Kentucky, a tiny community founded before 1784 in the southeastern part of the state. She hadn’t been back for many years, so how could I refuse the request? However, being a true bookman, I immediately started thinking about how I could combine book adventures with family visiting.
I really can’t stand driving for long periods of time so each part of our trip had to be restricted to about 5-hour driving sessions. A really bright book spot in Kentucky is the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections and its curator extraordinaire, Jim Birchfield. That had to be our first stop. But Lexington was 11 hours away from New Castle, Delaware which meant I had to find a place halfway between to spend a night. MapQuest told me that Morgantown, West Virginia, was my halfway mark. I searched for a downtown hotel near the waterfront and found the Hotel Morgan.
The hotel was right next to the Morgantown History Museum so we visited that and were pleasantly greeted by a full printing shop set up, along with other interesting historical displays. I had forgotten most of my knowledge of West Virginia history (if I ever had it) so the history of this state was really interesting. After the museum, we discovered that one of the best restaurants in the city was on the top floor/roof of our hotel. The night was perfect, weather-wise, so we scheduled ourselves for dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the town and Monongahela River.
The next day we left for Lexington to visit Jim Birchfield. At his recommendation we stayed at the Gratz Park Inn, a boutique hotel in the center of Lexington filled with horse racing memorabilia.
Jim picked us up the next morning and gave us a tour of UK’s Special Collections. We started in the very large, multi-roomed basement with the King Library Press, the famous printing office established by Victor and Carolyn Hammer in 1956. Dr. Paul Holbrook, who has been associated with the Press for many years, was there and gave us a personal tour and history.
Jim took us to lunch in the facility dining room and we swapped book stories as always happens when bibliophiles get together. It is so nice to talk with librarians who are just as involved with the love of books.
As we were leaving the dining room, Jim called us back and said he had the perfect photo opportunity for us. He brought us over to the wall outside the dining room and told Millie and I to stand there while he took a picture.
There we were standing in front of the portrait of Dave Roselle, former President of the University of Kentucky, but more importantly, former President of the University of Delaware. We had gotten to know Dave and Louise Roselle over Dave’s many years at Delaware. He was responsible for helping convince Frank Tober to donate his magnificent collection of literary forgery to the University. Dave is now Director of Winterthur after being coaxed out of retirement. I emailed him this picture and told him how many Kentuckians remembered him with great fondness. Kentucky named one of their buildings after him in 2011. Dave emailed back recalling his days in Kentucky.
The afternoon was spent visiting a few sights and a bookstore. We visited Mike Courtney at Black Swan Books where, of course, I bought a book! I wished that I had time to visit Glover’s Bookery but time ran out.
The next day saw us travel to Louisville which is only about an hour away from Lexington. I had done a great deal of business with a very pleasant bookseller in Louisville by the name of Charles Bartman. We had never met in person and all our business had been done via phone and email. While planning our trip and I asked him if it would be possible to visit him. He said that his books were in a garage attached to his home but that I was welcome to visit.
We were a bit anxious that Millie would be bored as I looked at books. Boy, were we wrong! Charlie and Bonnie met us at door and the conversation didn’t stop for a minute. They love to travel and so do we, so we had lots of foreign places to talk about. As lunch time approached, they said that they had prepared lunch for us rather than have us all go out and asked “Do you drink Cava?” These are my kind of people! I bought lots of books (nothing to do with the Cava I’m sure) and we just had a great time. This is what bookselling is all about – making new friends.
We were then off on our 3 hour trip to Flat Lick, taking back roads through scenic hills. Millie got to see her aunt, brother, and various cousins, and catch up with the local gossip. She was especially nostalgic about her old school building which now stands abandoned and for sale. I wanted to show a picture of her standing in front of it with the caption “Millie considering a major renovation project” and see if we could get her relatives interested but then had second thoughts.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to all the relatives and head back to Delaware. We decided to travel the Virginia route on the way home so out came MapQuest again and there was Lexington, Virginia at the halfway mark. We drove through the Cumberland Gap following the reverse course of Daniel Boone, through Tennessee and up to Lexington, Virginia. We had time to tour Washington and Lee University and its museum devoted to Robert E. Lee (and George Washington). The bookstore there had a rare book section of books for sale concerning Lee and Washington. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a selection of rare books for sale in a museum bookstore.
We had drinks at the restaurant next to the hotel and Millie quickly struck up a conversation with two locals. They told us about a restaurant in the historic part of Lexington. We got to the restaurant, got the last table on the outdoor porch overlooking the main street, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The cadets from Virginia Military Institute were all dressed in their uniforms and enjoying the beginning of their new school year – some cadets enjoying it more than others by the sounds of it.
The next day took us up Virginia to Washington and Baltimore. We had lunch in the historic town of Havre de Grace sitting on the patio while watching the Susquehanna flow by. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.
An interview of Rob Fleck was recently posted on the Fine Books & Collections column titled “Bright Young Things” by Nate Pedersen. In this section, Pedersen interviews young booksellers about their adventures in the exciting and sometimes challenging life of
bookselling. Rob reveals his collecting interests, what he likes most about the trade, and more.
For me the one thing that I love more about the book trade more than anything else is simple: the people. Going to book fairs is one of my favorite tasks to do for Oak Knoll. Many members of the ABAA/ILAB are extremely caring, nice, interesting individuals that all share the same interests. Very few of them don’t go out of their way to help you if you have a problem. Not to mention the countless amazing stories about bookselling and book collecting that are told around a shared bottle of wine.
Click here to read more of Rob’s interview.
Being one of the newest Oak Knoll members, this made Fest XVI my first fest, and what an experience it was! A great experience, of course—with lots of work, lots of books, and lots of people! You could have fooled me that rare and antiquarian books are such a niche market with the large numbers of rare book connoisseurs running from table to table in an effort to see and admire every book on display.
As assigned photographer for the event, I was able to join those crazy book lovers moving from table to table, where I took a photo of each exhibitor standing next to their fine showcase of books. It was such a neat affair to be able to talk to each of the exhibitors, really find out about their work, and feel like I was a part of such an extraordinary event.
Even with as much fun as I had as taking photos and making sure everything went in sequence, still Bob’s party was one of the best events of the weekend. Flowing wine, never-ending appetizers, and the chance to enjoy the beautiful New Castle scenery was every minute splendid.
Check out some of the pictures I took!
-Danielle, Publishing and Marketing Assistant
The Flecks (Millie, Rob and and I) are off to Italy tomorrow to participate in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s (ILAB) Congress and Bookfair. This will be Rob’s first Congress—Millie and I have been doing them since 1990 (Tokyo, Cologne, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Vienna, Edinburgh, Scandinavia, Melbourne, Madrid) and have met wonderful friends over the years. This year, Millie, former head coach of the A.I. DuPont High School cheerleaders, will take up her pom-pom again and lead the cheerleaders for the rest of the world when they try to beat the local Italian team (all booksellers of course). Rob will be a forward on the team and I will be cheering. We will keep you posted.
-Bob, President and Owner
Yes, I will miss my lovely girlfriend, but who can pass up a chance to visit Bolongna for a week and a half while participating in the ILAB Congress Book Fair? I’m extremely ecstatic about going to my first Congress! Being the cook at my house, I’m also particularly excited about the food experience that I will indulge myself in. Bolognese sauce was originated in Bologna, and has given me a sense of what to expect when I touch down. I also recently bought a Nikon D40 DSLR camera which I will use on my trip for documentation. See you when I get back!
-Rob, Antiquarian & Library Sales
After returning from my visit to libraries and museums in New York, I have to say that they were nothing short of successful. The various head librarians, collection development administrators, and curators I met during my trip were all extremely interesting people, who I would love to see again if I happen to venture back to the Big Apple. I even came back a few books lighter, a task I have only been able to accomplish a few times in the past.
It was a breathtaking experience to be able to see the famous New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The architecture of both buildings, especially the Public Library, was amazing. The two university libraries I visited in the area were the famous Bobst Library at NYU and the extensive Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia. This was a change of scenery for me as I am usually only visiting the academic sector on my trips. Someday soon, I hope to make it back to NYC again to visit the Grolier Club, as well as other important libraries and museums in the area to really promote Oak Knoll and our books. Even with all the work, this trip wasn’t purely business; I was able to stay at my Uncle’s house in Manhattan and visit other family and friends in the area. I definitely had a blast!
-Rob Fleck, Antiquarian & Library Sales
Millie and I had the two youngest grandchildren (of six total) over for the weekend as their parents flew to San Francisco for four days. Gavin is 3, and Liam is just about 6 (with his birthday this week), so I thought it was high time for Liam to begin his work career. His mother Jenni started working at Oak Knoll for 25 cents an hour, so this was a family tradition. His uncle Rob has worked in the business full-time for 3 years now.
The picture shows the young man with some Oak Knoll books in the background. He worked for one hour on Sunday writing number tags for our newly priced $5 books, and he proudly earned $2 for his job. (He promptly lost the $2, so I had to supply another $2 saying that I had found his money.) I see this as the beginning of a great career!
Any other children/bookseller stories out there? Let us know!