The World of Books
Is the most remarkable creation of man
Nothing else that he builds ever lasts
Civilizations grow old and die out
And after an era of darkness
New races build others
But in the world of books are volumes
That have seen this happen again and again
And yet live on
Still as fresh as the day they were written
Still telling men’s hearts
Of the hearts of men centuries dead
What Clarence Day meant by this saying was that no matter what, through all the hardships that have occurred through human history, the book has somehow, and miraculously, made it through. However, we are entering a world of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads that put a digital book in the palm of your hand. Now, with the flick of a finger, we can download and read Gone with the Wind or The Great Gatsby in its entirety. The headaches of having to cart around the entire collection of your favorite volumes through the ever-so-constricting lines of the airport security are now a thing of the past.
But where will the book be in the future with all of these technological advancements going on around it? Personally, I like a physical book in my hand, but I also like playing Angry Birds on my phone—not necessarily the same thing. After reading email after email and researching antiquarian titles for customers, at the end of the day, I really just want to close my eyes for a while (I wait until I’m done driving home!) and relax them.
As someone who works in my kitchen all of the time, I read through a lot of cookbooks (thank you Thomas Keller). As you know, paper and veal stock don’t react well to each other, especially when you want to reuse the cookbook again. However, I love the feeling of having little red dollops of marinara sauce on a page where there is a lasagna recipe, or green splotches over the chive oil recipe. It gives me that feeling of ‘yea, I’ve been there before’. I can savor the memory of making that recipe before which gives me the most satisfaction. It’s like the book is reading me instead of me reading it.
Try letting sauce and oils creep into the crevices of an eBook reader and watch how quickly you will have to get it repaired, or take it back to the store all together.
The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts: good exhibition space, spacious presentation media room, beautiful warehouse-esque architecture; all traits of this building that I have never ventured to before. My girlfriend, being a volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, loves taking her little sister Jessi to the DCCA as it rotates exhibits monthly and, since 2008, has offered free admission. After seeing it for myself, I can see why Jessi likes it.
Oak Knoll was lucky enough to attend the exhibition and symposium titled The Book: A Contemporary View. Each talk was extremely interesting, providing intriguing ideas and concepts from artist Buzz Spector and librarian Mark Dimunation, as well as many others. The exhibition that was in conjunction with the talks was unique and offered a concept of turning a physical book into a work of art that antiquarian dealers, such as Oak Knoll, have only been able to scratch the surface of.
When the symposium was over, I actually wanted more as I was having such a good time.
Click here to check out the exhibition description online.
Click here to see a list of artists’ books from Oak Knoll.
In early 2006, however, John told me that it was time for him to retire. I had known this time would eventually come (though I had been hoping he would work into his 90s!). But when he talked about the books he wanted to write and the travel he wanted to do, it was hard to come up with a convincing argument for postponing retirement. I then had to make yet one more decision. I was going to turn 60 in February of 2007, so perhaps it was time to think about slowing down and eliminating some of the stress in my life. I knew that my stress level could only increase once John had gone, as he was going to be hard to replace. My time at the beach house was so relaxing that I could visualize a lighter work load with more vacation time. I loved reading and collecting (especially in the field of Delaware history). Was this the time to sell the publishing business?
Months went by with different possibilities being discussed on a daily basis. I had a publishing director who wanted to retire and was only hanging on to keep me from being without a competent person to run that part of the business. It occurred to me that I had a smart young man named Mark Parker Miller working for me as a book cataloguer in the antiquarian side of the business, and that he might have the makings of a publisher. Mark had finished the course work for his PhD in art history and was in the process of writing his thesis. I had very good experiences in hiring art history graduates from Delaware (Andy Armacost being the prime example). I asked John if he would take a month to train Mark, and he gleefully agreed, finally seeing the beginning of his retirement on the horizon. The training took place in the spring of 2006 and Mark is now going full throttle with 24 books under his belt (with John’s help) in 2006, 16 in 2007 and 21 to-date in 2008.
A great help was the addition of Laura Williams in early 2007 as our Marketing Communications Specialist. Her skills at electronic marketing and PR have had a major impact on sales. [Update to 2010: Mark Parker Miller left Oak Knoll at the end of 2008, and Laura Williams has been enjoying her new role as publishing director for the past two years.]
So here we are in the year 2008 after 30 years of publishing in a very specialized field. The publishing world has changed a lot since I first started and will continue to re-invent itself in the future at an ever quickening pace. University presses are being told to make a profit for their universities, as the prestige of having a press is being diminished by hard financial times. As a result, more manuscripts are being offered to us. Oak Knoll has published books with CDs in the back and links to online databases, unknown technologies when we started. Short print runs and print-on-demand seem to be here to stay. Bibliography as a subject begs to be available online, as any good bibliography is always a work in progress. Where will this lead us?
Our marketing strategies have also changed. In the old days we bombarded our customers with letters—now we do it with email programs like Constant Contact. Our weekly strategy meetings are often more about the timing and extent of our email campaigns and an analysis of our Google statistics for the past week than planning the production of a book.
So how do I feel about our role for the next 30 years? Early this year  Oak Knoll Press was given the Institutional Award by the American Printing History Association in recognition of its services in publishing books that advance the understanding of printing history. When accepting this award, I reminisced about Oak Knoll’s past much like I have done in this short history and ended up telling a story of a recent sales call with a relatively new employee. The gist of that story was that the new employee was my youngest son Rob, who had graduated from college and was now working in the business. My other three children (Jenni, Paul, and Wendy) have each chosen other careers outside the book world. Oak Knoll may not end up being Rob’s life work, but for now—it is great to have him with me. Either way, I hope he will enjoy all of the fun, travel, and friendships that I have had for these first 30 years.
It’s always nice coming back from a book fair. It’s even better coming back when you consider it a success. Why was it a success you ask; well not only did we sell enough to meet quota, we also bought some very interesting items. One item was a rare Italian type specimen book printed in the mid 1800s in Savona, Italy. The second item was a very beautiful periodical printed in Norway with paper specimens spread out over multiple issues. All of this comes in the original publisher’s box holding all of the issues.
My father also got to hear Michael Suarez give a talk titled “The Ecosystems of Book History,” which was about the survival of the book and the role of booksellers in the future. Of course, he offered up his optimistic opinion during the Q&A session that the younger generations are still interested in the book arts, which gives a reason to believe that they have a future. In my personal opinion, I did feel that there were more younger people (college and grad school students) than usual showing up in our booth to take a look at antiquarian material. I guess the real question is: why is that? I feel that the resurgence of book arts classes at colleges around the world is creating this lust for antiquarian books among younger generations, but who am I to guess?
-Rob, Antiquarian & Library Sales
Oak Knoll was recently made aware of some great photos taken during the “football” game at the 39th ILAB Congress in Italy. These booksellers put on quite the competition as it was Italy against the rest of the world. They even had cheerleaders on the sidelines rallying these already vigorous and sporty antiquarian booksellers. Check out a few of the pictures from the game. Don’t miss Rob (#19) in action and Millie cheering on the teams!
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!
Today, I am getting ready to take on the Big Apple. I will be spending four nights in Manhattan visiting New York University, Columbia, Morgan Library and Museum, New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the third time I will be embarking on library visits solo, and this visit I am fortunate enough to be staying with my Uncle who lives in New York City. In between visits, I will have the opportunity to visit with friends and family alike, all of which will make my trip worthwhile and fun.
But on to the more important matters–the visits. My first visit this morning will be to the Morgan Library and Museum, which I have not personally visited yet. This library houses one of the world’s greatest collections of artistic, literary, and musical works. Afterwards, I will be heading over to the ever famous NY Public Library—and there is just not enough space to write about all I will get to see there. On Wednesday, I will be visiting Columbia and NYU. My last stop on Thursday will be to the MET, which is what I am looking forward to most as I am eager to show them some interesting pieces in American Folk Art.
Overall, I am excited to show all of what Oak Knoll has to offer. I am well prepared, focused, and determined to make these visits a success. Wish me luck and I will be back next week!