Socially Purposed Collecting for Anxious Times
As America once again turns toward its fraught history and confronts questions of inequality and racial injustice, I have been thinking about what role the rare book world plays in building and understanding history and what opportunities the rare book world has missed. These books are knowledge banks, and there is a supply line from rare book collectors directly to libraries, archives, universities, museums, and other institutions, but rare book collecting and dealing is still predominantly a white and male field, which means that the perspective of what is and isn't collectible is determined by an audience with typically similar interests, and therefore historically undervalues contributions by women and people of color.
If the rare book world doesn't look forward, then it is only nostalgizing the past. I know from my own visits to book fairs, that the rare book world needs to be more diverse, and more socially responsible, and that, in turn, will expand and grow readership and business across all subject areas of collecting--this is a moment for collectors and institutions to ask what gaps in their own collections could be broadened. With that in mind, I thought I'd take the time to list a few socially minded book companies that are have a widened eye for a broader and more inclusive and therefore accurate look at American and world history and social movements. There's Lorne Bair Books, which specifically focuses on the art and history of social movements; Garrett Scott, Bookseller, who trades in uncommon ephemera and printed material; Division Leap, which focuses on small and indie press books, often punk and fringe; and Libriquarian, focusing on books about revolutionary, many with a focus on Latin America.
This is just a short quick start, but over the coming months, I will be looking for more socially minded booksellers and adding them to my personal shopping list. Additionally, the ABAA has launched a new initiative to encourage women in the bookselling field to come together and discuss ways of opening up the field to more women and to attract more collectors as well.