The Tale of A Band of Booksellers, Fascicle 20: Competition
by Richard Abel (Aged Independent Learner) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The writing preceding this end-piece is manifestly a history. Ipso facto, the writer was wearing the hat of an historian. This role is hardly surprising for, as openers, the writer was trained as an historian, having found the sovereign means of understanding from the early years, a more-or-less detailed account of how we have gotten into virtually every situation from the most mundane to the larger picture of world history. Secondly, and almost as personally compelling, the writer lived every moment of this history from its first unlikely and shaky venture into an esoteric species of bookselling to its absorption into the Blackwell holdings.
But such a close historical involvement has necessarily led to casting this summation into terms which might well seem to some readers to be prideful recital of a personal achievement. So, this end-piece is added to draw attention to the conscious use of the term “Band” in the title and to recall to the reader’s mind the use of the repeated image of the venture to that of the Greek Argonauts. In short this history would not have happened absent the conjoint knowledge, intelligence, and dedication of the entire crew of that Band, and particularly that of thoughtful input and sheer effort of the band of Branch Managers located across this nation and overseas.
Nor could it have been written absent the input and assistance of those still with us. The memory of any individual is potentially unreliable, subjective, and readily a partial thing. The writer was dependent from the opening of this story onward to resort to others to form a full and trustworthy account of what happened in the period 30 to 50 years ago. As good fortune would have it, a few of that Band continued on working with scholarly books and libraries. As a consequence, they were well-positioned to intimately monitor the continued use and utility of the computer and production systems that had been conceived and implemented by the Band. They were able to attest to the now continuous and world-wide employment of those systems we pioneered.
Unhappily, I was unable to turn to the memories of a considerable complement of that Band who have departed our mortal company. They must be remembered as having been contributors of merit equal to that of those who have been included in this account and whose memories contributed to the fleshing out of this history. Bent upon outcomes not often known and beset by a continuing array of risks, some foreseen, others neither foreseen nor understandable, they were key players in the game of navigating previously uncharted waters. But, despite these gambles and incomprehensible hazards, they never shied from nor balked at the problems of greater or lesser difficulty that had to be solved as best as the Band’s collective efforts could.
In dealing with the fledgling era the memories of Fred Gullette and Lorene Dortch were constantly relied upon. Lorene possesses a remarkably acute memory of details relating to much of the history of the Argonauts. The same may be said of Oliver Sitea, who was not only another repeated respondent but also a continuing volunteer of events no longer coming to my mind.
For the middle years, resort was again had to those mentioned above, as well as Keith Barker and Dan Halloran. These two, plus Ralph Shoffner and Don Chvatal, were the sources for the complexities of the last years. In this connection Don Chvatal deserves especial note for his critical assessment of the chronicle of the last several years.
Lastly the writer seeks the reader’s indulgence in offering his thanks to that remarkable crew who served the world of books and libraries so inventively and diligently.
Note was made that such a Band as conceived, created, implemented, and oversaw the systems created by the firm to radically increase the speed and efficiency of getting books into the hands of users would be difficult to bring together again. Such a setting of this Band fails if it did not underscore the inescapable fact that all the Argonauts willfully gravitated to the venture. We shared a common mind as to the place and worth of books as representing and incorporating the total cultural capital of the West. We well understood that we were the extraordinarily fortunate heirs of a vast inheritance for which we had done nothing warranting the showering of such a gift upon us. We well appreciated that our cultural inheritance was encapsulated in books. It remains virtually an axiom that, were some universal solvent capable of selectively destroying all the books in the world invented and released, all cultures would simply collapse into barbarism in a generation or two. And we were of the related view that the sustainable additions to the culture in our generation would be incorporated in the books in which we dealt. In short, all viewed themselves as the committed, honest brokers of knowledge as a modest acknowledgement of their good fortune in receiving an inheritance of such magnitude and of their labors to pass that inheritance on, not simply complete in its entirety but marginally richer.
Further, we shared the understanding that libraries were the long-term custodians of that inestimable heritage, that library book collections were the warehouses of knowledge. All were devoted to traditional characterizations of the place of the library as the “caretaker of the vessels of culture and knowledge,” the library as the “heart of the university,” which seem to have become the laughing stock or the objects of mockery of many librarians deceived by the shabby doctrines of modernism. But not so for the Argonauts — all were convinced they served a critical and honorable role in assisting in the collecting and distribution of the wealth of the culture.
All were prepared to face and deal with the risks and hazards of brokering knowledge and serving the central facilities of culture.
Does such a group of individuals possessed of those cultural understandings and commitments exist out there someplace today? We can hope there is. And if such should prove to be the case, what might the probabilities be that such individuals would choose to voluntarily coalesce in the way the Argonauts did?
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.