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Introducing our 2022 Congress organisers or "A Prisoner in Oxford"!

"If I were not a King, I would be a University man; and if it were so that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I would desire to have no other prison than that (Bodleian) library, ...
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... and to be chained together with so many good authors, et mortuis magister."
King James I (1566 - 1625)

The city of Oxford has inspired kings, authors, academics throughout the centuries and holds an unrivalled worldwide reputation to this day. What better setting could we wish for the upcoming ILAB Congress, which is taking place again for the first time since 2018 after a pandemic-induced break. And ILAB booksellers will in fact lodge in the former Oxford prison, now a quirky hotel with converted prison cells and spend an entire day at the world-famous Bodleian Library viewing its unparalled collections.

ILAB thanks the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association (ABA) and in particular Daniel Crouch, Siân Wainwright, Simon Beattie and the ABA Company Secretary Riley Grant for the enormous efforts and work to make it all happen and putting ideas into reality.

ABA Congress organisers
The ABA ILAB Congress organising team at the converted Oxford Prison (now Malmaison Hotel). From left to right: Daniel Crouch, Simon Beattie, Pom Harrington (ABA President), Siân Wainwright, Riley Grant and Barry Hughes (ABA Marketing)

Daniel, you and your team at the ABA, Siân Wainwright, Simon Beattie and Riley Grant have been through nearly 4 years of planning and two years of active organising of this much anticipated event for the rare book trade. What led you to the - can we say "crazy" idea - to take on this huge task to organise an ILAB Congress in your country?

I blame Sally Burdon, Camilla Szymanowska (former secretary of the ABA), and a belly full of red wine at the LA Congress about 157 years ago (well, 2018). I was in my cups lamenting the fact that we had to get on a coach every time we wanted to visit a venue in LA, and said something along the lines of “we could walk everywhere if it was Oxford”… and that was it really. I wasn’t aware this was sufficient for a contract sealed in blood, but apparently it was…
Oxford is, of course, an ideal city to host a bibliofest: not only is it astonishingly beautiful, and easy to traverse on foot, it also happens to have more libraries per square mile than anywhere else on earth, and has a noble history of drunken booksellers (myself and Sian included), as well as writing, printing, and publishing going back centuries. The Bodleian, who have generously volunteered to open their doors and give us pretty much free run of the place on the Sunday, has on its own over 20 million books, and there are over 30 colleges, each of which has its own library. We will visit 4 of the best of these: All Souls’, Christ Church, Merton, and University College. We are also fortunate in having secured private tours of three of Oxford’s great museums: The Ashmolean, The Natural History Museum, and Oxford History of Science Museum, each of which will show us their bibliographic and related wares. In addition to the bookish days, evenings will be spent collegiately in some of the more interesting dining venues around the city, including the fifteenth century Divinity School of the Bodleian Library, a “High Table” banquet at Balliol, punting and BBQ at the Cherwell Boathouse, and a farewell feast at the famous Perch Inn, just a March Hare’s leap from Lewis Carroll’s Treacle Well.

Simon, we are aware that your first congress brainstorm meetings included way more activities to show your colleagues than you could eventually fit into the schedule. If not attending the congress or if anyone still has some energy left - what advice do you give visitors?

If people still have the energy, I would advise them simply to explore the city itself. As Daniel says, it’s a famously beautiful place, and we’re really delighted to be able to welcome the bookselling world to it. I first attended an ILAB Congress twenty years ago this year: the famous Scandinavian Congress in 2002 which moved around the Baltic from Helsinki, to Stockholm, to Oslo, to Copenhagen. I have always loved the international nature of the book trade and it’s wonderful that people are now able to travel again.

Riley, you are not only working with the ILAB Congress team, your main role this month is to organise the UK's and one of the world's leading rare book fairs. What can booksellers and visitors expect after 5 days of congress when coming over to London's Saatchi Gallery?

It’s been enjoyable working on both the ILAB Congress and Firsts London at the same time. We planned both events to have a natural tie in, encouraging all those attending congress to exhibit or at least visit the fair afterwards.

We are pleased to be returning to Saatchi Gallery for another year.
Visitors can expect a fair in a fantastic venue, filled with both new and returning booksellers. We are happy to host 120 exhibitors from 13 countries of which 50 are new to us this year.
While our theme this year is banned books, visitors can expect a broad range of material available at varying price points. There is something for everyone!

We have developed a talks program this year, focusing on a range of subjects including Bibliography, Book Security, and in keeping with our theme this year, a talk on Censorship from Dr. Katherine Inglis, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.

ILAB affiliates can gain free access to the fair for the duration of the event. If they would like to attend the Thursday night preview, please rsvp to

Impressions of FIRSTS - London's Rare Book Fair 2021 - See you at the next edition this September!

ILAB wishes all congress participants a safe journey to Oxford. Finally we can meet again in person and spend days doing what we all love most: enjoy the company of books and good friends!


Article, images and interview: Angelika Elstner