Interview with Gonzalo F. Pontes - ILAB Immediate Past President (2016-2018)
Mr Pontes, please tell us a little about yourself, your business and what you are dealing in?
I studied ancient history and archaeology at the Malaga and Granada universities, obtaining my degree in 1986. During that time and the years after my graduation, I worked on different archaeological excavations in Israel (Haifa) and Greece. I also worked for two seasons at the Siwa Oasis (Egypt) on an international project in search of Greek remains related to Alexander the Great and the Greek presence in northern Egypt. Between 1989 and 1990 I worked as a guide for archaeological tours through the Middle East (Turkey, Egypt) and Greece. These were great times before the widespread growth of travel and massive tourism to those destinations.
I started collecting books on archaeology and travel during my time at the university. But my first encounters with old books were during a stay in Athens in 1990 at the British and French schools of archaeology, researching for information about the Siwa Oasis and Cirenaica during the Hellenistic period. Later I had the opportunity to work with some seminal books on travel through Northern Africa and I realised that collecting material related to that part of the world was what I wanted to do. My interest in collecting coincided with a change in my life. I stopped my exhausting work as a travel guide and archaeologist that tied me up part of the year away from my country. I founded my bookshop in 1992 specializing in travel books, orientalism, cartography and topographical views.
In 2007, I became president of the Spanish association (AILA) and attended my first ILAB President’s meeting in Paris 2007. Since then I have participated in all the congresses and President´s meetings.
You have been a member of the ILAB Executive Committee for four years. How would you summarise ILAB's function for the international book trade?
After my election into the ILAB Executive Committee in 2012, I realised the amount and depth of the work that the committee carries out on a daily basis dealing with different issues: stolen books, export laws that affect our trade, book fairs and any issue that could happen to any of the twenty-two national association’s members of the League.
Next year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the League. We are the reference association for the international trade in rare books, manuscripts and maps, with a code of usages and customs that regulate our commercial practices, duties, obligations and create transparency for a fair trade. ILAB supports the network of international book fairs organized by the national associations and our website acts as a reference portal for the rare book trade. The ILAB logo is a guarantee that you can buy and sell with confidence worldwide. In fact, confidence is the cornerstone of our activity. I see ILAB as an entity, an international organisation, to back-up and support our trade.
During the last four years, you have been Security Chair for ILAB. What has that entailed?
Shortly after I accepted the position as ILAB Security Chair in September 2012, I prepared a presentation for the IFLA International Conference that took place a month later at The Hague. I gave an introductory talk about the League to librarians and archivists attending the conference, to discuss book theft in institutional libraries worldwide and the necessity for close cooperation between IFLA and ILAB. I introduced our stolen book database and the possibilities it provides as a tool to help track stolen books. IFLA and ILAB have now built a joint group to maintain high levels of communication, which will meet once a year. Communication between the two associations is essential to deal with the issue of thefts and make very clear that as a trade, we do everything we can to prevent and detect thefts and respond quickly when necessary.
In your opening speech during the ILAB General Assembly in September in Budapest you mentioned ILAB's next steps to mentor young booksellers?
We have just launched the ILAB International Mentoring Programme which is not only an idea but a serious commitment to the future. The idea is that ILAB will help young booksellers. We will create a forum for ideas and give advice to those starting in the business and we will help and encourage young booksellers to become ILAB affiliates and be part of this global network. The idea was presented at the Budapest congress in September 2016 by Sally Burdon (ILAB Vice President) and Stuart Bennet (Committee Member) and we have had some very positive feedback. There are already a number of ILAB affiliates willing to mentor newcomers. We are finalising and refining details but this idea is on track and will be implemented shortly.
The fast paced developments of technology and channels for booksellers and collectors alike dominate the conversation these days. How does ILAB respond to that?
I think everybody agrees that ILAB´s website is the reference portal for the international book trade. After eight successful years we have taken the decision to update the portal and prepare a relaunch. The new site will continue to be a reference for the book trade not only providing information on booksellers, their stock and fairs and events related to the rare book world but also act as a channel for our affiliates that helps to improve the trade. We live in a changing world and we have to utilise modern technology to revamp the image of our profession just as hard as national associations work year after year to improve the ILAB book fairs and make them successful events.
Finally, a short message about your new role?
First I have to say that being the first Spaniard to become an ILAB President is a great honour and something I am very proud of. As I said during my speech at the General Assembly in Budapest, I believe that we have many challenges to overcome in our trade. All ILAB affiliates must know that we are not a bureaucratic structure. All members of the ILAB committee are booksellers themselves and we volunteer part of our time to work on behalf of all booksellers, to deal with problems and to find solutions and improve our trade. We are all in the same boat and if we get better results for our trade with our actions, we will all benefit from that.
I am not sure whether my presidency will be a bed of roses or an arduous journey. On behalf of the committee and from myself I want to send a message to all the affiliates that we are committed to work for the future of our association that is closely linked to the future of each of us.
To reach Mr. Pontes, please contact: