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Oversubscribed year on year! Interview with Anthony Smithson - Organiser of YABS

On the 10th September, the 2018 edition of YABS will start. ILAB spoke to Anthony Smithson owner of Keel Row Book Shop in York and organiser of the very popular course about what to expect this year and why the seminar has been oversubscribed since its inception in 2014.
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The York Antiquarian Book Seminar that everyone in the rare book trade refers to as “YABS” was set up in 2014 and is oversubscribed each year. What makes it such a success?

YABS success is down to a combination of demand, delivery, marketing, timing and sheer hard work! Fully booked from the get-go there was an obvious and real need in the UK for an entry level course in antiquarian bookselling. There are a new generation of online booksellers out there, all without any formal training. Because we deliberately cover as wide a range of bookselling skills as we can many of the best of them who want to expand and improve there businesses come to us. Running virtually one lecture into the next, with a stella faculty, the students don't have time to take a breath. The seminar is well promoted at all the major UK book fairs through the ABA and PBFA and we have a strong social media presence. My wife and I at the Keel Row Bookshop work on and promote the seminar year round with the able assistance of our administrator on the ground in in York, Sophie Pointon.

YABS Faculty

Do booksellers return to the seminar the following year or do you prefer to offer the opportunity to new applicants each year?

The places at YABS are booked on a first come first served basis, becoming available in the Spring each year. So far we've only had one students who has come back a second time!

Is the seminar only attended by UK booksellers or do booksellers from across Europe or further away see a benefit in joining?

The seminar has had international students from its inception and its a trend which is increasing. This year we have have students from as far afield as Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Japan with a number from the United States.

York Book FairThe seminar this year closes on the 12th September, the York Antiquarian Book Fair opens on the 14th. How would you describe the link between the seminar and the fair?

The timing, as you can probably guess, is deliberate. Where better to practise your new found bookselling skills that at the York National Book Fair, Britain's largest book fair where every rung on the bookselling ladder is represented? The students get to network almost immediately the seminar is over, with many of the faculty there to chaperone them. One student was offered a job by an exhibitor a two years ago, partly on the strength of having completed the course. The book fair also helps attract international speakers to the seminar, as who amongst us can resist a buying trip hung around a major fair?

York MinsterWhat is your personal highlight in this year’s seminar programme?

I'm very much looking forward to hearing the Keynote Speech from Lisa Unger Baskin, renowned bookseller, collector, philanthropist and political activist.

If in York, besides bookshops, book fairs and seminars - what should we not miss?

The Rose Window in York Minster of course! If it proves to be a bright September day then a stroll around the City walls to get a sense of the place is delightful. There happens to be rather a lot of excellent pubs too!

Anthony, thank you for the interview. We wish you a very successful seminar again this year!

Established in 1981 Keel Row Books is one of the leading antiquarian and second-hand bookshops in the North of England. Anthony Smithson and his wife Alice Laverty have owned Keel Row Books since 2006 and also direct and organise the York Antiquarian Book Seminar (or YABS for short), a successful new not-for-profit educational programme for would-be booksellers.

For more information about YABS, please visit the website.

Alternatively, please contact the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, ABA here.

Interview: Angelika Elstner
Images: YABS, York Tourism