Technology means “so many more bookselling opportunities” today says new ILAB president
Sally Burdon is the new president of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).
She succeeds Gonzalo F Pontes, who was president from 2016-18. Burdon was vice president under Pontes for the past two years and has been a member of the ILAB committee since 2014.
Her bookshop, Asia Bookroom, is in Canberra, Australia.
Following her election, she has told ATG about what she stands for and how she sees her role for the next two years.
What are you goals as ILAB president?
It is difficult to predict what the next two-and-a-half years will bring, but I am committed to being responsive and proactive. It is a very exciting time to be ILAB president, particularly with the great possibilities the use of modern technology offers.
You were integral to setting up ILAB’s mentorship programme in December 2018. How would you like to see this develop?
ILAB aims to continue building the programme’s reputation. We want to help our newer bookselling colleagues gain knowledge and confidence as quickly and painlessly as possible.
There can be some lonely moments when you first begin in the trade and are faced with a situation you don't know how to deal with. However, having regular contact with an experienced colleague for whom there are no ‘silly questions’ is a great support. We hope that many newer booksellers who are the future of our trade will take advantage of the opportunity to enrol in this free programme.
I have been very pleasantly surprised by how well it is going, particularly given that it is only just over a year old. Currently we have 15 mentees on our books and judging by the feedback we are getting from both the mentors and mentees, both are getting a great deal out of their relationships.
I hope to see it continue to build and strengthen.
As an Australian, what special perspective do you bring to your new position?
When a bookseller joins the ILAB Committee you are asked to leave your nationality at the door. It is a world community with members in 37 countries and we want to, as best we can, represent the interests of all.
However, it would be silly to deny that one's experience – in my case a dual UK/ Australian background – doesn't influence one's thoughts and reactions. I hope that having grown up in a multicultural country with a relatively small population has given me the benefit of looking out beyond my immediate surroundings. Living in a truly multicultural community emphasises that there are many ways of seeing a situation and that there is a great strength to be gained from hearing many perspectives.
What are the biggest challenges facing the book trade today?
I prefer to look at this question the other way around: what are some of the best opportunities for the book trade today?
Antiquarian booksellers do face challenges of course, but there are so many more opportunities than there were when I first came into bookselling in the early 1980s, and it’s so exciting to be involved.
Thanks to the internet there are undreamed-of opportunities to find new customers and to quickly and easily be in contact with them. It also offers many avenues of education for a bookseller and, of course, the ability to buy across the globe without leaving home.
If you do care to leave home, travel is cheaper than it used to be, which means visiting other countries to exhibit or buy at book fairs, to take advantage of the many educational opportunities offered for those interested in rare books, or just to visit booksellers and libraries in other countries has never been easier.
Thanks to the internet, ILAB dealers are now also in a better position than ever to report and trace stolen materials and work together with libraries to build ever-stronger barriers against those who would act against the good of cultural institutions, collectors and dealers everywhere.