This year Tavistock Books was pleased to offer a scholarship to Joel Silver’s excellent course, “Reference Sources for Researching Rare Books,” at Rare Book School (RBS). We found a worthy winner in Travis Low of Ken Sanders Rare Books. Travis started out as a shipping clerk and has taken advantage of numerous opportunities to expand his role. His new responsibilities often include researching new inventory, making this RBS course ideal. Travis checked in with us to share his RBS experience.
TavBooks: Tell us a little about the class you took, “Reference Sources for Researching Rare Books,” with Joel Silver.
Travis: A group of us sat around a large table taking copious notes while Mr. Silver imparted his reference book wizardry, guiding us through labyrinths of bibliographies, exhibition and auction catalogues, various lists of books, etc. While we mainly focused on reference books, we also learned a lot of valuable information about reliable online sources for researching books. This was extremely useful for the booksellers (like me), librarians, and collectors in the class, giving us the tools to do better research in any field for collecting or selling. For me, the class also sparked a lot of new ideas and strategies for cataloguing and book buying and selling.
TavBooks: How was the class structured? What was the learning environment like?
Travis: It was a fairly traditional lecture and discussion class, but with a lot of interaction with the books under discussion. We also had two very useful workbooks to interact with and take notes in. The floor was always open for questions and discussions. Mr. Silver’s knowledge base and ability to teach through instruction, interaction with material, storytelling, and personal anecdote were very impressive.
TavBooks: What was the most useful or immediately applicable lesson you learned?
Travis: It quickly became clear to me that, to some extent, any bookseller, librarian, or collector is about as good as their abilities to navigate and effectively use the reference materials in their relative fields and specialties. The class really opened my mind to the wealth of resources that are available in all fields. So, I’ve immediately become more interested in familiarizing myself with the reference literature in new and unfamiliar fields of interest, while making sure that I have all my bases covered in the fields that I already deal in on a regular basis.
TavBooks: What was the most challenging part of the course? The most interesting?
Travis: The most challenging part is simply grasping the breadth and depth of information that is available and learning the best methods and practices for engaging the material that is available. Sometimes it takes a clever mind to figure out which resources to consult to do effective research, especially with new or obscure material. The most interesting parts of the class were the stories that Mr. Silver shared about the formation of notable and well known collections, or the processes by which many of the bibliographies and catalogues were produced and the eccentric personalities that created them. These stories gave interesting perspectives and insight into various ways of approaching book collecting and selling. I find this very valuable as I continue to try to learn and grow and find my way in the book trade.
TavBooks: How did RBS complement your experience at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS)?
Travis: CABS was amazing for giving a broad and general overview of many of the aspects of the book trade — a detailed map of the book world and how to engage with it. RBS goes deep into the details and particularities of specific subjects and areas of interests. I felt that CABS was the perfect gateway to attend RBS. Many of the things that I learned at CABS prepared me and gave me the proper background and context to be able to make the most out of my experience at RBS.
TavBooks: How would you describe RBS to someone who’d never heard of it before?
Travis: It is an enlightening and invigorating experience. Be sure that you are ready to absorb a lot of information, and take a lot of notes that you can use later. The classes go into a lot of depth, are very detailed, and are taught by the most interesting and knowledgeable professionals in the field. The campus and the living experience are a lot of fun at the University of Virginia, especially on ‘The Lawn’ where I stayed. The social experience is a lot of fun, providing many great opportunities for networking between classes, at lunches and dinners, and at other evening events, etc.
TavBooks: Which course are you hoping to take next?
Travis: I’m currently forming and deciding on a personalized course of action for the RBS’s new Certificate of Proficiency Program, which “allows students to create a specialized focus for their coursework at RBS and to earn formal recognition for their concentrated studies at the School.” My next class will probably be either “Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographic Description” or “Printed Books Since 1800: Description and Analysis.” But so many of the courses sound interesting! I hope to eventually take “Developing Collections: Donors, Libraries, and Booksellers,” and several of the courses that explore various aspects of illustration.
Based at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Rare Book School offers a wide variety of courses addressing the art, history, and bibliography of the book. Taught by world experts in the field, these classes are geared not only toward antiquarian book sellers, but also librarians, collectors, and anyone else who embraces the book as an object. Please visit RBS online for more information.