The American Booksellers Association and Columbia University Libraries confirmed yesterday what some in the industry have known for weeks: as it prepares to move out of its White Plains, N.Y., headquarters, the ABA has donated its enormous archives to Columbia University, to be housed in its Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The collection consists of documents and photographs and other images pertaining to the history of bookselling in the U.S and, more specifically, the history of the organization since its founding in 1900. The archives were first rendered into digital format by an outside vendor for the ABA before the materials were transferred in early January to Columbia University from the ABA’s headquarters in White Plains. A Columbia University Libraries spokesperson told PW that approximately 75 boxes of documents, including photos, books, and bound volumes of ABA periodicals, were transferred to Columbia University from White Plains, which is just north of Columbia, in Westchester County.
According to a release, the ABA and Columbia University “hope to address the difficulty researchers experience in finding information about bookstores and the book industry” with this move. In fact, the partnership between the two organizations was facilitated by Lanora Jennings, who has launched a personal crusade to preserve for posterity the history of bookstores and bookselling in the U.S.
Jennings, a former bookseller who currently is the Midwest sales representative for University Sales Associates, has been working on a history of bookselling in the U.S. for the past four years, and at this year's Winter Institute in Cincinnati, she will launch the the Bookseller Oral History Project, for which booksellers and others in the industry are encouraged to record their stories about bookselling. The recordings will also be housed at Columbia University, in its oral history collection.
During an interview with PW about the project, Jennings recalled that, during a conversation at Heartland Fall Forum in October with ABA CEO Allison Hill, the latter disclosed that the ABA intended to terminate the lease of its headquarters in White Plains, and that the organization was looking for a home for the print archives after they had been digitized. This conversation prompted Jennings to contact Courtney Chartier, the director of he Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library, who accepted the archives donated by the ABA.
“We were thrilled to learn that the ABA was ready to move their records into a library,” stated Chartier. “Columbia already has the country’s premier collection on the publishing industry, and the ABA collection will bring an essential new facet to the story, ensuring that the voices of independent booksellers are never lost.”
Since it will take the archivists time to catalog and organize the materials, the ABA archives won’t be available to the public for “another three years—maybe five,” Jennings told PW, although the Libraries spokesperson promises that it will be "processed and made available for use by researchers as soon as possible." But the important thing, Jennings emphasized, is that the materials will be preserved, “instead of thrown away or kept in a storage facility.”
The relationship between the ABA and Columbia University is ongoing: the ABA will continue to donate materials to Columbia University Libraries for preservation.
This story has been updated with more information.