In attending the annual book fair in the modern concrete jungle of Frankfurt, I was at times brought to a standstill by total “pedlock” (the pedestrian version of gridlock). This was one indicator of the incredible importance and draw of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Muhammad Ali was present for the publication announcement of his new 65-pound picture book within the dramatic framework of a full-sized boxing ring, but I was unable to get a ringside seat. Superstars of literature were in attendance as well – such as Günter Grass and Susan Sontag – and the tenor of their remarks became the fodder for earnest literary and political discussions now and in the coming year. But of particular interest to me as European Studies Bibliographer at BYU, of course, were the European book suppliers and their offerings.
Six years had passed since my previous visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair (and a gap of fifteen years before that). Some of the European book world had passed me by in the meantime. While it is true that book vendors help us to consolidate our acquisition efforts and publisher liaison for major European countries, there is always a need for a bibliographer to be acquainted with the reputation, latest offerings and most relevant output of publishers within these countries: the book fair offered me a rich opportunity to do this at my relative leisure.
As I gained a personal, visual sense of the European (and international) book trade, I also visited exhibits for countries in which we have to deal directly with publishers, institutes, or national publishing associations. Of particular interest for me in this regard were the Scandinavian and Nordic countries. As the webmaster of the WESS Scandinavian Studies Web, I give this area special attention. Another of my goals was to learn more about publishers and book outlets for countries at the collecting margins of Europe such as Lithuania, Romania, Greece and Hungary (“collecting margins” for us at BYU, at least, since these and other lands fall between the Western European and Eastern European collection parameters). I was happy to sign up for catalog lists and to bring home catalogues, contact names, addresses and URLs. The concept of European “margins” will change for us gradually as our desire to collect for the European Union area expands with the addition to the EU of new Central and Eastern European countries in 2004 and beyond. Thus, one of the highlights of the fair for me was to visit the European Union Publishers’ Forum, where not only official EU print and online offerings were introduced and detailed, but also those of other independent publishers who deal heavily in EU studies.
At Frankfurt, I was able to take the time to talk to vendors without feeling pressed for time. Going beyond the book, I was able to visit and chat with representatives for other European materials such as government documents, statistical publications and electronic resources and online services.
Astute vendors and publishers – along with the organizers of the fair – understand that librarians are buyers of millions of dollars’ worth of books, journals, microforms, and electronic products and access. Thus, it was of benefit to be rated as a “trade visitor” able to attend all days of the fair. This contrasts strongly with my experience the last time, in 1997, when I was denied entrance to the “International Librarians’ Center” because I had not pre-registered. This time, we librarians from North America, specifically the ACRL contingent who attended, had the opportunity as information professionals to volunteer as exhibitors ourselves. In a flipside of publisher booth visits, vendors and other librarians came to us at the ACRL booth to learn about what expertise, human networks or products American libraries have to offer.
It was a real joy to mingle, travel, get rained on, lodge, dine and work with other librarians at the fair. This year, since Russia was a main focus or “guest country,” a number of ACRL’s Slavic and East European Section (SEES) librarians accompanied WESS friends over, under, around and through Frankfurt. If there was one theme that impressed itself on me this visit, it was the necessity of opening up access to more European publications from east and west (not to forget north and northwest).
Frankfurt, as suggested above, is essentially a concrete and steel jungle of post-modern sensibilities, so our choice of a hotel in Gelnhausen, forty-five minutes by train outside of Frankfurt, was not only financially called for but also culturally delightful, as we wandered streets lined with half-timbered houses, traipsing past the birthplace of Grimmelshausen, Germany’s most famous Baroque novelist, and viewing the ruins of the thirteenth-century emperor and Empörer, Friedrich Barbarossa. The rich ambiance of Gelnhausen thus made up somewhat for the long commute each morning and evening.
Nedbook’s sponsorship of this Nedbook Northwest Europe Award enabled me to
finance this journey to the book fair. This book fair experience and similar
ones – thanks to such generosity – will be possible for many other Europeanist
librarians in years to come.