Fine Press Books from Oak Knoll
By Michael Stillman
Catalogue 281 has rolled off the press at Oak Knoll Books and it represents a departure, or perhaps evolution from their typical catalogue. The usual Oak Knoll catalogue contains something in the area of a thousand books, scattered among numerous topics within their "books about books" and bibliography fields. Number 281 contains just 75 items, and they are all within the topic of Contemporary Fine Press Books.
This change is evidently not an aberration, but an evolution in the firm's method of selling books. As noted in the new catalogue, they have been reevaluating "how we can best tell you of our 20,000+ titles...without boring the heck out of you," along with pointing out "we also need to save a forest or two..." The result is a more limited selection described in the catalogue, coupled with instructions on making better use of their website. Here is where we see the evolution of bookselling. Rather than having to read through a thousand listings to find the book you want, the website allows for quick searches and pinpoint targeting of the titles you might like. The "advanced search" not only allows you to select particular titles, but search within specific topics using keywords, publisher, price, language, date and such. Alternatively, you may browse the listings within specific fields. Since this number may be even larger than a typical Oak Knoll catalogue contains (they note that while this catalogue contains 75 fine press books, they have 1,809 in inventory) you can browse by subtopic. So, with "fine press books," you may limit your browsing to those of the 19th, 20th, or 21st century, to bibliography, to U.S., U.K. or Canadian books, to leaf books, to Limited Editions Club books, or other specific areas.
However, Oak Knoll notes that "the roots of our business go back to sending you printed information and we refuse to let that part of our business die." Certainly it would be hard to imagine bookselling without catalogues, "books about books" in their own right. Nevertheless, with over 20,000 titles available, and new inventory being added regularly, it is impossible to ignore the convenience only possible through the technology of online search. So, bookselling evolves, and Oak Knoll is adjusting to the times while still retaining a part of tradition. That's a fair compromise.
This latest catalogue of fine press books contains 75 items, all from different presses. It provides a great overview of the type of material Oak Knoll has to offer. Here are a few samples which should, like the catalogue itself, lead collectors to explore the much wider universe to be found on the Oak Knoll website.