Book Collecting Clubs and Associations

- by Bruce E. McKinney


The Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society

Tom Whitehead of the Philobiblon Club in Philadelphia speaks of declining membership as a settled fact. We have perhaps 150 members where once we had 200. Larry Rakow, of NOBS, the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society speaks of 300 members where a decade ago it was 400. They aren't the exceptions, they are simply representative. One person, in an unguarded moment spoke of their club's average age having increased by 14 years over the past 15 years. In most clubs membership is down and Lois Shumaker, a long time member of the Sacramento Book Collector's Club explains it this way. "The number of collectors is declining, the use of books is declining, the community is aging." Valerie Hotchkiss of the 44 Society in Urbana, Illinois sees a struggle but not a loss. "We work to stay relevant." George Beelen of the Ottawa Book Collectors [of Canada] speaks of small meetings and expresses concern for the club in the decade ahead. Hayward Blake of the Caxton Club is more upbeat but speaks of the loss of their home at the Newberry. "It was a budget issue and we are now moving our meetings."

Larry Rakow of NOBS, the Northern Ohio Bibliophilic Society speaks of a membership that has declined but is stable. We meet at different locations each month. We sponsor a book fair. We are figuring it out.

The membership ages but their leadership, across the country, is determined that their clubs survive and in time prosper.

An element in the decline is the increasing specialization that libraries and collectors are able to bring to their subjects. As focus intensifies the more general approach that clubs instinctively support seems less relevant. Only a generation ago collecting was conducted in broad brush form simply because there weren't enough data points for those hoping/wishing to more intensively focus. Most older club members grew accustomed to this and have been slow to adapt to new approaches. Today the emerging standard of collecting, regardless of age, is more intensive, the collector often "an" if not "the" expert in their subject within a few years of taking up the challenge. Such collecting is so different it can be difficult to relate to club participation.

The challenge then for clubs is to embrace the new methodologies and in periodic discussions speak with the wisdom of experience blended with the knowledge of how to collect in the ways that were until a few years ago beyond the reach and even the comprehension of most collectors.

In other words, the challenge for the clubs is to turn the enormous rate of recent change into an opportunity to explain it. The next generation, if they find aid in understanding the new tools, will participate. In that way the new collector will become part of the club tradition and in time shape it to their next generation.

To aid in this process AE is organizing a series of links and pages so that club locations, meeting schedules and topics of lectures and discussions will be easily accessible. Clubs that encourage new and outside participation will have links for the interested to contact them and in many cases to attend.