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Searching for the Right Book in Buenos Aires

42-feria-internacional-del-libro-buenos-airesBy the time the 42nd Buenos Aires Book Fair opened to book professionals, several of the librarians from the United States attending this year’s event had already visited many of the book spaces in a city known for its many book outlets. It was no coincidence that the hotel was only a few blocks away from Avenida Corrientes, still home to many a book shop in Argentina’s capital. Only a few weeks earlier the iconic street had showcased its legado libresco at La Noche de las Librerías, 2016salamistasBsAs a cultural event already in it’s 9th year.

For me, I was determined to find a book I had seen at a bookdealer’s catalog in San Francisco. The profusely illustrated, oversize hardcover proved to be quite an adventure: none of the main shops on Corrientes had even heard about it. At one of them it was suggested I consult Librería de la Imagen, whose specialty is local and importerd art books. But the store was already closed on a Saturday afternoon.librosargentiios

A few days later at the Fair’s exhibit hall I mentioned it to the shop’s owner and he had a vague notion about it but his bookstore did not carry it. When I finally secured a copy, thanks to our Library’s vendor, I showed it to the MALBA bookshop cashier who was equally impressed by the book and just as surprised about the limited distribution, ya sabe como son las cosas por acá, he said, agreeing with me that it would make sense for the Museum’s bookstore to have copies for sale.

As in previous years, academic presses had a very visible collective stand while several of the regional governments (provincias) were mostly housed in a large pabellón along with several other NGOs. A local dealer commented that given the new, more fiscally conservative government these entities may not have the same presence at subsequent fairs.

New at this year’s book fair: an on-site courier service that facilitated sending packages without leaving the exhibit hall and Nuevo Barrio, the aisle housing independent publishers with a combined output ranging from fanzines to libros artesanales and graphic novels. nuevo-barrio-feria-del-libro

By the time the fair closed its doors after a three week run, organizers reported having hosted 1.2 milion visitors, also announcing Los Angeles as Ciudad invitada for 2017.

Adan Griego, Curator for IberoAmerican Collections-Stanford University.

Attending Book Fairs: Why it Matters.

My first book buying trip happened without any strategic planning. A friend of a friend had an airline ticket for two people that was about to expire and I jumped at the opportunity to travel to Guadalajara, a city I had never visited in Mexico. Mine would be accommodating expenses at a modest hotel. I had a vague idea about a book fair going on during those dates but not much else. Little did I know that I was about to embark on one of the most transformative experiences any novice Latin American Studies librarian could ask for: attending Guadalajara’s Feria Internacional del Libro (FIL).

Guided by a generous friend, Professor Sarah Poot Herrera, I remember arriving at the entrance of FIL just as the famous Mexican writer Juan Jose Arreola was greeted by locals who had gathered to felicitate him as the winner of the Juan Rulfo Literary Award. Arreola had been my friend’s teacher and mentor. They greeted each other with a warm embrace, Felicidades Maestro, she said and then she introduced me to him. I could not say anything beyond mucho gusto. Later I remember feeling like a character from Arreola’s famous short story that takes a train to an unknown destiny as I entered FIL’s exhibit hall: an unexplored world inhabited books.

The following year I asked my supervisor for permission to attend FIL and purchase a few books. There was so much excitement when she agreed that I had not even contemplated logistics to ship materials back to the Library, so I carried them in my suitcases. The $600 spent would probably have taken twice as much from my constantly diminishing budget. It was during the grim years of the early 1990’s California economy. The FIL trip was one of the few rays of hope I remember from that period.

Since those early FIL days, I have attended other book fairs over the years: Barcelona and Madrid (for LIBER), Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico City, Santiago and Brazil’s Bienal do Livro in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.bookfairs2015B

*In Santiago one year Brazil was the featured country and the person in charge of the stand had heard about SALALM from a former colleague in Rio de Janeiro and gave me several publications with little commercial distribution. This has also been the case in both Bogota and Guadalajara with governmental agencies that cannot sell their publications and are pleased to know that libraries in the United States are eager to collect them. Some of them remember me and other library colleagues from year to year.

*As part of the first group of US Librarians sponsored by LIBER in 1999, I discovered a peripheral but vibrant LGBT publishing industry in Madrid that was not being covered by vendors supplying research materials to North American libraries.

*One year Sao Paulo publishers announced a Primavera dos Livros and I convinced colleagues from UCLA and UNC-Chapel Hill to attend. After a long silence from organizers, we found out the event had been cancelled. It was too late to cancel our trip and collectively we organized our very our Spring Book Fair with tips from other colleagues who had visited Brazil.

*In both Lima and Bogota I have visited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose ephemeral publications had limited print runs and an equally limited distribution. Even when freely available online, uncertainty about long term availability remained a critical issue. This was the key argument in securing a print copy for our library.

*At several of the book fairs, it was not usual to hear “get it now,” from a publishers and vendors. I was skeptical until I saw at the end of most books that 1,000 was the typical print run and in some cases, even half that much. Indeed, many titles have a limited public life: a book fair, a presentación at a bookstore, perhaps an ad in a cultural magazine and then unsold copies disappear and vendors reply to our constant claims for an unfilled order as descatalogado or agotado, indicating out-of-print. As the price of paper has increased, unsold copies are often shredded and the paper is recycled.

*In Buenos Aires one year several SALALM colleagues visited the Eloisa Cartonera workshop when the hand-made cartonero books were barely in the collecting horizon for academic libraries.arrebato

*At a recent LIBER book fair several librarians visited the Arrebato Libros book shop which specializes in poetry, fanzines and chapbooks, research materials absent from traditional vendor channels. LIBER also has a parallel antiquarian book fair both in Madrid and Barcelona that allows not only for out-of-print searching but also a learning experience to both novice and veteran librarians.

*On-site specialty bookshops (Librería de Mujeres in Buenos Aires) or timely topics (the ongoing polemic for Catalan independence from Spain) provide an oppurtunity for unique collection development.catalancovers

*In the last few years Guadalajara has also hosted La Otra FIL for alternative publishers and the LIA artist book fair, both independent events augment collecting possibilities.

*Our collective presence at book fairs has made it possible to facilitate dialogue with publishers and content providers and influence a digital offer suited to our libraries.

At all of these book fairs, vendors supplying books to our libraries have also been in attendance. Not only do they facilitate shipping of materials, they also learn first-hand what are the shifting scholarly trends.

I have attended presentaciones de libros, participated in local library conferences that have coincided with book fairs and spoken at panel discussions explaining book distribution channels to local vendors. Each of these experiences has been as enriching as that accidental first book fair attendance of 1992.

Adan Griego is Curator for Latin American, Mexican-American and Iberian Collections at the Stanford University Libraries.

Book Hunting in Lima.

The couple next to me cannot contain their enthusiasm: Chile’s has won the Copa America. “I also had to watch the game in English,” says the LAN flight attendant, equally excited. I don’t want to ruin their festive moment with a comment on the dark history of the national stadium where the game was played, also used as mass detention center in the early days of the Pinochet dicatatorship.

Instead, I tell them I saw the results online while preparing for a trip to Lima’s Peru Service Summit that would match local publishers and software developers (among others) to meet with potential compradores. It’s not the first time that librarians have been labeled as buyers, as much as we would like to be known as agentes culturales, or profesionales de la informacion, maybe even intermediarios del conocimiento.

It’s been more than ten years since my last visit to Lima, which now-a-days seems to be a top culinary destination, according reports as varied as a business daily, and even a men’s magazine.

The morning will start in the Miraflores section of the Peruvian capital with a tour by a local limeña. She understands my bibliographic obsessions. The first visit will be to Promsex: Centro de Promocion y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos, a well-established NGO that has issued several reports on women’s reproductive rights and LGBT issues. Their publications are now fully available online and are deposited at the country’s national library, much like any other local print publication with an ISBN. The limited print run of 500 copies is also distributed throughout the country, reaching those areas with limited internet access. We meet one of the group’s leaders who shares our concern for documenting the history of LGBT groups and other like entities.

virreybookstoreThe next stop will be the iconic El Virrey bookshop. My friend asks about some recent publications: Crónicas de la diversidad and Dulce Fanzin. The sales clerk recognized the first one, but the other one appears to have a somewhat erratic distribution, although it’s already been noted by other online publications. He directs us to La Libre, a book shop at Barranco, on the other side of town. Not wanting to wear out my host, I opt to come back later. I can spend hours on end, but there are more pressing matters, like a much deserved lunch break.

In search of a well-known restaurant, which is closed on Mondays, of course, we opted for another one across the street. There were only two tables left so the food must be good. The traditional lomo saltado, even with my dislike for onions, turned out to be as tasty as the one prepared by a good Peruvian friend back in California, “with the secret sazón of my grandmother,” she always noted.

The recent New York Times 36 hours travel section includes Barranco as one of the must-visit sections of Lima. We arrive one day too late, the independent presses have just had their first book fair and the bookshop we are searching for is closed on Mondays! What are we to do? Un buen cafecito…of course!

My friend suggests a traditional Barranco locale, where I ask for a café con leche. The owner says they don’t serve such a thing, nada mas café solo, he clariefies! That other one can be found by the opposite side of the park, without naming the well-known American chain with an “S.” Not my idea to savor something local, but we find a most unexpected place at an old train car converted into a coffee shop/restaurant where they do have café con leche.

The afternoon will end with a visit to Librería Inestable, already highlighted by Spain’s daily El País. I select several poetry chapbooks, some of which are missing a price. Since the owner is out of town, I will have to return a few days later.

latiendaBarrancoFor the next book hunting recorrido there will be three of us, Teresa Chapa (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Phil MacLeod (Emory), starting at Sur. We probably drove the sales clerk crazy with so many questions. The young man answered politely and patiently before we left, each with at least a book bag.

From there it would be to Barranco again, and La Libre has just opened for business. We spoke each other’s language…ours was probably their best sale ever. Hopefully it helped make up for the loss from a break-in of a few weeks earlier.

A Lima visit could not be complete without cebiche, and that was our next stop: Canta Rana just around the corner. Some local friends had other suggestions but that day we were lucky that Phil Macleod went ahead of us to get a table because there was already a growing line to find a seat. Even our lunch hour could not be complete without some book business. We were joined by the publisher of Paracaídas Editores. He was probably not expecting to sell all his books in one seating! Thanks to fellow SALALM member José Ignacio Padilla for the contact.

We are already running late for our next appointment on the other side of town at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos where fellow SALALM librarian Virginia García is awaiting us. They also have a bookshop! From there, the taxi will bring us back to Miraflores to Contracultura, a graphic novel paradise where we will add more book bags. It’s past 7pm and the traffic is already heavy, if not would have visited one more shop before calling it a day.

peru-service-summit-2015Tomorrow is the start of two intense days of meetings with publishers at the Peru Service Summit. There will be the usual question about buying directly from a publisher and our explanation on the added services that a distributor can provide. Of course, there are always discoveries, like another independent press, with a most suggestive name Animal de invierno…or the press with profusely illustrated texts that are more than just another coffee table book.

Before embarking on the long flight back to California, there would be one more stop at our distributor’s office to review books not sent via our approval plan and check on new publishers discovered through a few days of book hunting in Lima. Both Teresa Chapa and Phil MacLeod will stay longer and visited a book shop recommended by Virgina at the Instituo de Estudios Peruanos. Communitas was not too far from our hotel and they both went on the day I was heading to the airport through an unending sea of Friday afternoon traffic. I am sure they will report on their treasure hunt!

Adan Griego
Stanford University Libraries.

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