Saturday, August 29, 2015

Please join the conversation at the Rare Book Cafe

RARE BOOK CAFE (dress rehearsal) Saturday, August 29, 2015 - Clockwise from top left: Thorne Donnelley, Steven Eisenstein, Larry Kellogg, and T. Allan Smith.

Imagine a place where you can mingle with knowledgeable booksellers, ask them questions, share some stories and some laughs – a place where you can have a cup of coffee and join in the fun. That's called the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair but it happens only once a year. Well, now we've created a virtual place like that – and you don't even have to leave your house, though you do have to bring your own coffee.

Welcome to the Rare Book Cafe, a free-form Internet conversation about antiquarian books, maps, prints, ephemera, and more – all the stuff you love. You can see and talk to book dealers, people who know the details of publishing over hundreds of years. What a treat! What's more, it's free. All you need is a computer or IOS device and a good wi-fi connection and you're ready to go.

We're always looking for ways to leverage social media to help tell the story of the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in particular and the antiquarian book trade in general. When we discovered the platform called Blab, we knew we had found something special.

Some think the name is unfortunate and we're inclined to agree. The odd name notwithstanding, Blab provides the perfect blend of eyeball-to-eyeball interaction and flexible structure that we think will facilitate booksellers and book lovers getting to know each other. It's the same sort of thing that happens in rare bookstores all over the country (heck, all over the world) but Blab makes it possible to connect with anybody anywhere who has a decent wi-fi connection. We think the result will be positive for everyone involved.

It's an axiom in business that people do business with people they know, like and trust. If  you can't meet them in person, what better way to get to know a favorite book dealer than interact with them eyeball-to-eyeball in the Rare Book Cafe? Suddenly the world is a much smaller place when you can talk in real time with people all over the world who have the same interests as you do.

We've been practicing with this new way of communicating for a short time but most of the sessions weren't recorded. On Saturday, we did what we called a dress rehearsal. It's a preparation for our first official Rare Book Cafe session on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. At the top of this article, you can see a video of the session. It will give you a glimpse into what to expect. However, you have to experience it in person to really get the full effect.  For instance, in the LIVE version, the names of the participants show up on screen. They're not in the recorded version so you need a scorecard to tell who the players are. (We'll give you one below for the session we show here.) In the LIVE version, the four boxes where you see speakers are in a different position. In the LIVE version, you can type a comment and it'll show up in a column at the right. You don't have that option in the recorded version. in fact, the comments that were given during the event don't even show up in the recorded version.

Here's the short of it. The Blab platform is in beta, meaning they're still working on it. In fact, the developers are  drawing on the experiences of people who are using Blab to make improvements. We have been seeing upgrades on a daily basis.  It's kind of fun to watch, actually.  So, we're jumping in because we think this is a great place for lovers of antiquarian books to be. We'd like you to come along for the ride and have some fun with us.

The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is happy to sponsor Rare Book Cafe. We're doing it two days a week – Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. (ET) and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (ET) That's for now. It's subject to change, depending upon what people want. So let us hear from you. You can send comments to

This coming Wednesday, our topic: Is the antiquarian book fair a thing of the past?  It is worthy of discussion, especially with the upcoming book fairs in our immediate future. We're expecting to talk to folks from the 2015 Georgia Book and Paper Fair, which will be next weekend (September 5- 6) in Decatur. We have been delighted with the support of Josh Niesse and Megan Bell, who own Underground Books in Carrollton, home of the University of West Georgia.

Okay, the scorecard we promised. The boxes move around as the video progresses but this who's who is based on where they are at the beginning.

In the upper left box is Thorne Donnelley, who owns Liberty Book Store LLC, FABA, in Palm Beach. Thorne's great-grandfather founded R.R. Donnelley & Sons,  one of the largest commercial printing companies in the world. Thorne formerly ran a jet and helicopter service in Los Angeles. He specializes in coffee table books about planes, boats, and cars, as well as fine collectible first editions.

In the upper right box is Steven Eisenstein, owner of A-Book-A-Brac Shop in Miami Beach. Steven is a well-known South Florida bookseller, and long-time exhibitor at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. He also is host of the popular Internet-based radio show Bucks on the Bookshelf, which is broadcast live on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. on and repeated on Sundays. Steven will serve as a host for Rare Book Cafe.

In the lower right box is Larry Kellogg, who served as manager of the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair for more than two decades. He is former print journalist and public relations professional, and an avid collector of circus memorabilia. He writes for the collectibles website WorthPoint.

In the lower left box is T. Allan Smith (that's me), a retired journalist and former bookseller, who serves as the resident Internet techie and official photographer for the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. If you've been to the book fair, you've probably seen me taking pictures all over The Coliseum during the three-day event. You'll find my pictures on this blog and the various websites of the book fair.

So that's it. Rare Book Cafe is a work in progress as is Blab. (By the way, we've taken to jokingly calling it B-Lab for Broadcast Laboratory just to avoid saying the name.) We hope you'll join in, be part of the process, and help us shape Rare Book Cafe. But bring you own coffee. They haven't figured out how to serve a cup of joe over the Internet.

-- T. Allan Smith


Getting onto Blab is really easy if you can navigate around something like Facebook or Twitter or YouTube but here are some quick tips that may help.

• It's easier and advantageous to use your Twitter account to sign up for Blab. You'll see why once you get in there. Just remember a little bird told you.

• Apps are available for IOS devices (probably soon for Android devices, too). The icon is a strange little purple baby owl-like symbol. There's another app out there called Blab that looks like a child's cartoon character. That's not the right one. Look for the purple owl.

• On a desktop computer, you can also go to on a Google Chrome browser or a Firefox browser. Safari and Internet Explorer won't work.

• Blab is easier to navigate now than it was  a couple of weeks ago. They've put the growing number of Blab sessions into categories and added a search function so finding the Blab session you're looking for is easier.

• It's a good idea to follow the principal people in a Blab session because you'll get automatic notices when they set up new Blabs. You can also follow them on Twitter for redundant notices. Blab sessons will be set up in advance. You can subscribe to them and receive notices if there are any changes and alerts before they start.

• Lurk on the sidelines of a Blab session to get an idea of how the Blab works but then jump in and participate. That's what's going to make it a rewarding experience for you. Type in comments to take part in the discussion. When there's an empty seat, jump in and add your two cents worth. Don't be shy. We won't bite.

• Ask questions. Most book dealers love to talk books, and they'll reveal nuggets from their vast storehouse of information if you  get them going.

• Above all, have fun. This is a cafe. Relax and enjoy.