On Curation: Musings by IOBAns Past and Present

Former IOBA President Maria Bustillos contributed What George Orwell, Henry Miller, and John Waters Taught Me About What to Read Next to The New Yorker’s Page Turner book blog:

“There’s been a lot of handwringing lately about “curation” (the original meaning of the word has morphed into something else entirely; maybe we still lack a needed word). It has come to signify sifting through the ever-increasing avalanche of “content” in order to identify the things that are worthiest of our attention, and bringing those things to an interested audience. In fact, there should be no question about this at all; with our time and attention being limited as they are, it’s crucial that we have skilled cultural guides.”

Her musings on curation led IOBA member Lorne Bair to post his own thoughts on the fine distinction between “curation” and “merchandizing” on his Minivan of the Revolution blog. Here’s a brief excerpt, to whet your curiosity:

“I make my living buying and selling rare books, documents, and manuscripts. To the extent that I succeed at these tasks, I eat. I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of plying my trade in a “curatorial” manner — by which is meant, I suppose, that I lavish somewhat more care upon the description and presentation of the items I sell than has, perhaps, been traditional in my business (though I don’t believe this really to be true). It might also mean that I’ve spent much of my career selling things for which there has traditionally been only a very small audience, or no audience at all; and that I’ve succeeded because, through persistence and care, I’ve managed to make that audience bigger (I don’t believe this to be true, either). Or maybe it means that, by choosing a narrow field of knowledge and learning as much as I can about it, I’ve made myself into an acknowledged expert in my specialty (I know this not to be true, not even close).  But whatever is meant, there’s this certainty: when I fail at my primary task, which is to sell something for more than what I paid for it, there’s no consolation in knowing that I did so in a curatorial manner.”

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