Ten Years at the International Congress of Young Booksellers

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By Kenneth Corrigan

In 1993, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the International Congress of Young Booksellers (ICYB) congress, all expenses paid by the American Booksellers Association, in Rust, Austria. Nine years later, once again back in Austria, this time in Raach, I finished my yearly expedition to ICYB with a cake. Over these past 10 years, and 10 congresses, I’ve gotten an intimate view of the book trade in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Spain, Norway, Belgium, and France, as well as having the honor of hosting, with the support of ABA, the only ICYB ever to take place in the United States. I will miss it dearly.

Visiting the National Library in Vienna

You may wonder what ICYB is. Officially it is a subdivision of the International Booksellers Federation (IBF), which was formed in the early 1950s as a response to a UNESCO call for initiatives to encourage the free international exchange of ideas through books. Today, the IBF comprises more than 24 national booksellers associations. ICYB’s main activity is the organization of an annual conference organized by and for young booksellers in a different country every year. While the purpose of the Congress is to provide training in a specific issue, it also acts a forum for young booksellers from a variety of backgrounds to share experiences of their trade and to establish invaluable international contacts for both professional and personal development.

I can attest that ICYB lives up to this mission and a whole lot more. Besides being an annual educational conference focusing on different subjects -- such as the intense week on the accounting and figures of bookselling, which we endured to our delight in Elspeet, the Netherlands, or this year’s Raach Congress, held May 12-18, and its excellent program on the fundamentals of selling from psychology to presentation -- ICYB also creates lifelong friendships and even an occasional marriage and child, as Henry from the Netherlands and Malin from Sweden recently announced to delighted friends around the globe. For the past nine years, I just couldn’t miss ICYB and gladly paid the paltry amount of $500 all expenses paid and a plane ticket for the privilege of being able to share with, learn from, and meet so many interesting international booksellers.


Because ICYB spends the week in relative seclusion, during that time, the culture of ICYB flourishes. From sun-up to late evening, the congress is a focused learning environment where the bookselling business is the main conversation. Worldwide, the joys and problems are the same, yet, when you put so many young creative minds together, solutions, ideas, and a future clearly emerge. I always return from ICYB more enthusiastic about our trade and more determined to become a better bookseller. I daresay that ICYB is the reason I am the successful independent bookseller that I am.

This year’s Austrian congress in Raach, organized by Sandra Vlasta, Christiane Eblinger (ICYB’s incoming president), and Christina Hartlieb, was one of, if not the best, organized congresses I have ever attended. Sessions included the weeklong brainstorming group work on thinking outside the lines by Barbara Bartmann of the Bookseller School in Vienna; a self-marketing seminar by Dr. Martin Schoiswohl; an eye-opening training session by psychologist Ruth Werdigier on how to handle customer and employer criticism in the bookstore; the explanation of a successful relaunch of a publishing house by former ICYB attendee Mr. Herwig Bitsche; a workshop on Umberto Eco’s Baudolino and the marketing of his latest book (due out here in October but already a smash in the German-language market) by the publishing firm of Hanser-dtv-Der Horverlag.

Visiting Bookshops in Vienna

There were also sessions on event marketing by Patricia Symonds of the British Bookstore, on how publisher Deuticke organizes and sponsors bookstore events, and one on the power of presentation in the bookshop by Bettina Brubach-Teye. As if all of this wasn’t enough, we also had our traditional day trip, this time to Vienna, where we visited a publishing house, the booksellers association, and the State Room at the National Library, where we had a private viewing of the exhibit on the erotic in literature, including a beautiful copy of the 1762 first edition of Dangerous Liaisons, as well as small group analysis of Viennese bookstores. All this and group work, too!

The group work was a huge success, with all of the delegates thinking overtime to come up with creative ideas for new bookstores. And that is what ICYB is about -- the education of and interaction with young booksellers, which fosters the development of understanding and lifelong friendships across cultural and country lines.

Next year’s conference will take place outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. As always, any bookseller (usually in their formative years in the trade with at least two years experience) is invited to attend. Registration forms can be secured by dropping an e-mail to the current ICYB president, Grazyna Nowicka, at [email protected] or to me at [email protected]. I am quite sure you will not be disappointed whether attending yourself or sending a young staff member who will return enthused and full of ideas that just might work ICYB magic for your bookstore. We certainly will continue sending a member of our staff to what I know is the most valuable week on any young bookseller’s calendar.

Kenneth Corrigan is the co-owner of the Thrifty Scholar in Elmhurst, Illinois.