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Lanora Jennings on The Bookseller Oral History Project

July 12 @ 2:00 pm 3:30 pm

This event will be held online via Zoom and will be recorded.

Lanora Jennings began this project in 2023 after a conversation at an academic conference with other researchers in the History of the Book field. Many noted how difficult it was to find primary sources from booksellers—retail operations rarely donate their papers to library archives. As a former bookseller, Lanora thought that the best way to preserve the history of bookselling was through the voices of the booksellers themselves.

Bookstores are private entities performing a public service – a delicate balance maintained for over 150 years. Bookstores are places where literary and cultural endeavors entwine with commerce, where the pursuit of economic profits must balance with the pursuit of social profit – because a bookstore is symbiotic with its community. This is the culture of bookselling.

Historically, booksellers have used their spaces as sites of resistance against censorship and in support of the First Amendment. Bookstores have served as crucial networking hubs for challenging systemic societal issues—from Women’s Suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement to LGBT+ Equal Rights. These stores constructed safe spaces that brought people together, stimulated progressive conversation, and facilitated public protest. 

The Bookseller Oral History Project collects the historical experiences, insights, and perspectives of current and former booksellers. These interviews help preserve the culture of bookselling, the work practices, the decision-making processes, historical actions, and events, and they preserve the institutional memory of bookselling in general.

Booksellers rarely tell their own stories and their impact on their communities is often anonymous. This project aims to preserve their legacy.

Lanora Jennings began her career in the early 90s at Borders Book & Music. She has since worked for three prominent independent bookstores and owned her own store for a time. She is currently the field sales representative for Princeton University Press and Yale University Press. She is also an independent researcher working on a large project that chronicles the history of bookselling in America, of which the Oral History Project is one part.

Bookselling Research Network

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