We learned this morning that our colleague and friend Bob Fleck passed away yesterday. It is news whose sadness will be felt by a large number of the people that I know. In many ways he stood alone. I am quite sure that there is no one I have met who has made a greater practical contribution to the study of books in all their many aspects. The world of bibliophiles is greatly in his debt, myself among them.
Bob was the founder and determined force behind Oak Knoll Books, the world’s most important specialist in the broad subject generally referred to as “books on books.” He served his customers both as an expert in old and rare books and as a publisher and distributor of new ones. The publishing house he built became the first and last resort for bibliographic publications of all sorts. There are many important titles that would never have reached a printing press without Bob’s backing and help.
There can be few serious bibliophiles or booksellers whose reference shelves do not include numerous books that have passed through Bob’s office or shop in some form or another.
But the contributions to his colleagues were far from limited to the books he sold. He was continuously giving his time to the bookselling organisations he belonged to and supported. He served both the ABAA and the ILAB with terms as treasurer and president. It is interesting to note that, even though his speciality was focused almost entirely on items related to the printed book, Bob also oversaw the creation of three ILAB websites. He was instrumental in establishing the first ILAB book search engine and then was later active in helping establish the current metasearch which later replaced it. That was a project we worked on together and which might not have succeeded without his insights and support.
Beyond that, he also gave early and much appreciated help to viaLibri, becoming the first of our users to try advertising on our site. It was a very characteristic thing for him to do: looking to the future and supporting a colleague.
Bob’s accomplishments and generosity of spirit were appreciated across the full spectrum of bibliophiles, including librarians, scholars, collectors and, of course, his fellow booksellers. I expect to see a stream of tributes over the next days and weeks. As they are brought to my attention I will link to them here. For now, the first tribute appears, appropriately, on the ILAB website he did so much to create and sustain. You can read it below.
Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are now with Bob’s wife Millie and son Rob.