Kenneth Karmiole: Alumnus’ Gift Supports Archival Studies at UCLA

The antiquarian bookseller supports IS and GSE&IS with his expertise, time, and resources.

Antiquarian bookseller Kenneth Karmiole (Class of ’71, MLS) owns an inventory that has included books from 15th and 16th Century Italy, maps of early California by a Spanish cartographer that date back to the 1700s, and a first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” that was dedicated by the author to actor Spencer Tracy, who played the lead role in the film adaptation. This fall, he adds another treasure to his numerous philanthropic contributions to his alma mater and to the rare books and special collections professions: The Kenneth Karmiole Archival Studies Endowment Fund.

A member of the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) Board of Visitors, Karmiole has pledged $100,000 to establish the endowment, demonstrating his belief in the quality and future of Archival Studies at UCLA.

“I would like to see UCLA become a place for people interested in rare books and manuscripts and historical materials,” Karmiole says. “Archival material is going to become more and more significant. University libraries want to differentiate themselves from one another by the unique material that they have. Because UCLA already has great faculty in this area, they are one of the [leading programs] in the country.”

Students in any Information Studies program, including the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), the Master’s in Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS), the Post-Master’s Certificate of Specialization, and the Ph.D. in Information Studies, may specialize in Archival Studies.

Professor of Information Studies Anne Gilliland says that Karmiole’s support will significantly enhance student and faculty learning and research relating to institutional archives, archival special collections, moving image archives, community-centric archives, digital archives and recordkeeping, personal archiving, and the use of primary sources in K-12 learning and literacies development.

“This wonderful and prescient gift will greatly enrich our work by supporting a variety of high-profile programs such as symposia and visiting lecturers that will bring leading expertise from around the globe to UCLA and will also highlight the ground-breaking contributions of our own faculty and students to the field of Archival Studies,” she says.

Karmiole has owned and operated his own business since l976, first in West Los Angeles and since l986 in Santa Monica. He says that his eventual entry into the rare book profession came from his early interest as a collector himself.

“I think part of it was seeing an opportunity to find something that somebody else didn’t appreciate as much as I might have, and being able to make that something also provide a profit in terms of a business activity,” he says. “In this business, you’re always using your experience and your knowledge as compared to somebody else’s. Whenever you walk into a house to look at [an individual’s] material for sale, whenever you’re visiting another bookseller, or at an auction, you’re putting your knowledge on the line. Hopefully you see something or recognize something there that somebody else may not have recognized and that will result in some profit to you, businesswise. And perhaps your enthusiasm about what you’re buying might result in a profit because you’re able to present it in a different way than it was presented before.”

Karmiole is considered an authority on works printed before 1800, science and medicine, travel, the history of printing, science and technology, and incunabula. He says that although the rare book community is fairly small and widespread, the tenacity of devoted collectors and sellers has been the key to his success, with his main clients being institutional libraries, fellow dealers, and individual private collectors.

“I had a shop on the Santa Monica Promenade for a long time, it was open seven days a week. A large bookstore with about 20,000 books in it and five employees,” he says. “I would put out printed catalogs, and do the book fair circuit. Until you connected with the right person for the right book, there could be somebody in one part of the world looking for 20 or 30 years for a particular book and you could have been in another city in the world trying to sell that book for 20 or 30 years, and the two of you would have never crossed paths. Now with the Internet of course, it’s much easier.”

Despite the advent of digital readers and books that are available online, Karmiole says that the book still attracts readers and collectors because of its familiarity.

“The familiar hand-held book is called a codex,” he says  “These printed books have been around for more than 550 years. That’s how people read. It’s certainly more personal. Now there are other ways of doing it, on screens. Maybe in 500 years, no one will know what a book is; they’ll all be in museums. But today, the [younger] generation still knows what a book is.”

A member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Karmiole currently serves on the ABAA Board of Governors and presides as Chair of the Membership Committee. An engaged and supportive alumnus of GSE&IS at UCLA, he serves on the advisory committees of the California Rare Book School, the Research Library Board of Visitors, the Director’s Advisory Council of the William Andrews Clark Library, and the GSE&IS Board of Visitors. He is also a member of the Library Council at UC Santa Barbara where he earned his undergraduate degree in history.

In 2002, Karmiole endowed a fellowship in his name at UCLA, which each year supports one student in the study of rare books and manuscripts. In 2006, he established the Kenneth Karmiole Endowment for Rare Books and Manuscripts, which helps to finance the acquisition of special collections throughout UCLA’s libraries. He has also created an endowment to present an annual lecture series on “The History of the Book Trade” at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. The series focuses on the book trade in England and Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries, highlighting the Clark Library’s growing collection of materials relating to the collecting, publishing, and dissemination of books in this early modern period. Karmiole received the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award from the UCLA Library and Information Studies Alumni Association.

Karmiole looks forward to seeing his fellow UCLA alumni and his colleagues in the rare book profession lend their support to the Archival Studies Endowment Fund, and says that giving would provide donors an opportunity to “get involved… You can participate in seeing it develop.”

“It’s such a personal thing, [what] people do with their money that they’ve worked hard for and accumulated during their lifetime,” he says. “I would encourage anybody to support the things they believe in. Many do choose to leave money in their estates and wills. But you would think they would want to support the things that can make a difference today, and where they can see the results of their financial assistance.”

Gilliland says that the opportunity to give to the Archival Studies Specialization has far-reaching effects beyond the program itself.

“UCLA is renowned as one of the world’s top universities for study and research in the area of Archival Studies. Its particular commitment to engaging with local and global communities on issues of diversity and pluralization, human rights, social justice, and media and critical literacy is unique and especially relevant to shifting societal and technological dynamics.”

Karmiole echoes her sentiments, saying that the growth of Archival Studies supports the mission of UCLA and the fact that “education is a basic need.”

“There should be as many opportunities [for students] as possible,” he says. “And any cultural improvement not only makes UCLA a better place – it makes Los Angeles and California a better place.”