books

Survey of university presses attending Book Expo

Intellectual Affairs

At last count, two dozen university presses will have booths or tables at Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the publishing industry, held this week in New York City at the Jacob Javits Convention Center (“Home of the Surprisingly Expensive Hot Dog”). By the time this column appears I will be on a long march through exhibit hall, foraging for the next season’s readings.

In advance of the expedition, I got in touch with each of the listed university presses to ask some questions about how things are going in a publishing environment that is, putting it euphemistically, ever more challenging. About two thirds of them responded to all or most of my questionnaire. In years past, I recall seeing some of the less-known university presses at Book Expo, but fewer of them in recent years; now those in attendance are, for the most part, the well-established places. It's too bad. It's also understandable. The hot dogs are the least of it. The booths are expensive, then they charge for the chairs, and if you want to ship the display copies back home, it'll cost you don't want to know. A lot to gamble on the off-chance that Charlie Rose's producer discovers one of your crossover titles.

Without making any undue claims for the rigor of this survey -- the methodology of which consisted of checking my e-mail every few minutes -- I’d say that the answers give a rough picture of how some university presses are adapting to the new normal.

The obvious question was whether the past year had been one of recovery. Or was “flat [still] the new up,” as the saying from the mid-‘00s had it? (That is, if sales haven’t dropped, you’re actually doing pretty well. See also the blues lyric “Been down so long, it looks like up to me” might be more fitting.) And what effect, if any, did the Borders bankruptcy have?

Out of the 15 university presses that responded to my questions, a dozen presses answered the question about recent business. Five of them said sales were up; another five, that they were flat. At one university press, sales projections had been “on target” – a discreet semi-answer -- while another reported that the year had been satisfactory apart from “a fall [in sales] on the backlist, which is worrying.”

Everyone misses Borders, but you don't hear any sobbing. Few presses noticed much impact on their business. “Borders was a great customer for our American history titles,” recalls Mark Saunders, assistant director of University of Virginia Press, “but their business had declined several years before they closed.” Consumers of scholarly titles continued to buy them -- just through other vendors.

“The closing of Borders did not have a significant impact on our revenue,” said Laura Waldron, marketing director at University of Pennsylvania Press. “Barnes & Noble has always been a much better bookselling partner for us.”

Susan Donnelly, sales and marketing director at Harvard University Press, wondered if the closing of Borders hadn’t created “some change in the way the average book buyer thought about bookstores and their importance to the community.... I would like to think so, would like to believe that people thought that bookstores were necessary.”

A good point. And just the question inspiring the effort to come up with a new sort of bookstore, as considered here two weeks ago.

What about e-books? Trade publishers have taken to the new format in a big way, and lots of e-book-only “presses” have emerged to exploit the market. (And “exploit” is the right word for it, in some cases. A number of skeezy enterprises simply repackage public-domain material – some of it of scholarly interest -- that is already freely available in digital format. Caveat lector.)

So it is undeniably growing readership -- and I'm finding that more and more scholarly titles of personal interest (up to half of them) are available for e-reader. The e-book format also has potential side-benefits for academic publishing. The “read a free sample” option, for example, often proves helpful in deciding whether to buy a hard copy of a book, or look for it at the library.

How many presses had e-books on their lists? What share of revenue did they bring in? And if a press hadn’t gone into e-publishing, was it a matter of some reservation about the format – or was there just a roadblock, institutional or technological?

The latter question proved moot. A dozen presses answered this set of questions. All were offering e-books. Three had just started doing so, and could not venture a guess about the effect on sales. Of the nine presses that did have the numbers on hand, five said that e-books now accounted for 10 percent of their revenue, give or take a little. Figures for the rest ranged from 2 to 7 percent.

Carey C. Newman, director Baylor University Press, said that he and his colleagues “have decided to leave it [e-book income] a zero in the budget until we can get a good track on it.” But caution is not skepticism: “We are expecting sales from e-books to be a nice fat number [over] this next year.”

Circulating each season’s catalog as a PDF ought to spare the cash-strapped university press the expense and hassle of printing and mailing it out. Likewise with the prepublication copies of new book sent out to reporters and reviewers. A few clicks of the keyboard and it’s done.

But such cost-cutting measures work if and only if the intended audience goes along with the change. Here we see the effect of what social scientists used to call “cultural lag.” An awful lot of us still want these things on paper. One day, when we are dead, the publicists can do everything from their laptops. Until then, a catalog must be delivered the old-fashioned way. Reviewing a book that arrives in PDF is possible, but no joy, and something to do only in a pinch.

Thirteen presses responded to my inquiry about this aspect of their business. All report that they offer both print and PDF catalogs. None suggested this arrangement was likely to change any time soon, although at least one sounded ready to let the print edition go as soon as possible. (Fear not: mortality will thin the herd of resisters soon enough.)

The situation with advance copies is broadly similar. Everyone still produces bound galleys, and almost everyone makes e-galleys available. The one exception, University of Pennsylvania Press, expects to offer them soon.

Jessica Pellien, assistant director of publicity for Princeton University Press, is enthusiastic about the ability to customize digital catalogs for specific disciplines or constituencies. She’s enjoyed “pulling out all the math titles for example and emailing that to our math media contacts,” she says, “or all the bird and natural history titles for our bird-blogging friends. I think it allows these contacts to immediately see the books that they are interested in without having to page past a bunch of other titles." It also means she can go anti-specialist when appropriate, “picking out the trade and academic trade titles for general media who are unlikely to review our more specialized books.” But while targeted digital catalogs are "essential for the way we work now,” Pellien says she “can’t imagine walking into a media meeting without a print catalog. So I hope we always have that.”

Susan McIntosh, marketing director for McGill-Queens University Press, calls the print version of their catalog “less of a sales tool [than] a general promotion tool for the press,” since it expresses the press’s "overall commitment to good publishing design.”

As for e-galleys, most respondents indicate that they are provided if a special request is made. “Typically, only urgent requests are done this way” at Indiana University Press, says Mandy Clarke, its trade marketing and publicity manager, “and even then, reviewers want the hard copy mailed. I have heard from a limited number of large review publications that they will be making the switch to e-galleys though.”

Colleen Lanick, publicity director at MIT Press, says that for the past few seasons e-galleys have been an option on the checklist sent out to reviewers over the past few seasons. (I recall seeing one or two other publishers doing so as well.)

New York University Press “will begin offering e-galleys for a select few of our spring and fall titles,” says Betsy C. Steve, a publicist there. “I find that a majority of reviewers and reporters still prefer receiving a hard copy, but enough are starting to request e-galleys and even e-books that we needed to start offering them as an option for our titles. Overseas reviewers are definitely the friendliest to e-galleys, as they eliminate the delays international shipping can sometimes create."

Not all that long ago, hardy pioneers at a few university presses first drove their covered wagons into the wild frontier of the blogosphere. It’s hard to remember how adventurous it all once seemed, how new and risky. The challenge today, rather, would be to find a university press (any sort of press, really) that doesn’t have a blog. Every press responding to my questionnaire had one. I asked how they were generating content, and what they did to promote it. The easiest thing in the world, after all, is to establish a blog, while tending it and finding readers is another story.

Michael Roux, publicity manager for University of Illinois Press, says that three to five items a week go up on the press’s blog, including “author opinion pieces, author Q&As, book announcements, and links to recent reviews, radio/TV interviews, and publishing news.” That list covers the range of content sources identified by the other presses that responded. It is a considerable improvement on the situation a few years ago, when many blog posts were hard to distinguish from catalog listings. Jodi Narde, e-marketing and social media specialist at NYU Press, says the press’s blog “very rarely [has] any marketing-type material” in its posts.

It’s a good policy, and one that others have developed on their own. “We’re doing our best not to be too formulaic about what we post and how we post it,” says Kate O’Brien-Nicholson, marketing director for Fordham University Press. “Obviously, book launches, events, anniversaries, positive press, etc. etc. etc., can be and are shared on the blog but we also try to make connections and provide context that we believe a reader might find interesting.”

Brendan Coyne, exhibits and awards manager at Johns Hopkins University Press, describes a publishing schedule approximating that of a regular periodical. “We carry posts written by our authors every Wednesday,” he says, in addition to two monthly features: The Doctor Is In, which consists of “posts by the doctors who write our consumer health titles,” and Wild Thing, “a look at the natural world around us” by Hopkins authors. A department called Over the Transom “gives brief overviews of different parts of the publishing process,” while Tales from the Assistant's Desk offers “commentary from the perspective of an acquisitions assistant.”

Meredith Howard, publicist for Columbia University Press, says that the blog runs multiple posts per day, including “the occasional shout out to our fellow UPs.”

It’s clear that being a powerhouse in this venue involves posting in both quantity and quality – as well as learning to incorporate platforms as they become available. Laura Sell, publicist at Duke University Press, mentions taking advantage of the graphics-friendly capabilities of a Tumblr blog, “where we feature short excerpts from our books and journals and display interior art from our titles to a visually-oriented audience.”

Carrie Olivia Adams, publicity manager for University of Chicago Press, runs through an overwhelming array of the tools now in use to make Chicago titles more visible, including an individual Facebook page “for each of our trade titles,” used “mainly for announcing author events and linking to review clips.” The box on the right-hand side of The Chicago Blog is a switchboard for making contact with some of the press's content-churning efforts, though not all of them.

She admits that it is difficult to assess the results of all the multifront experimentation. Even so, “we definitely think the online conversation is one worth being a part of, and it engages us with many savvy readers.”

And engaging savvy readers is, of course, what it’s all about.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my inquiries, and sorry not to have incorporated all of the interesting replies. See you at Book Expo.

 

MLA embraces "open access" writer agreements for journals

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Association's journals will now leave copyright with authors, with explicit authorization to post articles on personal or departmental websites, or in open access repositories.

Huffington Post publishes summaries of student theses

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New Huffington Post feature allows students to post a summary of their work without forfeiting the copyright. Students say it's a way to draw attention to oft-overlooked research.

Comparing universities' sports subsidies to library spending (essay)

Everyone talks about the amount of money spent on college football, superstar coaches, television contracts and stadiums. They worry about an imbalance between the expense of university sports programs and the challenge of funding the academic enterprise. These real concerns provoke often-impassioned responses from those who defend or attack the current state of intercollegiate athletics in America.

Unfortunately, much of the noise tends to focus on extreme examples, spectacularly paid coaches of whom we may have only a dozen or so out of the hundreds of college sports personnel, super-sized stadiums and sports department budgets when most sports programs operate on a more modest scale. The targets are attractive because the celebrity status of big-time football and basketball fill pages of newspapers and specialty magazines, appear endlessly on multiple television channels, and enjoy the attention of rabid fans.

Yet college sports is a complicated enterprise that serves many interests at institutions public and private, large and small. Sports are a pervasive part of American culture, and like other high-profile activities (such as finance, real estate or banking), there are bad actors, people of questionable integrity, and errors of commission and omission that attract justifiable outrage and response.

Those of us who live in the academic world, however, sometimes have trouble sorting out the real impact of college sports on our lives. We can understand this competitive world better if we separate the institution of intercollegiate athletics into its various parts, including the engagement of students, the lives of student-athletes (both celebrity performers and regular participants), the involvement of alumni and public, and the financial consequences of sustaining these programs.

Of these, the financial elements are most accessible thanks to data collected by the NCAA and required by various federal reporting rules. Money in universities is always important, especially in these difficult economic times, and we looked for a way to index the university’s cost of intercollegiate athletics to the institution's budget.

Sports expenses are funded from earned revenue (tickets, television, sales, gifts and similar revenue generated by the athletic activity itself), and from institutional revenue available for any purpose (student fees and university funds). The institutional revenue is a subsidy for an enterprise that in the best of all possible worlds should earn its own way in much the same fashion as other university nonacademic enterprises such as food services, bookstores, parking, and housing.

All but a few universities, however, subsidize athletics from student fees and general university revenue. We should ask how significant that subsidy is within the general framework of the university's academic activities. With some sense of the relationship between subsidy and academics, we can assess when sports consume too much of our academic resources.

We could compare the sports subsidy to the cost of a college of business perhaps, or to the cost of an honors program. Each university's organization is substantially different, however, making these units hard to compare.

Libraries, especially for research universities, are stable, standard enterprises central to the work of the university in a continuing way. In addition, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has maintained standard data on library expenses, revenue, and budgets (as well as other statistics of significance) for many decades. We anticipated that a comparison of the athletics subsidy to the expenditures on the research university's library could provide a useful reference for understanding the wide variation in the financial impact of college sports on academic institutions.

Aiding in this illustration are the data compiled by USA Today on college sports finances, although its data involve only Division I public institutions whose information is available under freedom of information rules. Private universities prefer we not see their numbers.

If we take the 64 Division I public research university members of the Association of Research Libraries (all major research universities of varying size and complexity) and compare their athletic subsidies to the cost of their libraries as reflected in the ARL data, we can get a useful distribution of the impact of sports subsidies on academic enterprises. These research universities maintain libraries to support their instructional and research programs, compete for the best students and faculty, compete as well for the external funding that makes research at this level possible, and require strong libraries for their success.

The size of the libraries reflects an institutional commitment to the academic enterprise, while the sports subsidy for the sports program reflects a commitment to the nonacademic competitiveness of athletics. The subsidy also represents an institutional investment that the institution could have allocated to academic enterprises but instead uses to pay part of the cost of the intercollegiate athletic program, a nonacademic enterprise.

The table below clearly illustrates that the impact of college sports on the academic enterprise varies widely from those institutions whose sports programs require no subsidy (and therefore have no detrimental impact on the academic enterprise) to those sports programs whose subsidy reaches one and a half times the total library budget, clearly a major impact.

These varying impacts are not the result of dramatic changes over time in the library expenditures (which have followed the general trend of university budgets throughout recent years). The impact is the consequence of a college sports environment that requires growing expenses to sustain competitive or even functional programs at the Division I level. When the university must subsidize the athletic program, it indicates that sports at that institution do not compete well enough to earn sufficient revenue from attendance, television, sponsorships, alumni and donors, and must spend university money to stay within the competitive context of Division I.

The wide variation in subsidy also indicates that if the revenue of public universities continues to decline, some institutions may find their level of subsidy for athletics at the expense of academics too high for the other benefits sports provides. That could prompt a change in competitive division within the NCAA, or the elimination of a variety of high-cost sports.

However, those of us who have lived in various institutions know that while talk of curtailing expenditures on sports is common and enthusiastic among many faculty and some outside commentators, the constituencies for college sports among alumni, trustees, elected officials, and fans are passionate at unbelievable levels. Trustees, alumni and elected officials, in addition to fans of all kinds, want their sports regardless of the subsidy required at the expense of the academic enterprise.

Perhaps along with the other financial requirements for participation in the NCAA Division I, we might expect such programs to limit their institutional subsidies to less than a third of their library budget. That may, however, be asking too much.

Subsidy of College Athletics (2010-11) and
Library Expenditures (2008-9)
Division I Public Research Universities

Institution

Total Library Expenditures

Total Sports Subsidy

Ratio Subsidy to Library

University of Delaware

$18,734,280

$28,535,457

1.52

Ohio University

$13,268,842

$19,576,760

1.48

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

$15,403,001

$22,043,976

1.43

Kent State University

$12,551,309

$16,717,874

1.33

State University of New York at Stony Brook

$13,772,703

$17,887,144

1.30

University of California at Davis

$19,932,904

$20,953,181

1.05

University of Houston

$20,149,427

$20,142,457

1.00

State University of New York at Albany

$12,506,329

$12,444,324

1.00

State University of New York at Buffalo

$21,026,650

$20,823,478

0.99

Colorado State University

$15,334,082

$14,128,711

0.92

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

$15,228,311

$13,961,656

0.92

University of California at Riverside

$13,395,277

$11,872,584

0.89

Rutgers University

$33,219,035

$28,475,523

0.86

Washington State University

$14,356,836

$11,531,641

0.80

University of New Mexico

$20,809,647

$16,605,866

0.80

University of Cincinnati

$20,330,143

$14,708,672

0.72

University of Colorado at Boulder

$22,131,757

$15,518,149

0.70

University of Hawaii

$19,076,939

$11,986,408

0.63

University of Maryland at College Park

$25,783,433

$15,861,641

0.62

University of California at Santa Barbara

$19,197,432

$11,484,580

0.60

University of Connecticut

$26,831,009

$15,029,723

0.56

University of California at Irvine

$21,947,912

$11,833,894

0.54

Virginia Tech

$14,177,077

$7,591,114

0.54

Georgia Institute of Technology

$12,511,623

$6,454,071

0.52

University of Louisville

$19,533,056

$10,061,012

0.52

University of Illinois at Chicago

$20,616,384

$10,360,432

0.50

Florida State University

$15,750,486

$7,528,006

0.48

Arizona State University

$24,640,095

$10,660,952

0.43

University of Utah

$23,948,377

$9,381,567

0.39

University of Virginia

$34,248,073

$12,973,298

0.38

Auburn University

$12,276,211

$4,307,040

0.35

Oklahoma State University

$17,886,909

$6,187,333

0.35

University of Alabama

$17,430,914

$5,235,300

0.30

University of Arizona

$30,645,753

$7,396,592

0.24

Texas Tech University

$26,049,443

$5,788,180

0.22

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

$40,769,990

$8,829,369

0.22

University of California at Berkeley

$51,973,099

$10,505,850

0.20

University of Minnesota

$41,225,580

$7,778,861

0.19

University of Wisconsin at Madison

$43,732,756

$7,237,901

0.17

Iowa State University

$23,250,210

$3,739,115

0.16

University of Missouri at Columbia

$17,235,752

$2,681,641

0.16

University of Florida

$28,147,202

$4,367,071

0.16

University of Oregon

$16,074,716

$2,419,855

0.15

University of Kansas

$23,042,922

$3,436,907

0.15

University of Georgia

$22,802,390

$3,197,387

0.14

Michigan State University

$26,411,564

$3,650,280

0.14

University of South Carolina

$19,284,992

$2,248,275

0.12

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

$41,600,882

$3,983,640

0.10

Indiana University at Bloomington

$33,147,603

$2,686,769

0.08

University of Washington

$43,956,131

$2,458,983

0.06

University of California at Los Angeles

$50,205,645

$2,587,439

0.05

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

$23,515,580

$1,000,000

0.04

North Carolina State University

$28,483,805

$1,088,895

0.04

University of Kentucky

$21,734,374

$819,124

0.04

University of Iowa

$29,517,181

$564,680

0.02

University of Michigan

$53,134,323

$272,684

0.01

Texas A&M University

$36,374,551

$9,856

0.00

Louisiana State University

$13,428,011

$0

0.00

Ohio State University

$38,818,365

$0

0.00

Pennsylvania State University

$49,451,130

$0

0.00

Purdue University

$24,830,291

$0

0.00

University of Nebraska at Lincoln

$15,230,621

$0

0.00

University of Oklahoma

$23,865,613

$0

0.00

University of Texas at Austin

$46,205,263

$0

0.00

Sports subsidy and library budget data refer to public Division I universities whose libraries are members of the Association of Research Libraries.

Sources: Association of Research Libraries (in The Chronicle of Higher Education) and USA Today.

 

John V. Lombardi is a professor of history at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.

Opposition to Closure of U. of Missouri Press

When the University of Missouri System announced on Thursday that it was shutting down the University of Missouri Press, initial response was muted. Employees of the press did not return calls, and the university said that it could not identify the faculty advisory committee for the press. The university said that it couldn't continue to subsidize the press, which currently receives about $400,000 annually.

Over the holiday weekend, however, opposition started to materialize. A Facebook page -- Save the University of Missouri Press -- appeared Monday. One post there: "As an alumnus of the University of Missouri, I am disappointed and angry to learn that you have decided to close the University of Missouri Press. Where are your priorities? What has happened to the school’s standing as the state’s flagship university? Is the institution to be known more and more only for its athletic programs? Will Truman State become known as Missouri’s university most interested in academics?" (Truman State has a university press.)

Letters to the editor are also appearing in local publications, questioning why a $400,000 subsidy would be out of the question at a university that pays its head football coach $2.7 million.

 

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U. of Missouri Press Will Be Shut Down

The University of Missouri System announced Thursday that the University of Missouri Press will be phased out during the fiscal 2013 year. Officials cited the difficulty of providing financial support for the press, which currently receives a $400,000 annual subsidy. A spokeswoman said that the university was studying its contracts with authors whose books have been signed by the press, but whose works have not yet been published. In recent years, the press has attempted to cuts costs through a variety of measures (including layoffs) but savings were not sufficient, the university statement said. Numerous staff members at the press did not respond to calls seeking comment. Several presses have closed or suspended operations in recent years.

 

 

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A model for the new bookstore (essay)

Intellectual Affairs

“Given a good pitch and the right amount of capital,” George Orwell wrote in an early essay,  "any educated person ought to be able to make a small secure living out of a bookshop.… [Y]ou start at a great advantage if you know anything about the insides of books.” It is “a humane trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point.”

The work had its downsides, and Orwell’s candor made his assessment that much more credible. You should be prepared to accept extremely long hours, for example, and to deal with customers who are garrulous or insane or both. Worst of all, to work in a bookstore meant risking a distinct kind of burnout: “Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books [become] boring and even slightly sickening.” But the entrepreneur who carves out a suitable niche will at least be immune to monopolistic forces: “The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”

Good advice -- for 1936, anyway. Today, any educated person hoping to earn a small secure living (or a tiny, insecure one, for that matter)  would do better to try almost anything else. Or so I took as a given until a couple of weeks ago, when Tony Sanfilippo, the marketing and sales director for Penn State University Press, sketched out his conceptual blueprint for an offline bookstore of the not-too-distant future. (“Offline bookstore” seems like the very 2010s sort of expression.) I don’t know if his plan will turn the tide, but it certainly deserves more consideration than it’s received so far.

Writing at The Digital Digest, one of the Association of American University Presses's blogs, Sanfilippo proposed a new model for bookselling that recognizes how much many of us miss the opportunity to browse and loiter somewhere in three dimensional space. Rather than fighting the trends that have undermined bookstores, he incorporates them into his design.  And the product -- oddly enough – contains lost elements of 18th- and 19th-century book culture.

“Imagine you’re walking downtown,” he writes, “and you see a sign for a new business, That Book Place. Cool, you think to yourself, an idiot with money they apparently don’t need has opened a new bookstore in my community. I’m going to go check that out before it goes out of business. So you cross the street and walk in. In front is what you might expect, big stacks of The Hunger Games trilogy, a book of erotica for moms that appears to have something to do with the Pantone variations between PMS 400 and PMS 450, and a new cookbook teaching the virtues of artisanal water boiling.”

So far, so Borders (R.I.P.). Once past the bestsellers, you find an Espresso Book Machine, churning out volumes that customers have special-ordered. (In his post at Digital Digest, Sanfilippo indicates that three million titles are available for printing on demand, but in an e-mail note he tells me it’s actually seven million.)

That Book Place also has shelves and shelves carrying a mixture of new and used books, with price stickers giving the customer a variety of options. You can have a brand-new copy shipped to you the next day, or buy it used, or rent it, or get it as an e-book. If you take out a membership in the store, you can borrow a book for free, or get a copy without the Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme that limits it to use on a specific kind of device.

In effect, the bookstore becomes a combination lending library and product showroom. “The books in the store shouldn’t be the focus of the revenue,” writes Sanfilippo. “Instead, the revenue might come from membership fees, book rentals, and referral fees for drop shipped new copies or e-book sales.”

People who take out a membership in the store would become stakeholders in its success -- not just customers, but patrons. Under that arrangement, Sanfilippo says, “a publisher might have a reason to trust the store and those members with DR-free files.” And the flexibility of options for acquiring a book -- whether for keeps or to borrow -- might undercut the consumer practice of browsing at a brick-and-mortar store, then buying online.

As someone who’s purchased a fair number of books in print-on-demand editions, I’ll add that ordering one in a store sounds more appealing than doing so online. You’d get it faster, for one thing, with the bonus of being able to watch as the book is made.

Well into the 18th century, when you bought a new volume from a bookseller, it arrived from the publisher without a binding, to be prepared on the premises according to the customer’s specifications. You could ask to have blank pages interspersed throughout it, for example, for note-taking -- one casualty of progress worth regretting. Sanfilippo’s model takes us back to that arrangement, at least part of the way. The quality of on-demand printing is not up to handcraft standards, but it's certainly improved over time. (In the case of late 19th-century books, the on-demand copy is often more durable than the original.) 

Sanfilippo's proposal also resembles the circulating or subscription libraries that flourished in the 19th century. You'd join the library for a fee that gave you access to the collection. But as we discussed his bookstore model by e-mail, Sanfilippo indicated the seed for it might have been planted by something his mother did as a child.

“The Chicago suburban subdivision I grew up in was supposed to have a library in it,” he wrote. “On the end of our block, the developer promised to build a library building for the community, but, after the last house sold, the developer skipped town and left a vacant lot. My mother and a few other parents in the neighborhood figured there had to be another way.”

And there was: “They petitioned and got a referendum on the ballot to start a library district -- a taxing body specifically for a library. They succeeded and that library still serves that community. But how do you then appropriate that kind of revenue stream for a bookstore?… A business that sells shares of itself to its customers is not unlike a group of parents that tax themselves, and in this instance, both are to ensure access to books and book culture within a community.”

In short, That Book Place might function best if were run as a nonprofit enterprise or a co-op -- perhaps both. It's no substitute for decently funded public libraries, of course, but try getting a tax for anything but a stadium passed these days. The arrangement Sanfilippo proposes might not work out for any number of reasons, and he admits as much. The hardware for in-store book production alone runs into six figures.

But that hardly seems like an insurmountable obstacle for people willing to experiment and able to take the risk. As experimental initiatives for public-minded institutions go, Sanfilippo's idea seems like a natural. And the return on investment might be of incalculable benefit. 

Essay considers whether librarians lose touch with books

When I became a librarian, something most unexpected happened. I became estranged from my books. Which is surprising, given the envy most acquaintances express vis-à-vis their perception of my primary duty, which they universally believe to be, as they so often express in our conversations: passing countless hours with my feet up on the desk, casually perusing the latest Twilight or Hunger Games installment, a bowl of bonbons by my side.

It's the truth. An actual question I was asked on a recent date began something like this: “So, a librarian, that’s pretty neat. You just sit around all day and read books then?” Not wanting to shatter her image of my privileged lifestyle, a key to securing any chance of making it past the dessert course, I glanced across the table, did my best Clint Eastwood squint, and replied, “Yes, that’s what I do.” This, I followed with a quick, “Would you please pass the pepper?”

As you can see, my spoken eloquence is unrivaled, and it remains a great mystery to all that I am single. However the greater mystery still is what happened to the luminous relationship I once shared with my books.

It’s not that my books have left me, or I them. We still coexist in our home, shuffling by one another throughout the day with pining looks and knowing gazes.

Some have been with me a long time, and I keep these on bookshelves. Then there are the ones that came into my life since I entered the world of librarianship. These I haven’t yet read, and so I place them in piles on the floor. This is my system. Remember, I am a librarian.

So the books and I, we are still together, but we no longer communicate on an intimate level. I don’t find myself in bed late at night, sensually turning my books’ pages as they slowly reveal to me their innermost secrets, nor do I awaken to find my books draped comfortably, lovingly, across my naked, beating chest. Ahh, you say, I know what he’s getting at here: The book is passé and he’s using his e-reader!

Not exactly. This is not another one of those gushy laments eulogizing the passing of books. You know, the one that usually starts something like: Friends and loved ones, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of our dear books. Back in the '80s, books abounded and pleasure was plentiful .....

No, no, the book isn’t dead yet. Far from it. It’s that since becoming a librarian I am just so busy reading professional books and materials that I don’t have time for any of my books – the fiction that sweeps me away with its intrigue and wows me with its literary finesse.

This is not something my books want to hear. They think it’s an excuse. I can tell from the passive-aggressive vibes they often give off when I glide by as they await my consideration, unjustly deprived of my affections. He’s being selfish. It’s always about him and his needs.

And the betrayal, by my own admission, runs even deeper than they know. You see, when I read materials for work, I am sure to do it outside the view of my books. Because if they saw me, then they would know, and next thing you know a private investigator is snapping my picture from behind a bush as I try to steal a few moments alone with the latest issue of Library Journal at the corner café.

So my books, you see, need some attention. And I just can’t give it to them right now. Fortunately, I am a librarian, and so I know a thing or two about loaning books. So come on over sometime. I’ll set you up with a borrower’s card and you can check out a few books and take them home with you, while I hide in the spare bedroom tenderly opening up tomes on current copyright trends, or sit in my car out in the driveway to steal delicate glimpses into the latest interlibrary loan initiatives.

Now I am aware that to some, this whole arrangement may seem a bit promiscuous, but in the world of librarianship we tend to look at this type of affair as a simple matter of resource-sharing.

Michael English is the access services librarian at Salisbury University.

University Press Group Criticizes Copyright Ruling

A week after a federal judge rejected most of the claims brought by three publishers against Georgia State University, the Association of American University Presses issued a statement that raised questions about the decision. Librarians in higher education have generally cheered the decision -- which focuses on e-reserves -- for rejecting the publishers' claims. But the university press association, which has backed the publishers, said it was "premature and unwise for anyone to declare victory or defeat." At the same time, the association said of the ruling: "[I]ts interpretation of the law is controversial and unprecedented in several important respects, and it appears to make a number of assertions of fact that are not supported by the trial record."

 

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European Union links research grants to open access

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European Union plans to require all of those receiving grants in major research program to publish work online, freely available.

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