Photo: Aaron A. Abeyta

Aaron A. Abeyta

The following letter was delivered as a keynote speech at the Association of American University Presses annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, June 2015.

A Letter to Pratt in Praise of Books

Dear Darrin,

I am writing in the evening light; the river birds have begun the last of their singing, sweet whistles, and rapid staccatos that are their language. I imagine they are asking one another for the very same things we might ask for, a lasting grace that is more than just their flight.

Antonito blooms in the cradle of three rivers, all of which give their names and their water to the Rio Grande west of town. A gorge of andesite rock, scored with petroglyphs, directs the river south through a rift that split the llano in two at the earth’s forming. The petroglyphs mark the passing of ancient civilizations; their crude renderings on the black stone are a lasting proof, a carved longing etched for us to interpret. Thermals rise from the gorge, and the river noise and the raptors make upon them a calligraphy of sound and flight that is like words at their genesis.

Further to the west, there is a storm tethered to the San Juans; the bruised sky does not descend east into the canyon cut by the Conejos and lined with cottonwoods. Today, for the first time in weeks, the river has green at her watery edges, the peak of runoff fading. The river is my home; it is what I return to, always my north and brightest star. It is the river that keeps my memories, each bend its own story. For all I know, it is this river of water and stone that is my soul. My friend Cristobal once fished here. This river does not belong to him, he of the fierce face, so angry or so afraid or so brave. This is the river where I saw him last, before the .22 slug to his right temple. The river has made it so that the final memories of many things and many ghosts can be washed clean, wet as water on stone, touched by every current; the river becomes this mirror that is both truth and the shimmer of the half remembered; slow, flat water, which heals and forgives. The river is what I try to save. I believe the river is better than all of us; it knows how we love, and it urges the broken parts of us healed, and that is why I am writing this letter; I believe books, language, and the perfect word hold that same power.

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of what we are meant to do, what we are meant to change in the world. Are we meant to find the good stories, the most perfect word, to find the music of a line or sentence? We are seekers, and that is what we were made to do, to follow the rivers of our youth; linger at the deep pools of joy, pain, and regret; cast our hope to the answers beneath the water’s mirror, that reversal of aspect that allows us to see inside ourselves. We broker in what we see on a daily basis and also that which we imagine. We fuse the two constantly, alchemists that work at new meaning, new vision, new understanding. We must see differently; it is, perhaps, the only requirement of the job. Eliot called it prelogical thinking, and he claimed it was only available to and through poets. Shelley called the poet the hierophant of sacred mysteries, and Stevens, when speaking of the great blue and purple tabulae, said it “spoke the feeling for them, which is what they had lacked.” We must see reflected, there in the word, that which everyone else sees as human and tangible and then imagine it as sacrosanct and beautiful, no matter how ordinary, ugly, or foreign it may seem.

Do you believe, as I do, that we are here to save language and therefore the power of the written word? Yehuda Amichai described our modern voice as a “weary language, . . . a language that once described miracles and God.” That is why the books you publish are so important, so necessary—good books, long labors of words and thoughts that seek the sacred peace of a well-written line. It was books that saved me.

I come from a place where leaving has always been equated with success. Leaving is difficult at times; the ways out are marked with the glowing road signs of those that tried and failed. The fields at the edge of town are rigged with the land mines of doubt, failure, and fear. Leaving has never been easy. My only stated goal when I was young was to leave Antonito and never return. I would negotiate the land mines, ignore the roadside crosses and the scattered bones of the fallen.

I was never a horrible kid in school, though I think there are a few teachers that might disagree with my self-assessment; I do, however, remember being bored, tired of filling in blanks, tired of books that did not reflect me or my place. School was an oppressive force. Were it not for football and friendships I cannot say where my early path would have led. I remember the psychologist the district brought in, her battery of tests on me; the intended goal, I learned later, was to expel me. There were these mentions of reform school or military school. In short, I hated school, and then my freshman English teacher, literally, gave me a key one day. At the back of the room there was a locked cabinet whose contents were off-limits. She would constantly tell me, “Those books are for the seniors.” I am many things, but chief among them, I am persistent, to a fault. Finally, in what seemed like a moment of desperation, she told me, “Go ahead pick a book from back there if you promise to quit disrupting my class.” I was only too happy to oblige; if I never have to conjugate another sentence, I will be a happy man.

She handed over the small key, and I walked to the back of the room. I chose Capote’s In Cold Blood, and a new world was opened. Emily Dickinson says that every poem has its trapdoor that the reader must fall through. I fell into that book and knew, at that moment, that I would love books and their saving power for the rest of my life. I cannot remember my first kiss, but I remember Kenyon Clutter and the fact that he ate apples to keep his teeth clean and that he carried a sheep on his fifteen-year-old shoulders through a Kansas blizzard. He was not an important character in the book, but I was in awe of Capote, of those minor details and how much weight they carried. I knew then that books, and the conjuring they possessed, were the first true-feathered bird.

Perhaps we are all here to trace and collect words, to sow meaning; we collect that thing which people discard as ordinary and bring it to a page of life where it can flourish and be the map of human struggle and therefore an instruction as to how we can all survive.

I worry sometimes that my students are losing their ability to love or appreciate the inexhaustible strength of words and their power. I think they betray that which you and I would never betray, that thing which we give ourselves to like prayer. We call upon language to protect us, give us light, and there is a grace in what we chose to do, the books we give ourselves to, the hard-earned pages that lift us toward being whole. I think that there are others like us, a race of people who still love the eloquent transcendence of the exact word, the beautiful and sensuous hip of a perfectly rendered comma that can send any of us on a river journey toward interminable love.

We search the geologic layers of the human condition and we bring it to the page because that is our job, to record that which matters, the memory worth saving, the history worth telling, the woven words that form a music that has always been meant to save us. Sometimes we are called to save our fallen home and its forgotten places. Sometimes we are called upon to save the window in each of us, the portal mirror that allows us to interpret the sacred mysteries. What is language to you? How, perhaps, has it saved you? Is it, perhaps, like Li-Young Lee said about poetry, each poem is a “descendant of God.”

Language is my wife’s love of living and remembered things, language is my mother’s hands or my father’s tired back, language is my daughter’s smile, the medicine of it after I believed that parts of me were broken forever. Language is water that carries me simultaneously forward and into the past.

I am writing to you from the banks of the river; the storm never made it off the mountains; the birds are silent and there are so many stars out beyond the dark, swaying bodies of the cottonwoods. I strain for the notes of some sound against canyon walls, but there is only the steady thrum of river. Thank you for the work you do, for your dedication to good and important books, their magic and message, their language of liberation and hope. This letter is in praise of books, their limitless potential and their sacredness. I suppose, by association, this letter is also about friendship and about what is lost or can be lost. I hope to someday show you the Conejos, the river that is my home water. I will show you where I caught my first fish, point out the bend where I last saw my friend Cristobal and his stringer of fish. I will show you my hometown, how much it needs hope, how much it needs books like the ones you publish. We all need to see ourselves in words; each of us needs our history to be told and understood, and for your contribution to this end, I sincerely thank you.

I am writing to you from the banks of the Conejos River, and I am wishing you a good night. Perhaps you will dream of words and their origins, and in your dream they will begin to fly and work the dusk light of your memory, collecting in their beaks and in their winged flight the parts of your being that were you long ago, and the words will circle in the alpenglow to form the stories and poems that rise toward the growing night, toward stars, toward the timeless space between their origin and your dreaming them back to the page, forever and forever without cease.

Be well, my friend, and keep bringing us toward a place where the music of words is rendered with grace.



Logo: UP of Colorado

Reproduced courtesy of Aaron A. Abeyta and
University Press of Colorado.


Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State University. He is the author of four collections of poetry and one novel. For his book Colcha, Abeyta received the American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. In addition, his novel Rise, Do Not Be Afraid was a finalist for the 2007 Colorado Book Award and Premio Aztlan. Abeyta also was awarded a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry, and he was recently named the Poet Laureate of Colorado’s Western Slope by the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival.Book Cover: Colcha

Abeyta’s work has appeared in various publications, including An Introduction to Poetry, 10th edition; Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, 8th edition; and Conversations in American Literature: Language, Rhetoric, Culture; Colorado Central Magazine; and High Country News.

Abeyta received his MFA from Colorado State University. He lives in Antonito, Colorado, where he remains close to his family and culture, both of which greatly influence his work.

Contact Aaron Abeyta

Peter Berkery visits Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Missouri UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.

by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

So, I am light years behind in sharing comments from my ongoing series of member press visits–which now number in excess of 50!–but in fact I really have been keeping a running tally of (what I hope are) useful observations. First and foremost, then, apologies to anyone who feels justifiably dissed by the lack of reporting; please rest assured your hospitality is deeply appreciated, and moreover your insights have been extremely useful as I think about both reporting back to Mellon for their support of this tour and trying to move our enterprise forward. In the fullness of time, I still plan to give voice to all that I’m learning. I’ll pick up right where I left off, my late February visit to central Texas–specifically, the presses at UT, A&M, and Baylor.

My first stop was Austin, where Dave Hamrick and his team at University of Texas Press offered great food and even better conversation. The topics ranged from Mellon’s “Big Idea” (the foundation’s evolving investigation into the possibility of “flipping” the financial model for academic monographs from pay-to-consume to pay-to produce; more to come), through approaches to prioritizing the various opportunities for university presses to work consortially, and to how we can improve our relationship(s) with independent booksellers. Appropriately enough, all three of these items have a home on the agenda at AAUP’s upcoming Annual Meeting. Our colleagues at UT talked in depth about how each of these matters could affect their press in particular, as well as the broader spectrum of AAUP members, helping to clarify my own understanding of these important topics.

After Austin, I headed east to College Station for a day at Texas A&M University Press. Again, more good conversation, but this time with a new twist: TAMU Press had recently completed a significant production systems migration, and I was able to get a deep-dive on life before, during, and after. Data conversions that were supposed to be programmatic requiring manual intervention, heroic efforts to add legacy date in order to take advantage of new capabilities, and lots of nights and weekends turned a medium project into a large one. The TAMU team is happy with the results, of course, and is looking forward to increased productivity from the new platform’s enhanced capabilities. Hearing how disruptive such an implementation can be at even a mid-size press was a useful reminder; since AAUP members of all sizes face a number of these adventures in the months and years ahead, it is always useful to find ways to have a committee or a listserv leverage prior experiences.

I also had the opportunity to learn about TAMU’s significant distribution activities on behalf of a dozen or so smaller scholarly presses in Texas–only some of whom currently are AAUP members. I wonder whether or not there’s an outreach opportunity for us there.

From College Station, I turned slightly north for the drive to Waco, where the good folks at Baylor University Press rolled out the red carpet! Carey Newman and his team laid out in wonderful detail how their artisanal approach to acquisitions, editorial, design, and marketing produce books of extraordinary quality. As many of you know, Carey has adopted (what sounded to me like) a take-it-or-leave-it approach to doing business with Amazon and, with an extensive and strategic deployment of Baylor’s bright interns, developed something of a bespoke approach to marketing new titles – the latter making the Press less dependent on the former in order to achieve sales targets. Moreover, all of this is consistent with Baylor’s philosophy that small presses have to compete on quality in every facet. The passion for the work in Carey’s office is palpable. Also, the potlucks kick a**!

Before closing, I should note how, in different ways, all three presses have worked hard to create deep ties to their campus and local communities. From fundraising boards comprised of prominent individuals through detailed (and handsome!) annual reports to deep engagement with faculty via advisory boards and how-to-publish seminars, all three presses are working to raise their profiles and broaden the understanding of the value they bring to their institutions and regions.

I’m looking forward to return engagements in the Lone Star State, so I can catch up with some of our member presses north of the Brazos!

Shortly after my week in Texas, I found myself in Missouri for the inaugural Library Publishing Forum. I took advantage of my proximity to Columbia to pay a visit to University of Missouri Press. I’ll share three encouraging observations here. First and foremost, things appear to have stabilized remarkably well under Dave Rosenbaum’s strong leadership. The team is in rebuilding mode, and morale is good. Next, Dave believes he has his administration’s support for the work that lies ahead in no small part, that’s probably due to the great job he does reporting and managing up. Dave has created detailed strategy documents for his administration that lay out both the challenges and opportunities the press faces, and that identify a clear path forward. Consequently, his university understands that the recent disruption in press activities will impact the frontlist (or lack thereof) for at least three more catalogues. Which leads to my final observation: in order to at least partially offset the lack of a frontlist, the press is implementing some solid specific tactics–including discipline-specific catalog sheets and targeted marketing campaigns–in order to try to improve sales from the backlist. Especially the recent backlist, which necessarily was under-promoted during the press’ months of turmoil. All in all, the team at Mizzou is making great progress toward an even greater comeback!

upinspace_mitpressOne small step for collaboration

by Ellen Faran, Director, The MIT Press

March 20 marks the liftoff of “University Presses in Space,” a website promoting university press books about outer space and space exploration. The site,, features 30 titles selected by the 15 participating presses as among their best space books. These titles are cross-linked with the individual book pages in presses’ web catalogs so that we may share web traffic. In addition, all the presses and their authors may share links to the site through catalogs, email, social media, and at exhibits and meetings.

The MIT Press conceived of this joint promotion in conjunction with our lead Spring 2014 title, Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program. We worked closely with three partners—the University Press of Florida, Purdue University Press, and the University of Nebraska Press—to develop the idea and then invited all AAUP member presses to join as participants. MIT designed and launched the site; Nebraska will then take over the site after it enters its regular orbit. Nebraska has arranged to bring “University Presses in Space” to the attention of attendees at SpaceFest (“THE event for the space enthusiast”) in Pasadena this May.

We believe that space buffs, as well as general readers interested in space, don’t stop at just one book. We believe that they appreciate the quality of university press publishing. Thus we hope that the discovery experience provided by “University Presses in Space” will stimulate sales, both for the featured titles and the many more space books to be found by exploring university press lists. The site includes a link to AAUP’s Books for Understanding which has a Space Flight category.

This is a modest experiment in collaborative promotion; modest in part because the site does not offer a combined shopping experience. But we hope that the response to “University Presses in Space” will point us toward effective ways to promote books in specific fields across our community, throughout the galaxy, and beyond.

Please share the news with any space explorers in your part of the universe. Our Twitter hashtag is #upspacebooks.

Peter Berkery visits Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousiana State UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.

by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

The “southern leg” of my Listening Tour found me motoring through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana shortly before the holidays. While each of my three stops–Tuscaloosa, Jackson, and Baton Rouge–was unique, I’m going to depart from my usual convention of discussing each press separately, focusing instead on some strong common themes that emerged during my conversations.

The first common denominator in my meetings at the University of Alabama Press, the University Press of Mississippi, and Louisiana State University Press echoes a theme by now common in my visits: three presses clamoring to embrace the digital disruption head-on, but without the benefits of scale. This led to the usual lively discussion about the potential for increased consortial activity and shared services within our community. In particular, I was impressed with the amount of time our colleagues in Alabama have devoted to thinking about how scholarly communication’s digital future will require increased collaboration among university presses.

A second commonality: I’m happy to be able to write that each of the three presses I visited is well-integrated into its campus. Or campuses, as the case may be. For example, as a system press, Mississippi faces the customary array of challenges accompanying that status, but our colleagues in Jackson work hard to maintain a high profile both on the eight member campuses they “represent” and within the state’s rich literary community. At LSU, a Press Advisory Board (separate from the press’s editorial board) comprised of campus and community supporters serves the dual role of raising visibility and fundraising.

The next recurring topic of conversation was decidedly unhappier: the lack of a press at any of the nation’s HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) since the closure a few years ago of Howard University Press. While several AAUP member presses have commendable publishing programs in Black History and African American Studies, including the three on this segment of the Listening Tour, it must be recognized as a deficiency that there is no HBCU with a university press. In answering Philip Cercone’s call to found new university presses, addressing this gap would be an excellent place to start.

Each visit also saw extensive discussion of how the potential migration of our business model from pay-to-read to pay-to-publish (pay-to-publish in many ways being another way to think about open access) could impact the work we do. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of perspectives on what such a future might hold, but there was a common denominator: assuming a stable source of pay-to-publish funding (an enormous assumption itself, as all were quick to observe) we’d be trading the prospect of greater financial stability and revenue predictability for a host of unknowns. Would publishers eventually come to compete for authors through publishing terms? How should the potential loss of backlist revenue from course adoptions factor into pay-to-publish business models? Similarly, what about textbooks, as well as the titles with cross-over trade potential? Or our regional publishing programs: the critical role of university presses in documenting the natural and cultural history of the communities we serve must be protected. As the seemingly inevitable march toward open access continues, advancing more squarely into our publishing programs, these are questions that need answers, or at least more considered evaluation, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that enquiry occurs. There’s opportunity here for many of our members, but clearly there’s also risk.

I can’t close without noting one final common theme: gracious southern hospitality. From lunch at Alabama’s Faculty Club to a private tour of Eudora Welty’s Mississippi home (with AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show catalogs proudly on display) to a truly lovely dinner party at the Baton Rouge home of an LSU Press Advisory Board member, I was received with genuine warmth everywhere I went. Thanks to everyone who made me feel so very welcomed.

The generous hospitality I received bodes well for our upcoming Annual Meeting in New Orleans. I stopped by our host hotel on my way home from Baton Rouge, and I’m happy to report that we will be well cared-for during our stay in The Big Easy!

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

Peter Berkery visits U of Nevada Press and Beacon Press

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.

by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

Two very different Listening Tour stops reminded me how important the perspective from AAUP’s “front lines” can be: our smaller member presses sometimes can feel most acutely the twin challenges of the technology disruption and corporatization of the academy.

A late October visit to Reno allowed me to meet the small but extraordinarily dedicated staff of the University of Nevada Press. UNP is a state-system press, and I could sense some of the special challenges that come with that status. It can be particularly difficult for system presses to maintain mindshare with their administrations (and faculty), and it may be useful for AAUP to continue to explore ways both to leverage successes and undertake advocacy initiatives specific to the needs of this group.

The other important learning to emerge from my time in the Silver State: university presses fulfill missions in ways beyond academic credentialing. To be fair, this isn’t exactly news, but it was elegantly emphasized by the publishing program at Nevada. I think sometimes it can be easy for our colleagues in the academy to overlook that a university press well may be the sole curator of the history and culture of a region. That’s certainly the case in Nevada, where series on the urbanization of the American West inspired by the explosive growth of Las Vegas, and on mining history–growing out of Nevada’s mining heritage–would otherwise have little to no scholarly record without the hard work of Joanne O’Hare and her team. It’s a vital function, and one that deserves more credit than it sometimes receives.

Fast forward from a glorious autumn day in the Sierras to early December, the first wintery day in New England, when I found myself crossing a slippery Boston Common to visit Beacon Press.

Beacon is an AAUP Associate Member, whose mission is linked to its host institution, the Unitarian Universalist Church. Consequently, titles related to social justice figure prominently on their list: for example, an exclusive partnership with the MLK estate to publish “The King Legacy.” And although many of these titles result in course adoptions, the retail market is critical to Beacon’s performance. The conversation that flowed from the orientation of Beacon’s list highlighted how important certain copyright issues–permissions, piracy–remain, even in a world where many of us are beginning to incorporate Open Access into our publishing programs. What a challenging dynamic that creates for our association!

Another common theme between these two different members: the recognition that greater consortial activity would benefit their programs. Interestingly–and this is a theme that’s been common throughout the Listening Tour–that doesn’t necessarily translate into agreement regarding which specific activities might productively be accomplished cooperatively. There are solid reasons for the various perspectives taken by each individual press, but at the organizational level this will pose a challenge for AAUP when the time comes to set priorities.

In the end, I think the most striking similarity between these two very distinct presses is their common desire to identify new and better ways to engage a very specific sector of the consumer market: the educated reading public. In Nevada’s case, it’s to preserve a history and a culture; in Beacon’s, it’s to advance the human condition. Such endeavors are other important parts of a university press’s mission, and expanding the ways programs that support them should continue to be a part of AAUP’s mission as well.

Tony Sanfilippo talks acquiring, marketing, digital publishing

by Juliet Barney, AAUP Marketing and Social Media Intern

As part of my series of interviews as AAUP intern, learning about scholarly publishing from my layman’s perspective, I recently talked to Tony Sanfilippo, Assistant Press Director and Marketing and Sales Director at Penn State University Press. Knowing his expertise and experience in digital publishing, especially in regard to acquisitions and marketing, I hoped he would be able to help me better understand each area.

From previous interviews, I had picked up some basics about acquisitions and marketing: I knew that acquisitions editors work to find manuscripts that fit the needs of their press, not necessarily their personal needs; that marketing for these titles, whether they are print or digital, is modeled by the particulars of each specific project. I was curious what Sanfilippo had to add to what I have already encountered—and interestingly, he did have a new perspective: he explained that you don’t always stick to acquiring texts within your usual editorial focus, and that you can also revive out-of-print books you still believe are valuable.

From Sanfilippo, I learned that acquisitions aren’t just about finding the right manuscript, but also building up a worthwhile project and making it accessible to a wide range of people. Sanfilippo also revisited his college bookstore idea that has the potential to positively impact college students like myself.

(The full interview has been edited for publication.)

What is your experience with patron-driven acquisitions? Is it an effective model?

This is something I’m actually very concerned about. The major question surrounding PDA—which is also referred to as demand-driven acquisitions—is, “Are the current usage triggers sustainable?” A lot of publishers and vendors are having a big conversation on the model. What we’re seeing is that libraries are no longer purchasing books, but instead, are opting to do this short-term rental more often than they’re purchasing. So, not only are they changing the nature of the library’s collection to something that’s more of a popularity driven selection, it’s also significantly cutting publishers’ revenue. For example, I know University of Mississippi Press noted that they’ve seen a significant cut in print sales and the DDA model is only making up a fraction of that lost revenue.

I think if the model is going to be sustainable, two things need to happen. (1) We need to change the model so that some sort of compensation is given to the publishers to make up for the lost revenue. If we don’t, university presses won’t be able to continue publishing the amount of books they’ve published in the past. Also, we will probably begin to publish only popular scholarship as opposed to good scholarship, which are extremely different things. (2) We also need to think about alternatives to the rentals. For example, if there’s an opportunity for the individual to purchase a copy for himself or herself rather than only offering the library the opportunity to purchase a copy: that sort of revenue could make up for the loss.

Otherwise, PDA/DDA won’t be something publishers can continue to participate in on a long-term basis.

In your article “Rethinking the College Bookstore,” you bring up the idea of borrowing textbooks or new scholarship, both for students and faculty, but wouldn’t that affect the publishers marketing those texts?

What’s different about the model I recommend and what’s currently going on is that there isn’t that opportunity now for a purchase to occur by the individual in a library. Libraries have a mission of sharing. They get a certain amount of resources that they can use totry to purchase materials with, and they try to decide what’s the best way to share those materials. But promoting book ownership—that’s not the part of the library mission. What I propose actually adds that element. Patrons often also have their own personal libraries, but with the loss of bookstores, they have few opportunities for discovery for those personal libraries. Instead that’s been happening for readers more and more often at lending libraries. Publishers can afford to rent more books and allow more borrowing of books if they are also given the opportunity to sell a book in the same space, and to the same audience.

There’s an interesting statistic that I encountered recently, here, at Penn State. We got an email from the help desk at the university library: the #1 most-asked question was, “Where is the bathroom?” #2 question: “Where can I find my textbooks?” Students weren’t going to the university bookstore and asking that question, they were going to the library. There is an expectation from students that if the learning materials aren’t a part of a content management system, they should be on reserve in the library. I think there is some resistance from librarians on this topic. But, if it’s what the students need, maybe we should consider it.

There’s one popular theory that people will pay for the use of material on a borrowed basis. Sort of like a Netflix model. You don’t actually own films or TV shows; you borrow them. If you look at libraries using the Demand Driven and Short Term Loan models, combined they’re sort of like a Netflix for books mixed with the physicality of a Blockbuster. If you borrow a book and spend too much time on it, rather than just paying the late fee, you have to buy the book. It’s like renting a movie and never returning it.

When looking for new manuscripts, what do you consider?

The acquisitions I do are very different from the scholarly acquisitions that Penn State Press typically does. In our mission statement, we talk about how the majority of what we do is for serving the scholarly community, but we also have a line in there about serving the people of Pennsylvania. As a state school, we feel a responsibility to give back to the commonwealth, so we also try to publish books of interest to them.

For me, what makes a good book is going to be different than the standards of those acquiring our scholarship. Our scholarly acquisitions staff are looking at whether the manuscript uses the language of the discipline and whether or not it’s engaging with a current argument in that field. In contrast, the questions I ask myself are, “Is it useful to the people of the commonwealth, and if so, what’s the market? Would we serve a good portion of the regional market or is it too narrow a focus?” So whereas marketing is a minor part of scholarly acquisitions, it plays a major role for me and regional acquisitions. I’m also looking at the writing. If you’re not a great academic writer, that’s not always important. And if you’re really engaging with the language of your discipline, the book will have trouble with a wider audience; jargon is not accessible to the average reader. I’m looking for really great writers who can engage their readers, and who are going to appeal to a much broader audience. It’s not only what they’re saying, but also how they’re saying it.

I’m also generally thinking about publicity, because our regional books have a better opportunity to benefit from publicity. There are so many local radio stations where I can book an author because they’re talking about deer hunting. Our Continental philosophers? Not so much.

When acquiring a text, do you take into consideration whether it will be in print or digital?

psupress_birdatlasLet me give an example—not of a book that I acquired, but a recommendation that I made. We did an atlas on the breeding birds in Pennsylvania. It comes out of work that the Pennsylvania DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) does here. Folks go out and count the number of breeding birds they find in the wild: pairs, and nests. The volunteers are out there every weekend documenting these numbers on paper. They did this for 10 years and came up with this amazing data set of the distribution of birds and their breeding habits, including where and when they could be found. We published all that data into a book. My first thought on that was, “Wow, wouldn’t that make a wonderful app?” Not only for species identification, but also to continue monitoring the distribution of the breeding species.

Once we started looking into the cost of a project like that and it became more daunting. We weren’t able to proceed, but it’s the kind of thing I thought about in the terms of, “Does this project make more sense in print or digital?” There’s an argument to be made for both. But as a project, if it were to be ongoing and continuously recording data, it seems that as an app, you can create an opportunity, not only for the user to look up a particular bird, but also to report that sighting back to the database.

It depends upon the project. When considering whether to publish in print or digital, I’m not only thinking about the audience, I’m also thinking more about the actual project. That said, there are very few projects where we’re forced to choose between only one or the other.

What’s the most interesting project you’re currently working on?

psupress_angelswildthingsThere was a book we published a long time ago called Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak, by John Cech. I think the world of Sendak; I think he was an American treasure. There was so little written about him that was really scholarly in nature, and here was this book that we published that had unfortunately gone out of print. So I tried really hard to bring that book back into print. The folks who actually controlled most of Sendak’s illustrations were generally HarperCollins (they were his publisher through most of his career). We would have to negotiate another deal with them to use the illustrations again, and our initial attempts were pretty discouraging. They wanted quite a bit of money for the necessary permissions required for a reprint.

But then serendipitously, one of our acquisitions editors found herself talking to a friend of Sendak. When she realized the connection, our editor started talking about the book, and the friend offered to “see what he could do.” So a few weeks after that party, we got a call from HarperCollins’ rights department saying that Sendak asked them to give us unrestricted print rights to his images for use in our book, and to do it gratis. (For print only, though; they weren’t so generous with the digital rights.) So in the end, we were able to bring the book back into print after more than a decade, primarily because Sendak himself intervened. I’m extremely proud to been able to bring that book back into print.

Peter Berkery visits U of California Press  and Stanford UP

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.

by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

I enjoyed two unique perspectives on the potential impact of technology on our community during the Bay Area leg of Listening Tour II: first, a focus on innovation at the University of California Press that resonates with my own prior publishing experience and later, some provocative new ways to think about how AAUP can serve its members from the folks at Stanford University Press. Both experiences were gifts, and I’m grateful to the many Left Coast denizens who shared their time and talent in order to make them manifest.

First stop, Berkeley. Alison Mudditt and her team are literally reinventing UCP, in ways that are exciting and–from my perspective–essential. Let me begin with some background: my career in legal publishing spanned those heady years in the late 90s when we migrated our product line from print to electronic (first, over proprietary dial-in lines, but as soon as Al Gore invented it, then the via internet). There are two significant features from this experience that are relevant to UCP’s (r)evolution.

First, the same publisher still owned the content, customers, and its central role in the process when the migration was complete. It’s caused no shortage of sleepless nights for me contemplating the possibility that the same centrality of all our university presses may not be a given once the technology disruption and its consequences achieve critical mass in our neck of the publishing woods.

Second, the truly revolutionary thing about our migration was what followed it. Most customers found the initial journey painful. After it was over, however, and they had settled into a life of online research, they began pushing us to go further, to make our content do more. For example, in the print world, we would provide binders full of sample forms and clauses for estate planning attorneys. Not long after we digitized that content, cutting-edge practitioners and authors began asking us to also automate the underlying workflow by developing document assembly software.

Under Alison’s leadership, UCP is following a similar trajectory, and their plans strike me as having similar logic. The UCP team is rebuilding in ways that will support their goals, including the recent hiring of a Director of Digital Business Development. Like legal publishers back in the day, UCP has a vision for how technology will transform scholarly communications. They have a strategy and an execution plan; as my old boss at that legal publisher used to say, “I like their chances”.

But the patina of general inevitability I’ve attached to the evolution that occurred specifically in legal publishing gives me pause today. Most university presses lack the scale to successfully undertake such large-scale initiatives; even the few Group Four presses who’ve attempted apps have been humbled by the experience. I can’t shake the feeling that a common platform automating the scholarly workflow may be critical to maintaining our centrality in the digital age. I hope to flesh this out more on future Listening Tour stops, and I welcome your thoughts on the notion.

Back across the bay, my visit with Stanford University Press yielded a completely different, yet equally exciting and challenging revelation. After touring their impressive new digs, still awaiting its finishing touches, I met with the staff in a groovy open-plan meeting area. (And I mean groovy: I quite literally found myself sitting in a “Doctor Evil” chair!) We were having an interesting exchange about my role, what AAUP is, and what it could be, when Chris Cosner, their IT Manager, began to articulate some of the limitations of our current listservs: listservs are hard to search … communication is too linear and hierarchical … collaboration is virtually impossible … email triage is a challenge … and so on.

As he was speaking, I began drawing parallels between what Chris was saying and the periodic soul-searching the association undertakes with our committees. Despite seemingly biennial reviews, it appears to me that we labor under the recurring belief that whatever AAUP’s current committee structure happens to be at the time, it doesn’t serve us optimally: there are too many committees, a few have outlived their purpose, one or two never have a clear understanding of what they’re meant to be doing, communication is a challenge, and so on. Don’t get me wrong: the association is blessed with an abundance of talented and dedicated volunteers who devote countless hours to AAUP committee business, but still—at a macro level—we seem unable to shake the sense that we’re not always as well served by committee efforts as we might be.

Then it struck me: perhaps AAUP needs to reinvision how technology can automate its own workflow–evolving from listservs to true online collaboration tools, from committees to communities. Just as technology reinvented lawyers’ workflows, and just as it is reinventing scholarly communication, perhaps it’s time to think about how it can revolutionize the ways in which the association provides platforms for its members to collaborate. The notion of communities really resonates with me, and when I shared it from my groovy chair, I think it resonated with others as well. To the extent this realization qualifies as an epiphany, full credit goes to the folks at Stanford who brought me to it. In any case, the discussion was a gift, and I am thankful for it. It will take more input to validate, and even more of that time and talent to implement, but it was one of those special conversations that makes me grateful for the opportunity to visit so many presses in person.

Next up: a report from Group One …

Peter Berkery visits Purdue UP and Indiana UP

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.

by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

The first stops on the autumn leg of my Listening Tour were in Indiana, just as students were returning to campus for the fall semester.

Purdue University Press is a fully integrated unit of Purdue Libraries; in many ways, the structure and activities there have the potential to serve as a model–not just for library-press collaboration, but also for how a university press can add value for its host institution. In addition to the academic monograph and scholarly journal publishing activities familiar to most university press employees, PUP staff leverage their expertise to publish student journals, conference proceedings, and other scholarly materials that do not meet the criteria for the PUP imprint under a separate “Scholarly Publishing Services” moniker. The library is the press’s advocate with faculty and administrators, zealously guarding both the press’s funding and the PUP brand. The broader university community benefits from the press’s publishing expertise, economies of scale, and consistent design, branding, and marketing decisions. Charles Watkinson, the director of PUP, reports into the library and holds the dual title of Director of Purdue University Press and Head of Scholarly Publishing Services, Purdue Libraries. He is also in charge of the institutional repository, Purdue e-Pubs, which acts as an online publishing platform as well as a place to deposit faculty pre- and post-prints.

The model is a clear success at Purdue. In some respects this must be attributed to the bonhomie of Charles and PU Dean of Libraries James Mullins; as is so often the case in these situations, success depends–at least in part–on the goodwill of the personalities involved. It’s unproven whether the Boilermakers’ scholarly publishing model can scale, but in the right set of circumstances other institutions would do well to explore it.

Next I arrived in Bloomington on a glorious late summer day, along with thousands of new and returning Hoosier undergrads! Change is very much in the air at Indiana University Press. With support from the Provost, IUP has become a part of the Office of Scholarly Publishing, a strategic campus-wide effort to develop and implement a coordinated university publishing strategy. (In addition to IUP, the OSP includes IUScholarWorks, the IU Libraries’ open access publishing program, and an IU faculty authored e-textbook initiative.) While this particular chapter hadn’t been completed as of my visit, the commitment to IUP was enthusiastically echoed by everybody I met, from the CIO and the provost through to faculty committees and librarians–and, of course, among IUP staffers themselves.

The university is also proactively encouraging the press to embrace the opportunities presented by both new technologies and potential campus collaborations. A recent move to IU’s Wells Library better positions the press to leverage the university’s librarian expertise and advanced IT resources, responding more nimbly and with more coordination to the dramatic changes in scholarly publishing. While IUP has a track record of collaborations, it’s clear to me that the creation of the OSP and its inclusion of the press will encourage innovation by integrating resources to create a publishing environment that can grow to serve more robustly both the university and the broader academy.

While IU continues to fine-tune its model, I left Bloomington confident that the future is bright for this respected university press.

Next stop: Reno and the Bay Area.

“The Global Reach of University Presses”

November 10-16 marks University Press Week 2013! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


Columbia University Press: “Columbia University Press and Global Publishing”
Columbia’s role as global university press began a half century ago with the university’s own burgeoning interests in the non-Western world, and has grown to include today the distribution of Irish, Chinese, and German presses, on everything from literary fiction to queer studies to post-Soviet pop culture, encouraging readers to recognize “commonality in the midst of diversity, and diversity in the midst of commonality.”

Georgetown University Press: “Giving our Readers a Global Reach”
Georgetown is a global press in many ways. One of the most fascinating is through its Georgetown Languages imprint, which produces linguistics and language learning materials that go beyond English, Spanish, and French, and into the “LCTLs,” or less commonly taught languages: Chinese, Urdu, Uyghur, Uzbek, Pashto, Tajiki, Kazakh, Portuguese, Turkish, Japanese, and Arabic.

Indiana University Press: “Last day for University Press Week blog tour”
Working with the university’s Center for the Study of Global Change, IUP has embarked on a Framing the Global initiative to advance the field of global studies and support and publish some of its best emerging scholarship. The first title, Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research, will be released in spring 2014.

Johns Hopkins University Press: “Our Reach Is Far and Wide”
The founding mission of Johns Hopkins is to advance knowledge “far and wide.” The press’s books department has had English-language bestsellers translated and distributed around the world, and takes in and translates to English some of the best global scholarship. The journals department has just issued an edition with scholars and ideas from five different continents. And digital hub Project MUSE draws more than half of its subscriber base from 78 countries outside of North America.

New York University Press: “Chip Rossetti on the Library of Arabic Literature”
Chip Rossetti edits NYU Press’s new Library of Arabic Literature, which publishes bilingual editions of Arabic texts, many of which have never been translated into English before. The seven titles published thus far include works Rossetti finds comparable to touchstones of Western literature, like Tristram Shandy and the Divine Comedy: “ultimately, we want non-Arabic-speaking readers to view these authors and their texts as part of their global cultural heritage, so that an educated reader is as familiar with the names of Ibn al-Muqaffa’ and al-Ma’arri as she is with Homer, Tolstoy and Confucius.”

Princeton University Press: “Game of Tongues — PUP Director Peter Dougherty Reflects on the Importance of Translations”
“Over the past ten years the number of Princeton’s translation rights has nearly tripled,” notes Director Peter Dougherty, expanding especially in China, Korea, and Japan, but also Turkey, Brazil, the Czech Republic. At the center of it all is Foreign Rights Manager Kim Williams, who met with nearly 200 publishers in the rush of this year’s international Frankfurt Book Fair.

University of Wisconsin Press: “Reclaiming the ‘unknowable’ history of Africa”
UWP illustrates their place as a global press through an interview with longtime author Jan Vansina, one of the founders of the scholarly field of African history, “a time not so long ago when there was still a widely held view that cultures without written texts had no history … Up to that point, ‘African’ historiography focused entirely on the history of European colonizers in Africa.”

Yale University Press: “Yale University Press and the Global Reach of University Presses”
Marketer Ivan Lett explains what publishing is like for a press with home offices on both sides of the Atlantic, and also how that duality is changing with the onset of digital publishing and the ongoing evolution of media channels. Launching book-related apps simultaneously in the UK and US, for example—unlike the usual staggered release of print titles—accentuated how original print versions had found different audiences with different expectations.

“The Importance of Regional Publishing”

November 10-16 marks University Press Week 2013! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.


Fordham University Press: “University Press Week: The Importance of Regional Publishing”
Director Frederic Nachbauer sold books for FUP before he ran it, experience which showed him the strength of the press’s regional New York lists and relationships with local museums and libraries. Thus began Empire State Editions, established in 2010, which has built on those foundations through, for example, co-publication and promotion.

Louisiana State University Press: “How do you get to a dance hall in Eunice?”
LSUP’s mission to “make sure every book finds a home,” to build on a collection of great local books that value the complexity that accompanies authenticity, often as varied and eclectic as the unique Louisiana treasures that make up their lists’ subject matter.

Oregon State University Press: “Defining the Pacific Northwest: Publishing at OSU Press”
OSUP editor Mary Elizabeth Braun discusses how regional publishing can mean many things, from what exactly your region is—there are many ways of outlining the Pacific Northwest—to defining local literature and welcoming a variety of citizens, from Native American and Indigenous peoples through generations of immigrants.

Syracuse University Press: “The Importance of Regional Publishing”
Syracuse author Chuck D’Imperio explains how every Great American Novel is rooted in regional stories, which can be the simplest and most lasting chronicling of personal and local history.

University of Alabama Press: “The Importance of Regional Publishing”
UAP explains why smaller can be better: university presses can take risks in an age when commercial giants are wary to “bet the farm” on anything but proven mass success: “In the hands of a mainstream publisher, Meet Me in St. Louis would’ve been Meet Me in the USA or maybe Canada.”

University of Nebraska Press: “UP Week: Publishing and Place”
Editor-in-Chief Derek Krissoff explains how regional publishing is about more than recognizing communities that might otherwise go uncelebrated. At Nebraska, for instance, the developing History of the American West series works to remind us that the idea of place is never static, and a critical part of knowing a place is understanding how it came to be.

University of North Carolina Press: “Mark Simpson-Vos: Remembering Region”
In the age of globalization when publishing interests are ever-expanding, the UNCP Editorial Director reflects on the role of Southern university presses originally founded for publishing great university scholarship that the North wouldn’t notice.

University Press of Kentucky: “The Importance of Regional Publishing: Because Nobody Understands Kentucky Like We Do”
Kentucky embraces new forms of digital content by explaining their key role in the Kentucky community via a few words from their regional book editor … and animated GIFs.

University Press of Mississippi: “Your No One Is My Everyone”
UPM Marketing Director Steve Yates describes the day he was converted to the mission of university press publishing, and why he’s now a champion for the significance of scale in deciding when a book is notable and when it’s not.


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