When I started Library Juice Press, I was aware of some librarian-publishers who came before me, whose presses are still around. There may be others. I like to think that despite changes in publishing that make it easier to dive in I am more in line with this tradition of librarian-publishers than I am with recent phenomena of POD self-publishing and the like. (In fact, the financial investment that I have made would support this idea.) I’d like to take a moment to share a bit of what I know about some other librarian-publishers.
The first that comes to mind, though I don’t know as much about her as I should, is Pat Schuman of Neal-Schuman Publishers, who are well-known in the library world for their practical books on aspects of our professional work. Pat Schuman’s name often came up in conversations I had with mentors in ALA having to do with the origins of SRRT and other things going on in librarianship in the late 60s and early 70s. She was an important figure in the generation that gave American librarianship its present (if changing) shape (and is still going strong, I should add). She founded the company in 1976 as an outgrowth of a business that distributed books on librarianship for other publishers.
Closer to what I am doing though, would be the early Scarecrow Press, founded by librarian and information scientist Ralph Shaw in 1950. Shaw launched Scarecrow Press with the intention of putting scholarly books out on the market that other publishers would not consider financially viable, and did it by running a business with extremely low overhead. Many of these books were in the LIS field, and they included some dissertations that Shaw felt deserved publication as monographs (one of the ways I find my titles as well). Some of the history of Scarecrow Press is told in Ken Kister’s biography of Eric Moon, published by McFarland in 2002. (Eric Moon, also a librarian, took over the editorship of Scarecrow in 1971. Norman Horrocks, another important librarian, served as editorial vice president there until recently.)
McFarland, though not technically founded by a librarian, has a connected lineage. Its founder (and current President), Robbie Franklin, had been Vice President at Scarecrow, and created McFarland in 1979 because he wanted to run his own show. Franklin had a close relationship with Eric Moon, and his father, Bob Franklin, was the director of the Toledo Public Library.
These three companies are some of the major publishers of books on LIS topics today. Scarecrow and McFarland also both tend to publish a lot of books on historical topics, which is something I like to do as well. One thing they have not done, however, is to attempt to have a list that’s related to any particular political bent or set of ideas (which they might have done, since Pat Schuman and also Ralph Shaw were very politically-minded). Robbie Franklin advised me against giving the press a political identity, and said that I should deliberately publish some conservative books in order to establish that it is a publishing company, not an activist organization. I have not particularly heeded that advice, choosing instead to look to publishers like Verso as examples of where I’d eventually like to be. I think Robbie’s advice to me would have made more sense in an earlier era. Publishing is becoming a more niche-oriented business, it seems. At any rate, there is plenty of room for transformation.
I also should mention Hi Willow Press and LMC Source, a company started by LIS professor David V. Loertscher to disseminate research and practical books on children’s librarianship. Though that was never my field of interest, I had a student job assisting Dr. Loertscher when I was working on my MLIS, and first got the idea from him about the possibilities of starting a small business as an adjunct to a library career.
And I shouldn’t leave off without mentioning one other librarian-publisher I know, who has started just recently. Bill Brahms, a librarian in New Jersey, founded Reference Desk Press to publish his book, Notable Last Facts. The last time I spoke with Bill he was conceiving other projects, and I was impressed by what he has done. Bill has a connection to the publishing industry through family and knows about how it works in ways that most librarians don’t.
Byron Anderson, compiler of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, has long said that library schools should require a course in the publishing industry, and I agree with him, or at least that it should be a part of a course that also covers book history. I think knowledge of how publishing works is very helpful from a collection development standpoint.
In the future, I plan to write something here about the publishing industry, and share a few ideas about why publishers are still important, and what they offer, in the age of POD and the web.