Saturday, October 1, 2011

Positions in the Pioneer Valley: Library Director, Hampshire College

Director of the Library
Hampshire College
Hampshire College, an independent, innovative liberal arts institution and member of the Five College consortium with Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke Colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, seeks a highly accomplished professional for Director of the Library. Hampshire College, founded in 1965, offers approximately 1500 full-time students a full range of liberal arts programs through an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based curriculum. Hampshire students have access to more than 6,000 courses, 8 million library volumes, and the academic facilities of all five campuses. The institutions collaborate in many ways, including joint faculty appointments and the sharing of certain facilities and administrative functions. The College is located in the beautiful Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts and contributes to the rich cultural environments of the college towns of Amherst, South Hadley and Northampton.
The Director of the Library is the chief academic and administrative officer of the library. Reporting to the Dean of the Faculty, the director holds responsibility for coordinating programs, scholarship, and service activities within the Hampshire Library as well as within the Five College consortium, one of the oldest and most successful consortia in the country. The mission of the college library is to provide information resources and services in an exciting academic environment that supports Hampshire students in the development of innovative research and critical inquiry skills. The director will provide leadership in developing programs, services, collections, and digital/media asset management; provide leadership in evaluating and assessing library programs, facilities, space utilization, and construction projects, as well as collections, archives, and services; and ensure excellence in linking library information resources and information technology. The qualified candidate will set the library's fiscal priorities and direction consistent with strategic use of resources; foster a collaborative approach to managing the library and its personnel; and participate in fundraising, grant writing and developing donor relations to benefit the library. In addition, the director will be expected to develop collaborative relationships with the National Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art. Built directly adjacent to the campus (and on land originally belonging to the campus), these two institutions comprise Hampshire’s “Cultural Village” and add to the richness and attractiveness of our corner of South Amherst.
An MLS degree from an ALA accredited (or an international equivalent) program is required; a second master's degree or a doctorate is preferred. A minimum of five years progressively responsible academic library experience in a supervisory/administrative capacity is required. The selected candidate must be a highly skilled leader able to respond to the emerging teaching, learning, and research needs of the College community; have an understanding of the academic process and trends in higher education, and a strong commitment to excellence in library service in support of the College's mission; and demonstrated commitment to fostering the library's essential role in the academic program. This position requires a strong background in emerging technologies as they relate to academic libraries; an understanding of issues related to scholarly communications and intellectual property; proven financial and personnel management skills; excellent interpersonal, communication, presentation, and negotiation skills; and a strong record of scholarly and professional achievement. The qualified candidate will possess the capacity to lead and manage a dedicated library staff; foster open communication and cooperative relationships in the college community, and have a commitment to working with a diverse constituency.
Review of applications will begin November 1, 2011. Hampshire College offers a competitive salary and excellent benefits program. Please submit your cover letter, resume and names/phone numbers of three professional references via our website at Hampshire College is an equal opportunity institution, committed to diversity in education and employment.
The history of our institution and its library is a fascinating one, as we were pioneered many concepts and practices that have since become commonplace. Applications should of course be addressed to the above, but I am happy to share any historical background and insights that I have derived from my service to the institution.

Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship

In recently discussing the awarding of the SHARP DeLong Book Prize to John B. Hench, I referred to his great service over many years at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), a service recently honored through the creation of the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship.

It is now time for a new round of applications.  From the press release by the AAS:
Scholars who are no more than three years beyond receipt of the doctorate are invited to apply for the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship, a year-long residential fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. The purpose of the post-dissertation fellowship is to provide the recipient with time and resources to extend research and/or to revise the dissertation for publication. Any topic relevant to the Society's library collections and programmatic scope, and coming from any field or disciplinary background, is eligible. AAS collections focus on all aspects of American history, literature, and culture from contact to 1876, and provide rich source material for projects across the spectrum of early American studies.

The Society welcomes applications from those who have advance book contracts, as well as those who have not yet made contact with a publisher. The twelve-month stipend for this fellowship is $35,000. The Hench Post-Dissertation Fellow will be selected on the basis of the applicant's scholarly qualifications, the appropriateness of the project to the Society's collections and interests, and, above all, the likelihood that the revised dissertation will make a highly significant book. Further information about the fellowship, along with application materials, is available on the AAS website. Any questions about the fellowship may be directed to Paul Erickson, Director of Academic Programs at AAS, at

The deadline for applications for a Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship to be held during the 2012-2013 academic year is October 15, 2011.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What G.I. Joe Read

As I recently noted, John Hench's excellent study of Books as Weapons, on the US harnessing of publishing for political purposes in the World War II era, just won a well-deserved prize for best book of the year from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP).

Most of us were previously unaware of this colossal effort, particularly as it concerned the attempt to promote American books among the European population. More of us may have come across the cheap editions produced for US soldiers. Still, as even these latter are probably unfamiliar to the average reader, I thought it might be useful to present one of them here. The images are no substitute for the object itself, but they, along with John's excellent research, help to give some impression of what the books were actually like.

As the book explains, the first concerted attempt to provide US soldiers with reading material proved unsuccessful. The "Victory Book Campaigns," a joint effort of the USO, Red Cross, and American Library Association, failed because they "depended on the voluntary contribution of used books by civilians at home," an approach that "proved to be both inefficient and ineffective." (pp. 51, 84). As many a modern librarian or organizer could have told them: volunteer efforts can be unwieldy, the more so when it comes to book donations, which tend to attract precisely the sorts of things that neither donor nor recipient really wants. The weight and wide variations in the size and shape of the books also complicated the logistics of what was to have been a massive undertaking.

The Council on Books in Wartime (CBW), a collaboration among trade book publishers, librarians, and booksellers, therefore decided to make its own selections and produce its own editions, which could be sold to the military. The result was the spectacularly successful Armed Services Editions (ASE). The effort was as noteworthy for its approach and production methods as its results. It was prescient in that it took as its model the still-young paperback revolution and sought to take advantage of the distinctive characteristics of the wartime economy.

Standardization and a creative approach to design proved to be as important as the content:
In contrast to the widely differing sizes and formats of the Victory Campaign, the ASEs were lightweight, mostly oblong paperbacks, printed ‘four up’ and then thrice guillotined to create four books with the series’ characteristic, nonstandard orientation. They were printed on roll-fed rotary presses used in peacetime for magazines and catalogs, which had capacity in excess of the demands of civilian life. They appeared in two different trim sizes—6 ½ by 4 ½ inches (i.e. half the size of a magazine like Popular Mechanics) and 5 ½ x 3 ½ inches (i.e. half the size of a Reader’s Digest and similar periodicals)—which made packing and shipping comparatively easy. The text was printed in two columns on these oblong pages, a design, it was claimed, that did not exhibit the crowded effect that vertical two-column pages displayed. It also held the lines to legibly short lengths. These various design and technical innovations made the production and distribution of the ASEs feasible, even little short of miraculous. (p. 52)
ASE produced 122,951,031 copies of 1,322 titles from 1943 through 1947.

It so happens that I had one such edition in my own library, an item that I picked up for a few cents a good many years ago (I believe: at the League of Women Voters' book sale here in Amherst). It's by Ernie Pyle, the most famous US combat journalist of World War II. Killed by a sniper in 1945, Pyle, as the Indiana University School of Journalism puts it, was "An early "embedded journalist," who "worked alongside the troops, experiencing much of what they did, placing himself in danger as they did. His columns captured the scene and his reporting humanized the war for many of his readers." Pyle produced two bestselling collections of his writing, Here is Your War (1943) and Brave Men (1944-45), which were also issued together under the title, G.I. Joe.

The ASE edition of Here is Your War is in the larger of the two formats:

inside cover
title page
first page, showing the unusual double-column horizontal orientation
back inside cover, with list of selected other titles in the series
back cover
The success of the program was measured not only in copies, but also in consequences. As John summarizes:
In setting up the ASEs, council members were confident that the series would contribute to the ‘mass reading of books in the world to come.’ They were right. Historians have generally credited the ASEs with introducing books to the GIs who had read little before the war, for helping fuel the paperback boom in the postwar years, and for creating a new pool of customers. (p. 53)

Not bad for an improvised response to a national emergency. One wonders what equivalent efforts could be undertaken today to enrich the lives of our soldiers and better equip them for the return to the United States and, eventually, civilian life in the age of the information economy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gotta Love Those Romance Titles (or: the price of freedom is eternal kitsch)

The American politicians and publishers who, in the title of John Hench's prize-winning book, sought to use "Books as Weapons" in the war against fascism, thought they were making the world free for democracy. Of course, they were also making the world free for free markets, and thereby, not just for Hemingway, Steinbeck, Saroyan, and the other authors whom they held up as models of civic engagement and cultural achievement, but also for all sorts of literary trash.

To put it another way: the price of liberty is eternal kitsch. Of course, that's the price of "totalitarianism," too, though in different ways and for different reasons. While I was in Prague this spring, I saw a massive and fascinating exhibition on the stifling of modernism and the avant-garde, first, by the Nazis, and then by the communists. 

For many of us, the romance novel epitomizes American literary kitsch. To be sure, the genre and its readership have become the subject of scholarly study: one thinks first and foremost of the pioneering work of Janice Radway, who provocatively argued against the dominant condescension toward both.

Sorry, I digressed: I was starting to risk venturing into the serious, which is not at all my purpose here.

Anyway, when it comes to the romance novel, many of just appreciate the lame titles and cheesy cover art. The titles may not be as distinctive and clever as those of classic country and western songs, but like them, they do adhere to certain conventions and constitute a sort of subgenre in their own right. In this case, though, one suspects that the humor is accidental, or at any rate, if implicitly part of the publishers' intent, not uppermost in the minds of their consumers.

This spring, as the Amherst Historical Commission prepared to put forward a request for Community Preservation Act funds for the restoration of paintings hanging in the Jones Library (still need to post about that), I took a stroll through the building to re-familiarize myself with the location of each work of art.

Lo and behold, I came across one of the canvases— Paul Dominique's late 19th-century "Arabs Mounted in Battle"—hanging over: the romance collection.

To me, it actually seemed entirely appropriate. Whereas some might see a glaring contrast between this "high" work of art—after all, it's an oil painting more than a hundred years old, in an elaborate gilded frame (what more need one know?)—and the genre literature of mass cultural production below, I see but variations on a theme.

To be sure, the painting is "historically significant" (otherwise we could not fund its preservation), and reasonably competent, but it is a typical piece of orientalism, depicting the exotic "otherness" of Arab culture for the delight of the western viewer. Unlike a book published in a pressrun of tens or hundreds of thousands of copies, Dominique's painting is a cultural product that exists in but one exemplar, and yet for all that, it is interchangeable with dozens if not hundreds of others. In its own way, it is every bit as conventional as the romance novel—and conventional ideals, representations, and sentiments are the hallmarks of kitsch.

And of course the connection doesn't end there. The Arab male has long functioned as a figure combining danger and allure. One need but think of Valentino and the vogue of "the sheik" theme, derived from the novel of the same name by E. M. Hull (whose real name was not the same: Edith Maude Winstanely). In fact, as the publishers of the new edition remind us, "The Sheik is recognized as the immediate precursor to the modern romance novel." Apparently, the theme has even been making something of a comeback. Oy (as they say). [this ¶ was accidentally omitted from the original upload.]

A classic debate in library philosophy has been whether to collect comprehensively or selectively: as much as possible, or only "the best": what Matthew Battles called the distinction between the "universal" and "Parnassan" ideals of the library. On the local level, this most often gets translated into debates about whether to purchase popular fiction, controversial political works, and the like. Romance novels are among the most contentious genres. The limited evidence suggests that most public libraries do have fairly extensive holdings of romances, though precise patterns of acquisition and funding are less clear. Most libraries have a romance novel collection because there is public demand for it and they serve the public; and there's nothing wrong with that.

Damn. I keep getting serious. Must. Stop. Now.

So, back to those romance titles and covers. One of my favorite "tweeps" and library bloggers, Rita Meade, a.k.a. Screwy Decimal (here, the blog; here, the Twitter account; further: 1, 2, 3) has made a minor art of chronicling the inanity and inadvertent humor of romance titles and romance novel culture—to which she adds her own very intentional humor under the rubric, "Romance Title of the Day," e.g.:
• 'Sex in the Middle Ages.' Well, I hope they practiced serf sex.

 • 'His Virgin Secretary.' Well, I guess it's something to put on the ol' resume.

'His Pregnancy Bargain.' I love when a man puts the "us" in uterus
I promised Rita I'd share some of our local examples.

At any rate, without further ado, here's my modest contribution. My favorite is One Fine Cowboy: He's got a way with horses. . . and with women . . . . Feel free to supply your own commentary. The possibilities are almost endless.

The Dangerous Baron Leigh

One Fine Cowboy

A Pregnant Proposal

Confessions of a Viscount
Your tax dollars at work.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Walking the Walk and Tweeting the Talk

According to a new survey released this week, web search engines and email are the most popular forms of digital media among the US adult population: some 92 percent of us use them, 60 percent of us, daily. Nearly half of us use social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook. What is interesting is not just the increase in overall use of SNS (nearly doubled from 2008 to 2010), but also the changing demographic: both older and more gender-balanced. The average age of the social network site user has risen from 33 to 38, with half over 35. And, at 56 percent, women's participation now slightly outnumbers that of men. However, only 13 percent of us are on Twitter (though world-wide, we are 200-million strong).

Is Twitter, as so many acquaintances dismissively say, a faddish and foolish exercise in narcissism—a sort of metaphorical modern mashup of the twentieth-century "pet rock" and vanity license plate—or, as others maintain, a valuable social, intellectual, and marketing tool?  As an inveterate tweeter, I of course incline toward the latter opinion. The usage statistic alone, absent more granular data, could support either view. If it's a fad, though, it's certainly restricted to a relatively small population, but which: the proverbial "early adapters"? (if so, what is the profile?) gen-Xers? And just how do they use it? One of my "tweeps" (to you non-users: a Twitter friend, someone I "follow" or who "follows" me) perfectly summarized the competing views last month in a nice little blogpost entitled, "How to Use Twitter (and Why It’s Not a Waste of Time." There, she lovingly and originally characterized Twitter as: "the semi-colon of social media – people have an idea of your existence but many have not fully grasped your usefulness and beauty."

We are only beginning to study the significance of new social media, and Twitter is arguably the least-studied and least-understood among them. To be sure, there have been some rather silly pieces about use of Twitter in the classroom (spare me, please; I'd be happy if my students used spellcheck intelligently), but relatively few rigorous studies of its real value in the academic and cultural sphere, proper. I hope to address that question eventually. In the meantime, I instead wanted to do something much more modest, namely: share one example of how my colleagues and I recently employed Twitter for both academic and social purposes.

As I mentioned in my brief post on the SHARP conference on the book in art and science, social media are coming to play an increasingly important role in our gatherings, and not just in a trivial or recreational way. Last year, in Helsinki, we made full use of a variety of media. For example, we live-streamed some of the main events, such as keynotes and plenaries. Most novel, however, was our use of Twitter. Several of us began to tweet coverage of the events, simply because we tweet all the time. Several people who could not attend said that this coverage not only allowed them to experience the events from a distance, but even inspired them to join the organization. We could not have hoped for a more encouraging result.

This year, as an experiment, we decided to make tweeting an official activity. Many officers on the Executive Council—the President, Vice President, Treasurer ("That, uh, that, that would be me," as Bob Newhart used to say), Recording Secretary, and Membership Secretary—are already individually active (to varying degrees) on Twitter, and there is in addition a general SHARP Twitter account as well as a special one for this conference. "Official" here meant: explicitly endorsed and encouraged from above. In order to lend some material incentive to that moral exhortation, we even offered a prize—in the form of copies of the winner of the annual Book Award—to the ten top tweeters. (Among other things, that meant putting our money where our mouth was—and your Treasurer, I can assure you, does not disburse your funds lightly). We generated over 2000 tweets, archived here.

There were many pleasures, chief among them, the rewarding feeling of belonging to a community within a community (which is to say, as far as I was concerned, a more intimate alliance rather than any form of snobbery), and the excitement at the prospect of finally meeting at the conference, or at a separate "tweet-up" after hours, face to face, people whom one knew only by their usernames, and via 140-character snippets of conversation.

In the course of our (real-life as well as virtual) conversations, SHARP Board member George Williams, by day a professor of English at the University of South Carolina Upstate, who at night dons the cape and tights of heroic editor of the "ProfHacker" blog on at the Chronicle of Higher Education, asked the more active tweeters to write up brief reflections on their use of this social networking tool at the conference for his column.

Here's the beginning of my contribution:
To tweet or not to tweet? If I do not tweet for myself, who will tweet for me? If I tweet only for myself, what am I? Twitter, as one of my non-SHARP “tweeps” says, is the most misunderstood of social media. To wary outsiders, for whom it represents an exercise in egotism, I gently explain that it all depends on what you are looking for and whom you choose to follow. In the 4 years I’ve been on Twitter, it has become one of my most valuable research and networking tools. Frankly, I am much more interested in what total strangers on Twitter are reading than what my Facebook friends had for lunch or their kids did at the birthday party. . . .
George's introduction and the rest of the individual contributions can be found here.

What do you think? Comments welcome.

Books Into Battle: John Hench Wins Distinguished Award for Study of Propaganda and Publishing During World War II

It's always a pleasure to witness the announcement of the book award at the annual general meeting of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP).

I would have said it's "suspenseful," for that it is, too—for most members and conference attendees—just a little bit less so for me. As a member of the Executive Council of the organization, I get a heads-up well in advance of the actual moment (sworn to secrecy, if-I-told-you-I'd-have-to-kill-you, and all that sort of thing). And, as Treasurer, I have to write a congratulatory letter—and a check in the amount of $ 1000—to the winner:

 (Cornell University Press)

Even though I knew the outcome, this year's award was special in several ways. For one thing, as part of our promotion of Twitter at the conference, we promised a copy of the prize-winning book to the top ten tweeters. The volume thus got even more publicity than usual. For another, the winner was both an active SHARP member and a participant at the conference. Above all, though, I was absolutely delighted because that winner was John B. Hench, a man whose learning and generosity are matched only by his modesty.

When I started my career here in western Massachusetts, a colleague, knowing of my interest in the history of the book, brought to my attention the rich array of activities at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester. I got the best possible introduction to its resources, programming, and staff when I attended a summer seminar. It was invigorating to find myself again in the company of people who understood my research interests, even though I worked on Europe and they worked on the United States.

It was there that I got to know John, then director of publications. I was touched that he made a point of welcoming me personally. (Among other things, it was nice to meet another transplanted Midwesterner turned New Englander.) We saw each other periodically at AAS events and corresponded occasionally in the interim. Throughout the years, John worked tirelessly on behalf of the institution and its patrons, rising to the position of Vice President for Collections and Programs. When he retired in 2006, the AAS honored his accomplishments and the spirit of service that he embodied by putting his name on the post-dissertation fellowship program that he created. As the announcement noted, the budget of that program alone was by then greater than the budget of the entire institution when John came to work there in 1973.  It's hard to think of a more fitting way to celebrate his contribution to the organization, the field, and the careers of other scholars.

After I joined SHARP more than a decade ago, I was very pleased to learn that John was an active member. As chance, or irony, would have it, I haven't managed to make it to the AAS as often as I used to, so even though John and I live only about an hour and a half away from one another, I found myself more likely to run into him at least once a year at our conference in  places as distant as France or Finland. In fact, I still recall our meeting in Helsinki last year. As usual, we talked during the receptions and coffee breaks, and on at least one occasion, we also had lunch together. In addition, though, John came to my panel, where I gave a rather sweeping and speculative talk, testing some ideas on a subject I was just beginning to grapple with. He made a point of speaking to me immediately afterward and offering words of encouragement. Weighing the fact that John is just about the nicest guy in the world against the fact that he is also one of the smartest, who is invariably polite but does not dispense empty praise, I was simultaneously humbled and elated to conclude that my incipient idea was just perhaps not entirely nutty, and worth pursuing, after all.

My paper and one other on the panel dealt wholly or in part with Nazi Germany. Through SHARP, I had learned more and more about the breadth of John's knowledge and interests. If anything, he seemed to become even more active as he approached and then entered retirement. Having dedicated his career to the service of others at the AAS, he had begun to share results of a fascinating new research project, which involved not early America, but America in the era of World War II. I missed the 2003 conference in Claremont, California, where John first shared that research with SHARP members, but I did hear him speak about it in The Hague in 2006 and Minneapolis in 2007. John also explained the origins of the project in a recent interview:
Hench recalled how the war years had colored his upbringing. His father, a physician who was 46 when he volunteered for military service, was a collector of interesting, quirky books. His library included several of the editions published for soldiers fighting abroad.
Over time, Hench himself amassed a collection of ephemera. The assemblage included “ration cards, pamphlets, that sort of thing — really home-front propaganda — and some books on subjects such as how to behave in wartime: how to give a party, what to write to your husband, to be wary of the charms of an attractive man who was 4-F but otherwise fit,” he said with a laugh.
As he sought interesting material, he ran across a copy of an Overseas Edition. It was completely new to him, and his interest was piqued. After some initial research, Hench realized he had a potential book in the making.
What fascinated him, he said, was the idea that governments took books and culture so seriously as to see them as elements of national identity and weapons in a war of ideas. The title derives from a slogan of the World War II Council on Books in Wartime: “Books as Weapons in the War of Ideas.” As the interviewer explains, "The Nazis were portraying Americans as crass people who sought world domination. The books were intended to give Europeans an idea of the lives and values of ordinary Americans and to promote democracy." In order to counter the German view—and gain a foothold in new global economy—the United States government and military in effect got into the book business:
Some 5 million books published under the imprints of Overseas Editions and Transatlantic Editions were distributed in the ongoing effort. Some were translated into European languages, while many others were in English. They were chosen for the elites, who, it was believed, would influence their families and business and political leaders.
“It would be hard to find another time when the government bought into the professional ideology of publishers, with the power to mold minds and shape history,” Hench said.
It was, as Hench says elsewhere, an attempt to win the peace as well as the war—and new markets in the process.

The DeLong Prize Committee this year comprised Chair Marija Dalbello (USA), Amadio Arboleda (Japan), and Francis Galloway (South Africa), assisted by intern Lucy McClune. SHARP Director of Publications and Awards Claire Squires (Scotland) oversaw the entire process. As the Committee put it:

This is a book about war but it is also a book about the diplomacy of books. As an international and comparative history of wartime publishing, it presents deeply contextualized accounts, offering multiple contemporary perspectives, a true mark of scholarship that constructs the book trade as an international phenomenon. It will for sure make its mark in many fields, but it is deeply embedded in our own.
In making the presentation, Chair Marija Dalbello also cited an evocative passage from the text:
Only weeks after the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, a surprising cargo—crates of books—joined the flood of troop reinforcements, weapons and ammunition, food, and medicine onto Normandy beaches. The books were destined for French bookshops, to be followed by millions more American books (in translation but also in English) ultimately distributed throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The British were doing similar work, which was uneasily coordinated with that of the Americans within the Psychological Warfare Division of General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, under General Eisenhower's command.

Last fall, the AAS honored John by calling upon him to deliver the prestigious annual James Russell Wiggins Lecture in the History of the Book in American Culture. Both the title—"Random Notes from a Book History Bureaucrat"—and the content reflect John's self-deprecating spirit. Although the focus there was on John's career at the AAS, he also talked about the research behind his new book.

John Hench-Nov. 16, 2010 from American Antiquarian Society on Vimeo.

He talks more specifically about the book in this C-SPAN interview in the spring of last year, commenting on, among other things, the place of the US and its culture in the upheavals of our contemporary world.

Congratulations, again, John, on your well-deserved honors: couldn't happen to a nicer or smarter guy.

Background and resources

SHARP began awarding an annual book prize in 1998. Since 2004, the award has been known as the George A. and Jean S. DeLong Book History Prize, in honor of the family that endowed it.

List of winners.

On the new SHARP blog, Director of Publications and Awards Claire Squires (Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication), offers some reflections on the history and significance of literary prizes, a topic on which she recently spoke at a conference in Tübingen.


The SHARP blog now has two perfect follow-ups:

In the first, Amadio Aboleda talks about his experience as a DeLong Prize juror. His remarks are not only germane to that rather esoteric task, but in fact pertain to most of what we as scholars do when we unavoidably have to make sense of works outside our field or area of personal expertise:
By the end of March, I had five books and no idea of how to go about reading them. None of them were in my own field of Japanese book publishing culture and many covered topics about which I knew little or nothing. . . . I was also worried that taking more time than other jurors to read books outside my own sphere of interest might delay a final decision. However, as I delved into unfamiliar pages I was reminded of my wonderful experience as a definition editor of the American Heritage Dictionary. Each editor had to read a certain number of books in a loosely defined area of their expertise every week to "absorb" information. The Dictionary had arranged with the New York Public Library main branch on Fifth Avenue to allow the definitions editors to request books that would be delivered to our office. I had the good fortune of being paid to read books. I realized that reading the entry books as a juror also could be considered good fortune and felt encouraged.
(read the rest: "Ying and Yang of a DeLong Book Prize Juror")

In fact, it is an example that I could cite when explaining to students the task they face in any new class.

In the second, John Hench himself responds to the award:
Like a fine piece of jazz, every book is both a collaboration and an improvisation. If there is anything we have learned from the study of book history, it is to understand the roles that mediators and even meddlers of all kinds play in the process that turns a gleam in an author’s eye into a published book. And anyone who has ever written a book knows that it is also a product of trial, error, and reconcepualization, that is, of improvisation. I would never have written Books as Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets had I not decided, about a dozen years ago, to begin to collect books, magazines, and newspapers published by private and governmental organizations to advance particular wartime agendas. In doing so, I stood on the shoulders of my father, smitten for life by the “gentle madness” of book collecting, whose stateside service in the army medical corps left me with a lifelong interest in World War II. I already knew about most of the wartime publication series. 
He goes on to discuss both the substance of his quest and the evolution of his research (much, again, thanks to exchanges of ideas with friends and colleagues), down to the choice of the final title.

(read the rest: "Collaboration and Improvisation")

New Director at the Jones Library

From: To Find the Principles

 On Tuesday evening (August 9), the Trustees of the Jones Library selected Sharon Sharry, of the Greenfield Library to become the new Director of our public library.

I've been covering the search over on the main and history blog site, simply because that's where most other Jones Library coverage has been, given that it has involved primarily historic preservation and local politics.

It's an exciting and welcome development: staff and residents are energized and inspired, and one can only wish Ms. Sharry all possible luck and success. She can lead the Jones knowing that the town is behind her.

Here are links to the main recent posts:

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Update: New Director at the Jones Library (and some advice on new media needs)
Initial report on the choice of Sharon Sharry as Director
Report on candidate presentation by Sharon Sharry
Report on candidate presentation by Christopher Lindquist

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back From DC With a Sharpened Appetite for Bookish Matters

It's now been about two weeks since I returned from the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) in Washington, DC—feeling, as always—as one of my tweeps put it—"post-conf malaise mixd w/urge to wrk," "so grand that I was sad to leave that collegiality."

This year's theme was science, art, and the history of the book, though, as always, conference papers and panels were not restricted to that theme. One of the best panels I attended had nothing to do with any of that and was right up my alley: it dealt with the book trade in the Third Reich. Incidentally, it took place in the first session of the first day, an auspicious start. I won't attempt to report on the conference here for the moment, instead simply hoping to act on that sense of collegiality, inspiration, and "urge to work" by posting here more frequently now on various topics related to the history of the book. I'm afraid that even trying to keep up with the historical and historic-preservation topics on the "home blog"—To Find the Principles—has been almost more than I can manage these days.

In the meantime, a few scenes from the conference.
The Executive Council (EC) at work: President Leslie Howsam in the center, Vice President Ian Gadd, at left.

Key topics included finances (they are sound, and we agreed not to raise membership fees this year); future conference sites (2012: Dublin; 2013: Philadelphia); adapting our listserve to the newer needs and standards of the current digital culture; new initiatives to support student participation and general scholarly research, and the continuing internationalization of the organization.

Among the firsts for this EC meeting: remote participation. Director of Publications and Awards Claire Squires, just returned from a conference in Tübingen, "Skyped in" from to her home base at the University of Stirling, where she is Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication.

The officers have done business by Skype on several occasions, just not at an EC meeting. The real first, however: first cat to attend an EC meeting, and from Scotland, via Skype. Now that's progress.

The EC meeting took place in the elegant quarters of the Corcoran Gallery and School of Art + Design, one of the conference hosts, and site of pre-conference program activities.

In the atrium:  "Painting Big": works by Chris Martin. (Ever wonder how they manipulate and mount such mammoth works? Videos on the website explain that, too.)

Conference registration at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD, also the site of the opening keynote and welcome reception.  Security was extremely tight here because the Library is located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health), so we had to allow additional time for visitors to travel by metro, pass through checkpoints, obtain ID badges, and so forth.

One of the distinctive features of this conference was the co-hosting by multiple organizations. Although most SHARP conferences hold events at multiple sites, there is generally a principal institutional sponsor and venue—often, for example, a university or major library. This year's conference, meticulously organized by SHARP Membership Secretary Eleanor Shevlin and Casey Smith, Interim Chair of the Arts and Humanities at the Corcoran, was a logistical triumph as well as a great intellectual success. Despite the need to move large numbers of people back and forth between venues—many of which, this being DC, involved security checkpoints—there were no disasters or even delays. Movement

Eleanor Shevlin introduces Jonathan Topham (Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, University of Lees), who delivered the keynote lecture, "Why the History of Science Matters to Book History."

The first full day of sessions took place at the Library of Congress.

Welcome, but let's see what's in your pockets and that bag. Security checks even at a library: the contemporary world.

I didn't blog during the conference, and I probably won't write in detail about most of the proceedings. However, we did cover the proceedings live via Twitter, and with great success. More on that in the next post.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Had we but world enough, and time, or paper . . . but right now, I'd just settle for a smaller font (observations concerning a practice of the handpress era)

One of the wonderful things about social media is serendipity, and I recently found myself in an intriguing online discussion with fellow book historian and Twitter friend Katherine Harris of San Jose State University and a few other "tweeps." She has been researching English-language Gothic tales in early nineteenth-century annuals (in fact, she's on the editorial board of Studies in Gothic Fiction). At any rate, she noticed that it was apparently the practice to ensure that Gothic tales in these publications ended at the bottom of a page rather than continuing but only partially occupying the next; she wondered whether anyone knew of similar practices.

One of my research interests happens to be German serials: chiefly periodicals in the strict sense—newspapers and journals—but also almanacs, gift books, and similar pocket annuals (Taschenbücher).

I replied that I was not aware of any such practice regarding prose fiction in the gift books (and few if any of mine ran Gothics). I had, however, come across a practice that caught my attention, in some late eighteenth-century periodicals. Namely, when running a longer prose piece toward the end of an issue, the printer would suddenly shift to a smaller font and/or narrower spacing. Sometimes the story was the last piece in an issue, and sometimes it was followed by a briefer piece or pieces, say, poetry.

To the average person born digital and accustomed to electronic word processing, this may seem mysterious, but to a book historian of the early modern era, it's simple (and old hat).  To oversimplify drastically (or for the uninitiated):
  • Paper was made by hand in large sheets
  • The pre-industrial book was composed of gatherings of these sheets, folded in such ways as to produce the various "formats": one fold yielded two leaves ("folio"; 4 pages), two folds yielded four leaves ("quarto"; 8 pages), three folds yielded eight leaves ("octavo"; 16 pages), etc.
  • Type was then accordingly "imposed" for each side of a sheet. Once it was printed, the type was "broken up" and readied for reuse.
above: printing shop; below: vertical view of press and forme with type set for a sheet in quarto
Printers therefore reckoned in these standard units. So did authors and publishers. To overshoot the confines of one of these printed sheets was to invite trouble.  Given that books were composed of sewn gatherings of the folded sheets (signatures), one could not easily add just a page or two. Because paper was expensive (the reverse of today, when materials are cheap and labor is expensive), one likewise could not wastefully add a whole new sheet. Resetting even the offending sheet might not do the trick, and resetting the entire issue was manifestly impossible.

But if one were not prepared to start from scratch, there was evidently a cheap and dirty way to solve the problem: just stop when you notice the problem and cram in all the remaining text as best you can, like excess laundry into a suitcase. Not pretty, but pretty effective. Then hope that no one cares (for the typographically attuned reader of the day certainly would have noticed).

Today, it is easy for us to calculate word count: If we are asked to write 500 or 5000 words, we know how to tell how close we are, and the publisher can easily measure for him- or herself. In the early modern period, experienced authors, publishers, and printers became accustomed to estimating how much a given manuscript would "yield in print," based on the size of the paper and handwriting and the like.  The task was complicated in the case of popular periodicals, which had a standard length (typically, some multiple of 8 or 16 pages, depending on format) and were produced on a deadline, generally with manuscript from many hands. The text was often still in the process of being written as the publisher or editor prepared to go to press. Experienced writers may have changed their minds and written more or less than intended. Inexperienced authors (common in this genre, which attracted many occasional writers) may have miscalculated.There were many variables, and thus any number of reasons that problems could arise.

I believe I first came across this problem in the case of the women's monthly journal, Flora (1793-1803; continued as Vierteljährliche Unterhaltungen [Quarterly Entertainments], 1804-5). Various factors could account for the practice. The publishers were relatively inexperienced.  Johann Friedrich Cotta (1764-1832), then just a beginner, had taken over the venerable but decrepit family firm barely half a decade earlier, and his new partner and editor of the journal, Christian Jacob Zahn, had even less experience, all gained on the job. Publishing a periodical was a complex undertaking at the best of times, but the more so in the era of the French Revolution, when one of their increasingly important contributors lived in France, and the mails were at times slow or disrupted.  The two men were publishers only, and did not own their own presses. Instead, they relied on a number of local printers, which made communication and last-minute changes relatively easy.

cover of first issue
Flora:  Dedicated to Germany's Daughters.  A Monthly, for Male and Female Friends of the Gentle Sex
(Tübingen:  J. G. Cotta, 1793)

Here, some examples of the practice/problem:

February issue: "Der Keller im Schlosse Salurn.  Ein Mährchen" (The Cellar in Castle Salurn. A Tale"). The story begins on p. 155 and ends in mid-page on p. 201.  However, from p. 198 to p. 199, the layout switches from 31 to 42 lines per page, a density that continues in the final piece of the issue, devoted to fashion news.

In the March issue, the story, "Viktorine," runs from pages 257 to almost the bottom of 297. Above, pages printed in the normal manner of the issue, a comfortable and legible 25 lines per page. Below, the switch to the denser 31 lines.

The practice is jarring in more ways than one, and would have been even more apparent to typographically sensitive contemporary readers. As one can see, there was thus no uniformity within or between issues.  There were approximate norms, but they were freely violated when necessary.  And sometimes the results were doubly awkward. The layout of "Viktorine," for example, left space for only the title and first two lines of Schiller's poem, "Die Kindsmörderin" (The Woman Guilty of Infanticide). It was an unauthorized reprint, and one that Schiller himself would hardly have countenanced in this form. When he did come to work for Cotta and edit a periodical of his own a few years later, he had very precise typographical demands, one of which was that poems not be broken up in this manner.

That this general typographical problem cannot be attributed solely to the errors or misfortunes of the novice can be seen from the fact that it persists here in this issue from June, 1796.

"Rettung von Schande, eine wahre Erzählung. Gegenstük zu Verbrechen aus Infamie" (Salvation from Disgrace, a true story.  A Pendant to Crimes on Account of Infamy")

This is a serialized piece. The first installment of the story begins on page 252, and here, between pages 262 and 263, switches (in the now familiar pattern) from 25 to 31 lines per page. In this case, however, it ends on the last page of the issue, with 27 lines of text, the author's initial, notice of continuation, and a horizontal line (thus again, making up a full 31-line page).

This is just a quick and provisional posting, as a means of illustrating these practices.  If and when time permits, I'll fill in some more of the context.

In the case of the layout of the Gothic tales, there seems (Katherine, correct me if I am wrong) to have been a strong literary-aesthetic impulse. In the case of my periodicals, by contrast, the only motivation was pragmatic, but even that tells us a good deal about book production and audience.  Each case, in its way, reveals something about the aesthetics of literature at the beginning of the modern era.