Books Made to Order: Libraries as Publishers

Article excerpt

FACED WITH SOME 50,000 NEW books published in the U.S. annually, libraries might sooner be expected to build branches on Mars than to publish another book. Yet some libraries, large and small, are finding it necessary to the prodigious output of commercial, university,corporate, small, and specialized publishers. These libraries want books tailored to fit certain collection needs, and they have found that one sure way of getting them is to create the books themselves.

The American Library Directory lists "publishing" activity for almost every major library in the country, citing everything from directories and serials lists to handbooks and reports. But only a handful of libraries produce a line of cloth or paperbound books, complete with ISBNs, CIP, and LC numbers. LC's carly imprint

Shortly after its founding, the Library of Congress became the first American library with a publishing program, says Dana Pratt, director of publishing. Asked in 1801 to furnish a bibliography of a large order of books from London, the library reproduced and distributed the invoice-and began a publishing tradition. LC currently publishes some 15 books per year and numerous pamphlets, all related to its holdings. A publishing staff of 10 selects projects, edits and designs the books, and prepares the manuscripts for the Government Printing Office, which then farms out printing and other production work to various outside firms.

Pratt says there are three ways LC publications get funded: via "appropriated" or government funds, private donations, and what he calls "OPM" (Other People's Money). A less imaginative phrase for OPM is cooperative publishing, in which risk and responsibility for a project are shared by the library and another publisher. One recent "OPM" product is Scenes of North American Indian Life by George Catlin, a facsimile of an LC holding, published in cooperation with Abbeville Press.

Like LC, other large institutions have developed publishing programs that reflect the character and function of their libraries. In 1983, a number of such American and European libraries banded together to form the International Group of Publishing Libraries (IGPL); early members included the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard University Library, the Huntington Library, New York Public Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and LC.

Why publish?

Almost without exception, library publishing programs exist to promote the resources of the library. Most IGPL libraries also publish replicas of rare original material in their collections.

Richard Newman, head of the publishing program at New York Public Library, says, "Publishing is an active way to make materials available, not a passive way." Some 25 members of NYPL's curatorial staff arc involved in various publishing projects at any given time. They put 15 books into print in the 1987-88 season alone. Among the most successful is A Child's Garden of Delights, a coffee-table anthology of children's literature with 185 original drawings from NYPL collections, copublished with Harry T. Abrams.

The Pierpont Morgan Library often publishes a book in conjunction with an exhibition, says Elizabeth Wilson, director of public relations and publishing. She emphasizes that these are "not just checklists-they are well researched books, printed by some of our cou printers and designers."

Marie Korey calls the "intermittent publishing program" she directs at the Free Library of Philadelphi"an important way of making collections better known and more accessible." Among the 10 FLP titles in print is Saint, s Scribes, and Scholars, an exhibition catalog of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books in the Rare Book Department. The library also cooperated in the 1988 publication of the 266page Legacies of Genius A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries, the first book published by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. …