Recently, the University of North Carolina Press was awarded a $250,000 grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to address challenges brought about by the digital transformation in publishing. The Trust located in Chapel Hill, NC has long been a supporter of UNC. The Press hopes the grant will allow them, in part, to develop sustainable models for university presses within the digital environment. For many small presses, $250,000 could enable them to run their operations for a few years.
As a press director of one of those very small university presses, I am fully aware of the continuous search for business models that are intended to fix the decline in scholarly books sales. I also know that the idea is pretty fruitless. Presses’ existences have been questioned since they started to crop at institutions of higher learning. The joke still goes around that university presses publish books that most people don’t read. In 1895 when the Ladies’ Home Journal released Five Thousand Books: An Easy Guide to the Best Books in Every Department of Reading, not one university press was listed under the respective publishers. Popularity has never driven the university press world. Content has.
University presses, as other organizations that are built to be experts in particular areas, are facing a world in which content is being selected and valued differently. The rise of social sites has allowed individuals, who might not have the necessary credentials to define the value of movies, music, books, etc. This trend is not necessarily destructive, but when coupled with instant dissemination, opinions can be generated in vapid or speculative ways. Once made public, those opinions are hard to eradicate.
Computer metaphysics also enforces black or white responses. Binary after all is a matter of off and on; zero or one; yes or no. Math and science, with their concrete answers, have risen above the humanities vague or fuzzy constructs. We do not place as much value on intuition or old wives’ tales. The digital revolution has given us a common language that excludes the outlier. The publication lists of university presses tend to suffer in this ecosystem
Studying the problem the UNC way is of some value, but statistical outcomes are not terrifically useful on a per-decision basis. Longshots beat favorites at the track and in the business world, too. That is, the conditions that might make UNC solutions viable for UNC Press might and probably won’t work for the University of Akron Press. The sample universes in which we exist are totally different making statistical outcomes less valid across the university press universe.
I’ll be happy to read the report that comes from UNC’s initiative, but I’d rather bet on the 30-1 sleeper in the eight race and also rely on intuition. For the University of Akron Press to remain relevant, we’ll need to:
- Incorporate the Press’s experience into online course development;
- Work to publish open-access textbooks;
- Find projects that represent the history and culture of Northeast Ohio;
- Offer traditional and e-books whenever possible and;
- Remember that better content equals better products.
Results speak louder than reports.
As colleges and universities rev up their welcome-back- to-classes campaigns, a great majority of students will be carrying textbooks in backpacks that might weigh more than the equipment a football player dons for the homecoming game. True, some textbooks will take up only digital space and make the reader’s load as light as a swift soccer forward’s footwork. Eventually, maybe, everything will be paperless, but that promise hasn’t even made it to the admissions offices on campuses across the country.
Students’ journeys to bookstores to purchase their modern texts on the principles of biochemistry, advanced semiconductor and organic nano-techniques, or environment in the new global economy have been played out for generations. A century ago classes in chemistry, biology, botany, and algebra were being taught by astute professors at lecterns from New York to California which required the textbook. Basic principles are basic principles? Well maybe not. The following over-a-century-old text might not be so fundamental today.
Moral Training in Public Schools (1911)
Charles Edward Rugh et al.(208 pages, $1.25; @ $23 in 2013 dollars)
As the preface notes, students need to know “arithmetic may be an exercise in honesty as well as mathematics; that nature study offers the finest opportunity for truth getting and truth telling as well as scientific knowledge; and that history furnishes not only facts but great examples of moral choice and moral action.” However, today’s student might ask what is the moral lesson in multiplying two negative to get a positive or in blizzards other than back strains or how did the Spanish Inquisition represent good moral choice?
Manures and the Principles of Manuring (1894)
C.M. Aikman (592 pages, $2.50; @ $46 in 2013 dollars)
Aikman indicates that the aim of his work is to supply in a concise and popular format to explain the chief results of recent agricultural research on the question of soil fertility and the nature and action of various manures. Other than what current students might think of shoveling this research aside, the text might be of use at Oberlin College’s Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. Each fall the center needs more raw materials, better described as student deposits, to recharge its internal power system to produce energy for the building. Some students go out of their way to use the facilities as a way of giving back to nature.
American Socialism of the Present Day (1911)
Jessie Wallace Hughan (261 pages, $1.25; @ $23 in 2013 dollars)
One reviewer noted that the text was “scholarly, clear and dispassionate presentation of socialism in the United States since 1850.” The author states that Socialism is now a force in the United States, which has to alarm Tea Party members who claim Barack Obama has brought the “demon” to America.
Pure Foods Their Adulteration, Nutritive Value, and Cost (1911)
John C. Olsen (197 pages, $.80; @ $14.74 in 2013 dollars)
As Olsen explains, “In an age when intelligence and knowledge are recognized as essential to the most efficient performance of even very simple tasks, it is surprising that most of us eat what we like, with very little thought of the ultimate result. …The coal for our engines must be tested and analyzed, but the far more precious human organism is loaded with a heterogeneous mixture of fuel of unknown composition. We should not be surprised at low efficiency, inability to work, sickness, even the premature death of an organism which is given so little intelligent care.” It’s remarkable how advocates said the same thing yesterday, last year, ten years ago, etc. Maybe, we can save students a ton of money by finding books like this that can be downloaded for free and haven’t lost their relevance.
Optical Projection: A Treatise on the Use of the Lantern in Exhibition and Scientific Demonstration (1906)
Lewis Wright (438 pages; $2.25; @ $41.50 in 2013 dollars)
One reviewer notes, “Mr. Wright’s book gives all that is, at present, at least, necessary for a thorough study of the optical principles upon which the construction of the lantern rests. . . . The book is very full of useful detail, and is eminently practicable. … Will assuredly be warmly welcomed by teachers and lecturers.” The lantern technology is outdated but I’m sure a lantern app might just be available for the iPhone. Still, the story of Diogenes the Cynic, who went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man is a metaphor for textbooks – the light of knowledge for students of all eras!
The “Club” that began with 13 members is now an organization whose members are either professional musicians who have expressed a desire to perform at the monthly meetings or members who simply love classical music and are delighted to have the opportunity to attend these meetings and enjoy the superb performances. Today, there are more options for the afternoon meetings other than in private homes, including the Akron Woman’s City Club, Akron Art Museum, Akron-Summit County Public Library in downtown Akron and Sumner on Ridgewood. Wherever the meetings occur, that same spirit of musical camaraderie that helped propel this organization forward is still present.
Tuesday Musical’s early history reflects what was happening in other communities across the country: many had a presenting organization similar to Akron’s Tuesday Musical Club. The difference, today, is that the Tuesday Musical Association continues to bring world-class performers to its community while sustaining its multiple educational roles. It is one of only a handful of such presenting organizations remaining and one of the very few that continues to be volunteer-managed.
This cook book is a perfectly-preserved “fossil” of the archaeology of Akron and the Midwest during a period when America was recovering from the Great …Depression and fighting a global war. More though, the book is a collection of recipes and techniques that are as relevant today as when they were collected.
Order the book on our website for only $19.95.