A Room with a View

by Naomi B. Pascal, Editor-at-Large, University of Washington Press
This paper was presented in absentia at the Western University Presses Meeting, Colorado Springs, October 21, 2002.

It is a special pleasure for me to be part of a Western University Presses program that marks the revival of these meetings after a lapse of several years, and I have a special reason for feeling as I do. As some of you may have noticed, I recently had the rather odd experience of reading about my own demise in Publishers Weekly, and then of being resurrected, thanks to Peter Givler, Peter Milroy, and others.

It is true, however, that after forty-nine years I have retired from fulltime employment at the University of Washington Press. My colleague Michael Duckworth, who has moved into my office, has been very understanding about the stacks of files I have not yet cleared away. This has been a major effort, but one that has its own rewards, among them the unearthing of a record of every meeting of the Western Presses group, starting with the efforts of a former Washington editor, Patsy Smith, who was largely responsible for persuading the directors of the presses involved that an annual meeting of this kind would be beneficial, especially for staff members who did not, as a rule, have an opportunity to attend the annual AAUP meetings, and who—years before the invention of email and the Internet—had little contact with their opposite numbers at other presses.

The first meeting was held at the Durant Hotel in Berkeley, November 13-15, 1969, just one-third of a century ago. There was an institutional fee of $20.00 per press, and an individual fee of $2.00 per person. Ninety individuals, representing fifteen presses, attended.

The program opened with a general session chaired by Don Ellegood, of Washington, in which Roger Shugg of New Mexico and Leon Seltzer of Stanford discussed "The University as Publisher," under the title, "In and Out of the Ivory Tower." Other sessions were titled, "Book Production in the West," "Recruitment and Training of Editors," "Direct Mail and Exhibits," "The Library as Market," "Designing Scholarly Books," "The Problems of Manuscript Editing," and "Direct Selling from West of the Rockies." A dialogue between my former colleague Ott Hyatt and me, entitled, "Mixing the Media: The University Press and Audiovisual Publishing," proved to be too unconventional for some of the attendees, and two highly respected members of the scholarly publishing community left the room shortly after it had started.

An organizational meeting discussed "Plans for 1970 and Beyond," and it was decided that the next meeting would be hosted by the University of Nevada Press, in Reno. This meeting also established the tradition that--whenever possible--the Western University Presses meeting would be held immediately following the meeting of the Western History Association, since so many of the presses involved would already have staff on the site. This worked pretty well, for the most part, in the years that followed, and when it wasn’t practical--as when Western History met at Yale in 1992--two Western Canadian presses, Alberta and Calgary, joined forces to host a memorable meeting at Banff.

Except for the absence of any reference to the electronic elements that now affect every phase of publishing (but which did not yet exist at that time), the topics discussed in 1969 could easily be replicated today, as could subsequent programs held, after Reno, in Santa Fe, Seattle, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Palo Alto, Portland, Tucson, San Diego, Denver, Austin, Snowbird, Albuquerque, Coeur d’Alene, Kansas City, Banff, Oklahoma City, Boulder, and Lincoln--in several of these places more than once. Some of the notable characteristics that remained typical of Western Presses meetings were established at that first meeting. The basic planning and participation in the various panels were carried out, for the most part, by staff members, with a judicious admixture of directors to emphasize the weightiness and seriousness of the proceedings. For many of the staff members who participated, this was our first opportunity to meet and compare notes with people like us who were doing similar jobs in other places. And while the various AAUP online lists, and the ease of communicating by email, have gone a long way toward mitigating the isolation we felt in those days, they have not yet wholly replaced the pleasure, and the value, of the face-to-face encounters and informal discussions made possible by the Western Presses meetings.

For me and for many others (including several future AAUP presidents and press directors), Western Presses meetings provided the first opportunity to become known to the wider community of scholarly publishers, beyond one’s own campus or the scholars of a single discipline. The paper I read with Ott proved to be the first of many public presentations I have made, and its subsequent publication in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, newly launched by the University of Toronto Press, was the first of many publications that have appeared under my name.

Rereading the published version, as I recently did in preparation for this talk, I had a hard time identifying what about it seemed so offensive, irrelevant, or perhaps just boring, in 1969. Those who walked out missed seeing the only nonbook product that Washington actually produced inhouse—a mock "training film," performed by Ott and me, filmed by our then promotion manager, Marge Hermans. A footnote in the article comments: "The experience of filming and editing this motion picture, and especially the heady excitement of the cutting room, may—or may not—result in the establishment, some day, of a film-production unit within the University of Washington Press."

That day now seems unlikely to occur. But while the Press no longer produces or distributes slide sets, filmstrips, long-playing records, microfiche editions, or educational tests (one of these, a communications development test for preliterate children, required the assembling of bells, hand puppets, foam rubber and wooden shapes, toy cars, and other items that almost led our warehouse staff to open rebellion), not everything in the article is completely out of date.

"The education-information process," we wrote, "is undeniably being altered by the proliferation of equipment and the development of new techniques. It is now generally acknowledged that the book and the non-book can complement each other, for each possesses inherent qualities that the other lacks. . . . In many disciplines imaginative teachers are either supplementing or replacing traditional textbooks with multimedia software, including a variety of films and tapes for classroom demonstrations, and autotutorial kits. Recognizing this, we are beginning to take a more broadly based multimedia approach to our publishing plans. We have come to appreciate the basic compatibility of print and non-print materials and to fit both into a program that includes a wide range of media for virtually every level of academic sophistication."

Another characteristic of the Western Presses meeting was that it was open not only to members of AAUP but to scholarly publishers who were too small or too new to qualify for membership. Several presses that were later to be admitted to full, affiliate, or associate membership--the university presses of British Columbia, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Utah State, Washington State, Oregon State, and the Minnesota Historical Society Press, among others--made their first contacts with other scholarly publishers, and had their first opportunity to learn about the benefits of AAUP membership from representatives of the national association and its central office, at Western University Press meetings.

There were many memorable discussions and presentations at these meetings, in addition to nuts-and-bolts sessions at which delegates exchanged information on problems encountered--and sometimes solved--in their individual disciplines. Among those I particularly remember are an explanation of the new Copyright Law of 1976 by Leon Seltzer, who had taken leave from his directorship of Stanford Press to obtain a law degree, specializing in publishing law; a session on contracts led by Bill Harvey of Florida; a description by Tina Olton of how the University of California Press established the first "Friends of the Press" organization; a list of projects recommended for any press aspiring to become a regional publisher, presented by Jack Rittenhouse of New Mexico; Joyce Kachergis of North Carolina on in-house typesetting; Ian Montagnes of Toronto on microfiche.

There were, in addition, unforgettable moments at many of these meetings that were not listed in the program. At the second meeting, in Reno, following a reception at the governor’s mansion (the governor at that time, Paul Laxalt, happened to be the brother of the director of the University of Nevada Press), a Basque dinner had been planned at a restaurant near Carson City. When we arrived, however, it turned out that the restaurant did not have the resources to entertain that large a group, and thus we were herded into the bar, where we stood for close to an hour, drinking Pisco Sours and singing hymns under the irresistible leadership of Frank Wardlaw of Texas and Florence Cohn, exhibits manager for the Central Office, before being led to a second restaurant down the street that had been persuaded to make room for us.

In San Diego we sat out an earthquake. In Santa Fe the venerable hotel, La Fonda, twice sent a house detective to request that we lower the sound level of the singing that rose from a post-meeting party hosted in the room occupied by delegates from the University of Washington Press. In Portland, several of the male delegates were pursued down the hallway by an apparition in a pink negligee (referred to thereafter as "The Pink Lady") who was, I believe, a bookkeeper at the Oregon State University Press.

So great was the loyalty of the Western University Presses constituency that when the late Dohn Barham moved from Texas to Louisiana, he stipulated as part of his agreement with his new employer that he must be permitted to continue to attend the Western University Presses annual meetings. When the Brigham Young University Press made a strong pitch for hosting the next meeting in Salt Lake City, there was an embarrassed silence until Dave Gilbert of Nebraska boldly expressed the general concern about the possible restrictions on the kind of refreshments that would be available. Reassured that what were described as "the usual break materials" would be freely provided, the group accepted the invitation from BYU Press.

There were also some great excursions prepared by Western Presses hosts. In Hawaii, Bob Sparks escorted us to an ancient indigenous temple in the interior of Oahu. In Banff, a gondola took us through dense fog up Sulphur Mountain, from which we had a fine view of more dense fog, but we were also able to watch the activities of amorous elk right outside our windows. In Coeur d’Alene we dined on the excursion boat Mish-an-Nock while cruising that beautiful lake; in Reno we dined among the vintage cars in Harrah’s National Automobile Museum. One great idea that was proposed for several years by early incarnations of the University of Alaska Press, but never realized, was to hold the meeting on a cruise ship on the way up and down the Inland Passage.

The laid-back, receptive, anti-elite spirit of the Western Presses group has been, to my mind, one of its greatest assets, and I hope it will continue to characterize this loosely organized organization in its new incarnation.

In an article published in the Summer 1991 issue of the Publishing Research Quarterly, entitled "The Editor: In Search of a Metaphor," and originally prepared for a symposium sponsored by Beth Luey’s publishing course at Arizona State University, I explored, through various metaphors, some of the qualities I considered helpful for a successful copyeditor. I won’t go into the details of how and why I selected these characterizations of the editor as midwife, as dumb reader, as mentor, as mother, and as dentist, (for that I’m afraid you will have to read the article), but I’d like to focus for a minute on the last item on my list, the editor as chameleon, because I think that what I wrote about editors applies, in a broader sense, to the kind of publishing we do.

The figure of the chameleon was taken from one of the wonderful letters of the poet John Keats. He writes: "As to the poetical Character itself (I mean . . . that sort distinguished from the Wordsworthian, or egotistical sublime . . .), it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—it has no character—it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one, because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence, because he has no Identity—he is continually . . . filling some other Body."

Elsewhere Keats describes what he calls "Negative Capability." "I had not a dispute, but a disquisition, with Dilke upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fact and reason."

These two quoted passages, while written by a poet reflecting on literature and philosophy, have, at least in my mind, some relevance to scholarly publishing. While we are certainly not completely passive in the shaping of our publishing programs, we remain conscious of our primary mission: to preserve and to disseminate to the widest possible audience the results of scholarly research.

We may apply certain limitations of subject area or geographical region to what we choose to publish, but our strength lies in our flexibility, our willingness to be open to new developments in the disciplines we serve. More and more we also need the ability to adapt to new technologies as they emerge, to use them as tools without allowing them to dominate us. The "egotistical sublime" must be replaced in our lexicon by an actively functioning "negative capability," enabling us to deal with the "uncertainties, mysteries, doubts" that will always be with us.

The title of these remarks, "A Room with a View," refers in part to my new perspective and my new location, as one who has recently retired but maintains a minor role in the ongoing saga of scholarly publishing. If I ever figure out how to accomplish all I still want to do, while remaining within the 40 percent of full time mandated by our university’s regulations, I aspire to indulging in what Keats calls "delicious diligent Indolence."

"I had an idea," he writes, "that a Man might pass a very pleasant life in this manner--let him read on a certain day a certain Page of full Poesy or distilled Prose, and let him wander with it, and muse upon it, and reflect upon it . . . and dream upon it, until it becomes stale--but when will it do so? Never. When Man has arrived at a certain ripeness in intellect any one grand and spiritual passage serves him as a starting-post towards all ‘the two-and-thirty Palaces.’ How happy is such a voyage of conception, what delicious diligent Indolence! A doze upon a sofa [my favorite part of this quotation] does not hinder it. . . ."

But my title is also intended to remind us of the extent to which any room that contains a full bookshelf is "a room with a view," a room that looks out on a world of limitless possibilities.

Shortly after accepting Darrin Pratt’s invitation to speak at this Western Presses meeting, I had to decline a conflicting invitation to be part of a panel at this year’s Bookfest, in Seattle. The subject to be discussed was, "A Book That Changed My Life," and the description of the session stated: "Everyone can name at least one book that changed his or her life." Thinking about this, it occurred to me that I would have had some difficulty in identifying a single book, or even several books, that had actually "changed my life." Some books, especially self-help or inspirational books, are published with that specific goal in mind, but these are not books I tend to read. And I had to admit that "great books" like the works of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Joyce, Kafka, and others, which I had read, had certainly illuminated my life, but had not really changed it.

In all honesty, I would have to say that the book that did change my life was the first book I read all by myself. That was, to the best of my memory, The Wizard of Oz. I remember asking my older sister about some of the "hard words," and I also remember, quite distinctly, the thrill of the realization that henceforth I would not be totally dependent on my parents or other grown-ups to read to me (though I continue to this day to enjoy that mutually satisfying activity), but was free to explore the endless treasures that were now available to me.

I am sure that this feeling, which I have never lost, is familiar to all of you, and in fact was probably what drew you to a publishing career in the first place. And I like to think that it is still shared by younger generations, despite the competition from TV, computer games, online search engines, ebooks, and other electronic marvels.

As publishers, we need to remain flexible, imaginative, and agile enough to maintain our balance in the face of rising returns, new attacks on copyright, shrinking markets, and other challenges, known and unknown. We need to see the connections among the various forms of media now available, and make use of those that may complement, rather than supplant, the products of our publishing programs. We need to cultivate our relationships with our campuses and with the communities in which we live, and to seize the opportunities for cooperative ventures with institutions whose interests are compatible with our own. We need to learn how to control costs and embrace new technologies without compromising the quality of our publications.

And, finally, we need to continue to focus on the publication of books that inform and delight, like those that inspired the Roman author Cicero to write in 62 BC (as translated by my live-in classicist, Paul Pascal): "Other interests are neither for all occasions, nor for all ages, nor for all places. But books give us sustenance in our youth, and pleasure in our old age; they are an ornament in prosperity, in adversity they provide escape and solace. . . ." To which I would add that while our books are not likely to change the world, any more than they can change our individual lives, what they can do is broaden the view from many rooms, providing historical background and objective analysis that help us to deal with the enormous challenges all of us face today.