University Press stays active despite budget losses

Christina Salter and Christina Salter

Timi Chu/The Daily Northwestern

Despite the looming budget pressures present at Northwestern and universities across the country, NU has pledged to keep its University press running – though significant changes are in the works.

TriQuarterly, the University’s long-running literary journal, will transition to an online format next year and merge with the School of Continuing Studies’ Creative Writing Program, wrote Alan Cubbage, vice president for University Relations, in a press release last week. The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program will now handle the journal’s acquisitions, editorial and design responsibilities, along with technical support from Northwestern University Information Technology. The journal will be available for free online and will still publish writers outside of the university, Cubbage wrote.

The changes for TriQuarterly are “not so unusual” given the history of the journal, said University Librarian Sarah Pritchard, who oversees the press as part of her job. The journal has not always been part of the University Press, and at one time was managed by the NU English department, she said. Pritchard emphasized that the move to an online format would not “automatically” cut costs for the press.

Despite the disappointment expressed by many TriQuarterly fans in various blog posts, Pritchard said the transition will actually be a “great benefit” for the journal. She said the key advantage to the change is that it will link the journal more closely with NU academics.

“The most important thing is that it makes the publication a very vital part of a very prestigious program,” she said.

Cubbage also announced last week that the press will launch a new electronic journal next year, called Islamic Africa. The journal will be produced in collaboration with the Program of African Studies, made possible by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant that the Press received last fall.

TriQuarterly and Islamic Africa may be just the beginning of digital transitions at the Press. It publishes about 60 books per year, all of which are also stored electronically and searchable in Google Books, Pritchard said. However, most of the publications are covered by copyright laws and are not fully viewable online at this time. In the future, NU will be looking for ways to collaborate with other university presses to create a viewable database of books, she said.

While many commercial presses already have e-book platforms, it can be a challenge for smaller presses with fewer resources to go digital on their own, Pritchard said.

Despite plans for further digital development, the Press will not be abandoning either print or online content, Pritchard said. As the Press moves forward, staff members will continue to make internal operations more efficient and focus on publishing in areas where it already has a strong reputation, she said.

There are also changes brewing on the staffing front: The Press, which currently has a 15-person staff, is preparing to launch a nationwide search for a new director. Former director Donna Shear left the position last February, and David Bishop is currently holding the position as interim director, Pritchard said.

In adjusting to a difficult financial environment, NU’s press is not alone. Many university presses have faced layoffs in recent months. The Louisiana State University Press faced the possibility of closing in May due to budget troubles, and the University of Michigan Press announced in March that it would transition to a primarily digital operation.

NU administration considered closing the press in 2002 after it reported $877,000 in losses, according to Daily archives. Administrators instead decided to print smaller runs of books and balance both profitable titles and academically significant volumes.

Pritchard said as a result of past worries about the Press, its value is not taken for granted.

“It’s critical for NU as a university to participate in dissemination and scholarship,” she said.

The press staff is “pleased to be moving in a positive direction,” said Assistant Director Henry Carrigan, Jr. He said because the role of the Press is to enhance the University, they want to be sure to reach the widest audience possible. A combination of both electronic and print materials may be the solution, he said.

“The NU Press intends to be on the cutting edge of scholarship and publishing as we go forward, in whatever manner that might express itself,” Carrigan said.

[email protected]