UC Press at the Public Library Association Conference

March saw Rachel Lee, Library Relations Manager represent UC Press at the biennial Public Library Association conference, held this year in Indianapolis. She reports back . . .

At the Press we’ve long been aware that the range of topics we publish means that some of our titles have an appeal beyond traditional academic libraries. As with all university presses, we have a responsibility to disseminate knowledge and research as widely as possible and this includes to researchers who aren’t affiliated with a higher education institution as well as the general interest reader.

This year, for our first attendance at the Public Library Association conference, we chose to highlight the Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 2. Mark Twain is an author with continuing and wide appeal and one whose titles will already be carried by almost all public libraries, which makes him part of a very selective group indeed!

At the booth, Rebecca Solnit’s Unfathomable City, a brilliant reinvention of the atlas, was really popular. It’s great to see a book that aims to expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced get so much attention from librarians who are purchasing for a general audience. After all, we’re all interested in where we live.

Both Elephant Reflections and Giraffe Reflections were rarely out of people’s hands as they browsed the booth. The beautiful photography makes these books utterly compulsive reading. The prose in the books tackles serious subjects: the work of field scientists in Africa, recent astonishing discoveries, and the natural history and conservation status of these amazing creatures. These highly illustrated books carry this important information to a far greater audience than a collection of essays would achieve.

And obviously our wine and food titles are hugely popular among a general audience.

We’ve long had relationships with many public libraries across the USA, though I had never attended the Public Library Association meeting—and there are some distinct differences between public and academic libraries. While both academic and public librarians have been coping with reduced budgets, the way the libraries work means the effect is very different.

Academic librarians fulfil an incredibly demanding role, meeting the competing needs of different fields from undergraduate instruction to ground-breaking research. Academic libraries also have a commitment to maintain subscriptions to academic journals which, given the continued reductions in budget, is a task that is increasingly challenging.

For public librarians, budget reductions can mean the closure of an entire branch, particularly in areas that are underserved (such as rural or deprived urban areas) resulting in reduced support to the community as a whole.

However, both academic and public librarians are equally passionate about what they do and the services they provide.

The tone of the PLA conference was about contributing to communities. As a publisher, my own focus is on books and journals, but I got a real insight into how much of a public librarian’s work is about providing a space in the community. Libraries provide space to learn, space to relax, space to access vital information, and space for all kinds of people to indulge their love of books.

I seemed to be surrounded by equipment for children, from seats that looked like pirate ships to tiny homework tables and knee-high shelving. I was keenly aware that academic libraries are also re-tooling their spaces to encourage effective and collaborative learning.

In my quieter moments in the three days, I mused that children who grow up with access to libraries are the ones most likely to become life-long learners, and it was a pleasure and privilege to get some insight into the beginning of that journey at this positive and upbeat show.  I remember going to the library as a child and choosing books to read, and I remain an active patron of the public library today.  Through my work at UC Press, it’s great to be able to continue my support of public libraries. The Press’s vibrant list of books and journals has delighted and inspired readers for over 120 years, and I am sure it will continue to do so for many decades to come.