Archives not just kindling

Small Press Points / Trends of the July-August Poets & Writers caught my eye. I was pleased to see Adrian Versteegh saying that though e-readers “are supposedly wooing readers away from paper and ink.” . . . “yet the world’s books have yet to crumble to dust under our uninterested noses. For those who appreciate the fine art of bookmaking . . . the reason is simple: The fancy digital devices can’t replicate the physical pleasures of a well-made book.” The article is about Blue Hour Press and how they are “bridging the gap between the beauty of print and the accessibility of the Web.” Something I have considered would have to be done some day. Now I am concerned with making books and getting the marketing and promotion done, regular books in print, presented as well as possible in well designed pages and covers.

It is my feeling that most Deerbrook authors don’t seem interested in ebooks, though I haven’t taken a pole. It still seems too much like giving in to publishing being about money, maybe we could earn more by selling books in PDF. I wonder how many customers actually do that? As with so many e-things, one has to be high-speed cable or DSL to be able to download large files quickly.

I was curious about Blue Hour because it is located in Tuscaloosa, AL, where I studied book arts, printing and publishing, library science, and making books by hand at the University Institute for the Book Arts. I was one of the first few students that helped Gabriel Rummonds and Dean Ramer set up the MFA program in the Library School. Even then there was (1982) talk of how computers could very well replace the card catalog, and who knows what else. There were no Macs or Lap-tops then. School computers, if you wanted to use them, one had to learn basic 80, a difficult language code. I learned just enough to complete a library science assignment. Certain to have nothing to do with computers, I vowed I never would.

And by the way, the Gorgas Library is a wonderful library full of beautiful books and an enormous card catalog, ever retrievable. In fact, there is where I started my first press, Muse Press. Inspired by rare books in special collections and the likes of my teachers’ books, The Plain Wrapper Press, contemplated publishing for the first time. Seeing and feeling pages of handmade paper with well inked letters pressed into to them is a feast for the hands and eyes, as mentioned above, “a physical pleasure.”

Well, I began using a Mac computer in 1991 and still use the same design program, QuarkXpress. I like it because it has functionality that relates to the composition of metal type by hand in composing sticks using letter and word spacing.  I know I have to upgrade software and spend a lot to get the new Adobe Design Suite, as I learned discussing a job with a publisher who was surprised that I was still using Quark, since, according to him, the industry preferred Indesign, and they had switched over. It became the crucial factor in not landing the job I was trying land. The fellow was nice enough, even complimented me on my “sophisticated design sense” but that even if I got Indesign the learning curve was steep. I decided that it was pointless to try to come up with ways of working to exchange files in other ways, since they didn’t want me to design the books, but make templates or the like, and send them to their people to complete the book files.

Bridging the gap seems to be what small business is all about. The internet is allowing us to market and promote in ways that we might not be able to otherwise. In some way the internet is paralleling that point in the industrial revolution when books for the millions, mass production was deemed necessary. It was also producing such poor quality materials and products that William Morris and others began what would be called the Arts and Crafts Movement, to carry on the design and craft of making beautiful books. Although mass market products have their function and place, thank goodness for the artists and craftsmen that carry on with the skills of a tradition.

People still value well made books for the feel, touch and personal experience of reading them. They also have the inherent advantage of being open and accessible to research and for jumping from one section to another, use the index, use the content page, finger tip control. After all, digital uses the word for finger, ‘digit,’ as it’s root. When I think about it, it seems that many favorite web pages and sites emulate the printed word in ink on paper. But maybe it’s just a generational thing. Digital technology has given us some wonderful advancements. But lets not forget there are definite advantages to a library full of books or bound reference when we consider that it is a fact that CDs do not have much of an archival life.

type in a composing stick

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