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Gordon chosen to revitalize the Lehigh University Press

Scott Paul Gordon

For 20 years, Lehigh University Press (LUP) has published scholarly books written by academics in the humanities and social sciences. Upon the retirement of its previous director, Phil Metzger, the Lehigh University Press recently hit a crossroads.

And waiting at the crossroads as a qualified and enthusiastic new leader was English professor Scott Paul Gordon. Because of the energy and drive he brings to the idea of publishing high-quality scholarly work and his support for university presses in general, Gordon was invited to act as the new director of LUP. “I had been talking a lot in other venues about what is called the ‘crisis in humanities publications,’” Gordon says. “A lot of other university presses around the country have severely cut back on what they publish because it is very costly; but you have all these faculty members who are desperate to get books published, so these presses are necessary,” he says.

Prior to his appointment as director, Gordon and a taskforce headed up a large review of the Press and handed it to Lehigh provost Mohamed El-Aasser with recommendations. The advice from the taskforce came after a comprehensive self-study of other university presses that Gordon conducted last summer with the assistance of Christy Roysdon, director of library collections and systems (LTS) at Lehigh and Judith Mayer, coordinator of LUP. “The self-study included a set of recommendations for moving ahead with some changes in the LUP that we expect to be very beneficial,” says Carl O. Moses, deputy provost at Lehigh.

The plans for the new Press include more books and better books, as well as specific series of books. “I expect that we will see the LU Press publishing more books of higher quality,” says El-Aasser. “Specific directions I foresee include reaching out to new scholars who are on an upward trajectory and developing focused series of interests that are edited by distinguished scholars.”

Networking in the academic world

Historically, LUP has had three areas of focus—18th century studies, local history, and science and technology in society. These areas were not strongly advertised in the past, however. “As part of the new LUP, we plan to launch much stronger and more visible focus areas, and one way we will do that is by establishing a series and advertising it heavily, so scholars writing in particular areas know to send us their manuscripts,” Gordon says. “Our first series is called Studies in 18th Century America and the Atlantic World.”

As a faculty member, Gordon has many contacts in the academic publishing world, which will benefit the Press. “My friends are people who write books and run conferences from which papers are published,” Gordon says. “This will cost the university a little more money to take me out of classes, but the Provost, Anne Meltzer (Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh), and Bruce Taggart (vice provost of LTS) have all offered support in the form of significant funding for LUP.”

Dean Meltzer says, “I am very supportive of the Press. A number of top-tier universities operate presses. They serve a critical role in publishing and disseminating scholarly work. Scott is very creative and knowledgeable and has great ideas about how to bring a new focus to our work,” she says.

The other side of the process

Although the term “press” implies that there are vats of ink and reams of paper in stock somewhere on campus, LUP does not handle the physical printing of its chosen publications. “LUP is not an independent press,” Gordon says. “We are part of Associated University Presses, which also includes Bucknell University Press, University of Delaware Press, Susquehanna University Press, and Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,” he says. The only responsibility of LUP is to acquire the manuscripts and decide what to publish. “Once we decide to acquire a manuscript, the consortium as a whole of Associated University Presses takes care of all the copyediting, typesetting, printing, binding, and distribution—all of the really costly stuff as well as taking any financial loss,” Gordon says.

The responsibility of Lehigh to choose the manuscripts for publication should not be downplayed, however, as it is a big responsibility. As director, Gordon will correspond with authors, solicit authors for manuscripts, create advertisements, and place those advertisements in journals. “The hardest part is, after manuscripts come in, we have to find appropriate scholars who can read those manuscripts and give a confidential report on them,” Gordon explains. “Every manuscript gets sent out for review, and the author gets anonymous feedback. Suddenly, I am suddenly on the other side of the process—I am not writing the book anymore; I am trying to decide if it is publishable,” he says. The LUP also has a board of directors in place to help Gordon with the decision process.

Initially, Gordon hopes the press will turn out 10 books this year. “But ultimately, I would say we will publish at least that many per year. We would be thrilled if we published 20,” he says.

As one of his first big projects as LUP director, in collaboration with Lehigh’s Digital Library Projects and local historical societies, Gordon will launch Digitized Manuscript Editions—DIME—this summer. “We are going to produce online editions of interesting batches of historical documents,” Gordon says. “And we are not just going to digitize them—we are going to do something much more scholarly than that.” For example, Lehigh owns the diary of a World War I surgeon. “We will digitize the actual written diary, and we will also include transcriptions of every page with annotations for information and an introduction by a scholar,” he says. The Press is hoping to launch five DIMES by the end of the summer.

--Liz Shimer

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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