University presses undervalued by many

College printing houses need protection from funding cuts, commercial printers

University presses were first used to display faculty research and served as a means to tenure. Today, scholarly material may remain unnoticed due to commercial publishing's competitive nature. Publishing is an investment business that includes time, energy and capital put into research as well as costs for production and distribution, and the process tends to cover a period of several years. Even after all that investment, without the proper market, profit is not guaranteed.

This means there is a constant search for fresh sources of economic support. Private donations can only cover so much of printing costs. Cuts to funding for the arts threaten the university presses all the more. Most recently, with over 50 years of production, the University of Missouri Press has fallen under the ax after a loss of its annual subsidies.

Digital publishing is still finding its place in the literary world. Rice University attempted an all-digital format in 2006 but closed four years later when operations became too expensive to maintain. But many presses have closed and reopened, including the United States' first university press, founded at Cornell University in 1869. It shut down between 1884 and 1930.

The University of South Carolina Press, founded in 1944, is the oldest and only university press in the state. The press has over 1,700 books published and produces around 50 new books yearly. It is an essential tool for enhancing the University of South Carolina's scholarly reputation.

The mission statement of USC's press states: "As part of the University's research mission, the Press advances knowledge through the publication and dissemination of the research conducted at this and other universities. As part of the University's teaching mission, the press provides an outlet for research — good research leads to good teaching — and furnishes scholarly material to both teachers and students. As part of the university's outreach mission, the press enriches the state's natural and cultural heritage and understanding through its extensive regional publishing program."

The university press remains an excellent starting point for discovering new writers eager to share their fiction, poetry and scholarly work.

Johns Hopkins has the longest continuously running press in our nation's history. Their first president, Daniel Gilman, stated in very clear terms the importance of the press: "It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures — but far and wide." Universities and students should take this message to heart.


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