University of Alberta Press, Edmonton AB

As I’ve mentioned, I’m moving to Toronto for a while, and the logistics have me rushing from one place to another in between everything else. Today it means heading across the river to exchange vehicles. The Ranger will now stay in Edmonton and my grandparents offered their old vehicle in its place. Looks like I’m taking the Buick Century.

It takes time to get used to a new vehicle— its size, how it takes corners, where all the buttons are. Preoccupied with setting my radio stations, I take a wrong turn on my way back to the south side of the river, and in the city I’ve lived in all my life, I find myself on a road I’ve never driven.

University of Alberta Press

When I arrive at Ring House 2 on the University of Alberta Campus, I’m happy I wore my dress pants. I assumed that it would feel less casual here than most of the publishing houses I’ve been to so far, and I’m right. It’s still a house, though. I’m greeted right away and offered coffee and a place to hang my coat.

Mary Lou Roy, Cathie Crooks, and Linda Cameron of U of A Press.

Mary Lou Roy, Cathie Crooks, and Linda Cameron of U of A Press.

After a conversation with Mary Lou Roy, Cathie Crooks, Alan Brownoff, and Linda Cameron, Linda takes me for a tour of the house. The press moved here just before the new millennium. Some of today’s staff were working for the press even before then. Linda, recruited from her position in Jamaica, joined the press shortly after. (And yes, she misses Jamaica. Every day.)

The floor of the house creaks under each step. Even standing still, shifting my weight from one leg to the other is audible. The architecture is what you’d expect for an old home. Lots of wood, lots of doorways into common spaces. Linda is able to tell me what each room once was when Ring House 2 was a faculty house. A unique element (to me) are the servant stairs—a narrow stairwell in the centre of the house. This is the only set that reaches up to the third floor. There are also crawl spaces all around the house, home to boxes of archives and, understandably, some rodent traps.

These are the servant stairs. There is nothing for perspective here, but the width couldn't be more than 3 feet across. If that, even.

These are the servant stairs. There is nothing for perspective here, but the width couldn’t be more than 3 feet across. If that, even.

Operating in an actual house has many benefits, but there is resounding agreement to the point that a more trusting relationship between the publisher and its authors comes as a result of a less corporate space. Each staff member is also thankful for the quiet, workspace a closed door provides (when they want it).

“Publishing is a collaborative piece of work. If you do not have trust between the author and the publisher, you can’t make it work properly.” – Linda Cameron.

As nostalgic as the house feels, the realities are that the walls are starting to crack and peel, and the floors are starting to slope. Unfortunately, any repairs or renovations are not decisions in U of A Press’s hands.

As the publishing industry continues to get cloudy, nor are any overall decisions made about the press. I thought a university press might feel more secure under the umbrella of the university, but the reality is that  U of A press does not really have great decision making power in that regard.

With both the industry and workspace decisions out of their hands, work on books carries on as they aim to publish not necessarily the books a reader wants, but the books a reader needs (perhaps unknowingly).

The press also makes it a priority to be involved and take stands on many of today’s publishing issues. U of A Press is particularly interested in libraries and copyright, especially when it comes to digital copies of books and single/multiple user applications—distribution topics that are a little over my head right now, but that I look forward to learning more about.

Front Door UofA

Members of the staff here don’t always share the same opinions on the issues. I think it’s a fair statement that Alan, U of A Press’s designer, simply doesn’t like e-books. (Actually, that’s probably an understatement.) Meanwhile upstairs, publishing assistant Duncan doesn’t seem to have a problem with them. I imagine this misalignment of views lends itself to lively debates between the walls of Ring House 2. Regardless of the opposing perspectives, the energy of U of A press is the epitome of respect toward an industry and toward each other.

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