Interview with APBNA compiler Byron Anderson
Byron Anderson is the compiler of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, now in its sixth edition, from Library Juice Press. I asked Byron to talk a bit about this reference work for Library Juice Readers.
Byron, why don’t you describe this resource and say how it got started?
Alternative Publishers of Books in North America (APBNA) profiles alternative presses in North America, including some international presses that work with a North American distributor. The profiles include contact information, the editor(s), average number of new titles published per year, number of titles in print, distributor(s), ISBN pubisher pre-fix number(s), other materials produced, if associated or affiliated with another association or institution, publication interests, and a one-paragraph description. “Alternative” eludes exact definition, but I like Herbert Schiller’s phrase from the fourth edition’s Foreword, “the non-conglomeratized defenders of independence, diversity and unorthodoxy in book publishing.” Another way to define the presses is to list some of the headings from the subject index, for example, anarchism, civil liberties, counterculture, feminist, gender studies, human rights, indigenous populations, gay/lesbian, punk, social change, sustainable development, unions/unionizing, vegetarianism, women’s issues/studies, and zine culture. The presses are small, usually less than ten titles per year, independent, and passionate about their purpose. The purpose of APBNA is to pass this information on in directory form which lists currently active alternative presses that might be of interest to individuals, especially librarians, who want to know who is pubishing alternative materials. These titles cannot be readily singled out from any reference source. Considering that the Book Study Industry Group estimated in 2005 that there were approximately 70,000 small independent presses operating in the United States, it would be a laborious task to single out this small alternative sub-group, presently numbering 163 presses.
APBNA got started as an idea proposed at a meeting of the Alternatives in Print Task Force (now Alternative Media Task Force, AMTF), one of the task force groups of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. The AMTF maintains interest in promoting the development and use of the alternative press in libraries. The idea was proposed by long-time member Jackie Eubanks in 1992. At that time, there were other notable task force members, including Sandy Berman, Chris Dodge, Noel Peattie, and Daniel Tsang, and collectively we all used our expertise to recommended presses for inclusion. I was designated the coordinator for the project and have served as editor and compiler for all six editions (1994-2006). The first five editions were published by CRISES Press and the current sixth edition by Library Juice Press.
Thanks for that description. I think the only other thing that I’d like you to talk about for readers is why this work is important and why libraries should own it.
Why is it important?
APBNA is unique. No other reference work singles out just alternative book presses. The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses include some of these presses under various subject headings, but does not notate “alternative.” Alternative publishers are individuals who are frequently dedicated to a cause or movement and are often driven by a desire to get certain titles into print regardless of the “saleability‚” or profit. These publishers take risks that mainstream publishers rarely take. They bring voice to minorities, new authors, experimental writing and controversial and radical subjects. The presses bring to print numerous translations and reprints of classic older titles. The alternative press has a long history of supporting individuals, groups and movements on the fringes of society, for example, authors such as Arundhati Roy and Winona LaDuke, groups representing vegans, environmentalists and feminists, and movements of liberation, peace and justice, and human rights.
Why librarians should use it?
The books from publishers in APBNA can diversity a library collection. The literature falls in line with a portion of ALA’s Library Bill of Rights which says, “Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation,” and “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” Adding titles from alternative publishers to a library collection can be viewed either as an extension of intellectual freedom or because this literature is sadly underrepresented in library collections. While many users could benefit by having access to the books, it will often require more effort on the part of librarians to secure this literature. Marketing resources are minimal and mass mailings of new titles are infrequent. The literature is rarely mentioned in mainstream publications, such as, Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. The book titles will be missing from consideration of mainstream book awards and reviews. Finally, many of the presses are missing from mainstream distributors and profile plans. Librarians will have to seek out many of these presses and titles on their own. Sometimes this will require a librarian to work directly with a particular press. Still, the effort is worth it as there is a treasure trove of titles and literature out there to be discovered. APBNA is designed to help start the process of discovery.