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RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Press
lays the foundation for a
university-wide publishing program

Arriving at RIT in 1979, David Pankow brought a clear vision to his new responsibilities. As librarian and then curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, he facilitated the sharing of its resources with students, faculty and scholars. Almost immediately, Pankow sensed another opportunity.

“It seemed a shame that there was no other mechanism for the Cary Collection to reach people outside the RIT environment,” he says. The collection, housed in RIT’s Wallace Library, is a nationally recognized center dedicated to the history and practice of printing.

David Pankow

Pankow began looking for publishing opportunities, primarily whenever sufficient funding became available to produce a suitable text. Those early books – inspired by the collection’s holdings – featured strong scholarship and editorial direction, elegant design and fine printing techniques. And so began the Cary Graphic Arts Press, a very exclusive publishing operation.

“This seemed very important to our growth,” states Pankow. “It also inspired us to look for ways to publish a broader range of content on a regular basis.”

Since it's first project in 2001, Cary Graphic Arts Press has produced 20 books.

Under Pankow’s leadership, Cary Graphic Arts Press has been spearheading publishing projects with increasing regularity since its first commercial release, Digital Book Design and Publishing, in 2001. Its 20th publication, View It! The Art and Architecture of RIT, was released this fall in conjunction with RIT’s 175th anniversary celebration.

By the end of this year, the Cary Press hopes to begin renovating additional space that will include an editorial conference room, a sales and exhibition gallery, and production management offices. The Alexander S. Lawson Publishing Center, to be located adjacent to the Cary Collection on the second floor of the Wallace Library, is the first critical step toward establishing what Pankow envisions as a truly university-wide press at RIT.

RIT has the critical combination of resources – the Cary Collection, the faculty expertise, state-of-the-art equipment, and the institutional commitment – to operate such a venture successfully. First, however, RIT must secure major funding from private sources in order to make the dream of a university press reality.

A perfect fit

One of the publications of the Cary Graphic Arts Press is this compact disk, The World of Alphabets by Hermann Zapf: A kaleidoscope of drawings and letterforms.

Considering RIT’s rich tradition in printing and publishing, it seems a natural setting for a university press. RIT’s School of Print Media is recognized internationally as the leader in graphic communications education, and the Sloan Printing Industry Center at RIT is a hub for industry research and training. But even with the support of these world-class resources, the long-term success of a publishing operation cannot be taken for granted.

Dane Gordon, professor emeritus of philosophy in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, is a prolific author who has worked with a variety of publishing houses. Gordon says hosting a university press is very prestigious, but he cautions that publishing academic books is rarely profitable. Outside an elite group, which includes University of Chicago and Cambridge University, it’s hard for many university press operations to remain viable.

“It is difficult to balance the basic cost of production and distribution with income,” explains Gordon, “so these operations are nearly always supported by the institutions. As a result, many university presses either go out of business or they contract with another operation and become a

But Gordon believes RIT has two distinct advantages. First, advances in technology make the publishing process more efficient. Utilizing new digital resources offers the opportunity to print a relatively small number of copies for any given publication.

Besides books, Cary Graphic Arts Press has produced note cards based on materials in the RIT Special Collections. These cards depict Will Bradley poster designs.

“They can print as few as 20 copies,” states Gordon. “If additional orders come in, they can print five more. That way, inventory remains at a minimum, overhead is kept very low, and the books can be sold at an affordable price. It makes the operation very cost effective.”

The second advantage deals with the streamlined operation already evident at RIT’s Cary Press. Pankow, production editor Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, and design/marketing specialist Marnie Soom coordinate all activities – outsourcing any needs they can’t address in-house. “That’s the advantage a university press at RIT would have,” says Pankow. “Operation of the Cary Press is lean and nimble. A university press at RIT would build on that agility.”

Carefully chosen

The Cary Press is highly selective in terms of which publications to pursue. First, the content must meet a high standard for scholarship. Many of its publications are made possible only through individual grants.

Pankow looks for opportunities to pursue a variety of printing and publication styles. He says developing a diversified expertise is essential to meeting the challenges of becoming a full-fledged university press. All editorial and design decisions are made in-house, but the actual printing process is accomplished by contracting with an outside vendor.

The catalysts for many recent projects have come from sources on campus and have resulted in publications earning admiring reviews from the scholarly community for quality and execution. For example, Dane Gordon and David Suits, professor of philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts, collaborated to produce Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance. The book served as a follow-up presentation to a conference held at RIT in 2002. Gordon is appreciative of the opportunity to work with the Cary staff.

“It was the best association I’ve ever had with a publisher. They were right here and readily available to us, and we were able to discuss the project in terms of size, format, and other specifics. In the end, it was beautifully produced – very appealing.”

Two years ago, a pair of professors from RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences turned to the Cary Press after finding themselves in unfamiliar territory. Michael Peres and Andrew Davidhazy were busy planning “Images from Science,” an international exhibition highlighting photographs from a variety of scientific disciplines. Their goal was to produce a companion book that would serve as the exhibit’s legacy, but they were uncertain of how to make that happen.

“We had never produced a project like this,” states Peres, “and they offered tremendous insights along the way. They were an island in a storm — helping us stay on schedule and under budget while enabling us to produce an incredibly high-quality catalog.”

Another Cary publication recently earned a prestigious honor from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Melbert B. Cary, Jr. and the Press of the Woolly Whale was chosen by the organization as one of the best-designed books of 2002.

More to come

Development of future publications will be conducted in the Alexander S. Lawson Publishing Center. The facility, named in honor of RIT’s first Cary Professor is intended to serve a multi-functional role. While offering workspace to coordinate the design, layout and distribution of new publications, the center also will provide the RIT Cary Press with a visual identity — offering a showcase for its ongoing achievements in publishing. In so doing, it will become the foundation for what David Pankow hopes will someday be a university-wide press at RIT.

For him, it’s a major step forward in fulfilling a dream.

“The opportunity to create an academic press is the most exciting thing I’ve been involved with at RIT. “I can’t imagine not doing this.”

For more information on the Cary Graphic Arts Press or to purchase a Cary publication, visit the Web at http://wally.rit.edu/cary/carypress.html.

Paul Stella