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University of Pittsburgh

January 24, 2013

New University Press director outlines plans

KrachtThe University of Pittsburgh Press has hired a new director and is planning to recruit a new editor, expand its annual publication list by 50 percent and move to newly designed headquarters on Thomas Boulevard.

“We’re in a growth mode,” says Peter Kracht, who will take over as the Press’s director Feb. 1, after spending the past seven years as its editorial director.

Since his start with the Press in 2005, he notes, “we’ve made a lot of changes.” The Press has continued to build up its catalog of publications in major areas of emphasis such as history, urban studies, the environment and the built environment, Slavic and Latin American studies, poetry, and books of local and regional interest.

The Press has enjoyed success: Poet Richard Blanco, featured at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on Jan. 21, was the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize winner in 1997 and had his first book and his most recent one published by the Press.

“We’re focused on improving and maintaining the quality of what we publish,” Kracht says. Most recently, the Press has expanded its catalog to include a Central Asian studies series that ties into the continuing emphasis on Slavic studies, as well as more heavily illustrated books about the aesthetics of architectural history. “Dealing with visual culture is a really hot area in the academy right now,” he says. “We want to be playing in that ballfield now.”

His goal, Kracht says, is to move from publishing 50 new books a year today to publishing 75 books a year in the next three-five years.

To effect this change, the Press will use a $750,000 grant from the A. W. Mellon Foundation to hire an editor to oversee new publications in one of Pitt’s top academic areas, the history and philosophy of science. “That program will add the lion’s share of new titles,” he says. The Press, in collaboration with two other university presses, previously had received a five-year grant from A. W. Mellon to support its Slavic studies publications; the foundation has just extended that funding for another five years.

Kracht, who also had directed the Press’s electronic publishing efforts since 2007, is happy to debunk what he says is a myth about university presses in general — “that we are reluctant to do electronic publishing, and that we are slow to do it. We are right in there. We’re up to our eyeballs in digital publishing.”

For instance, he says, the Press jumped at the opportunity to cooperate with the University Library System (ULS) to scan and digitize more than 700 past and current Press titles that now are fully searchable, at no charge.

The Press has also partnered with Google, Barnes and Noble and Amazon to make selected titles available via their platforms and devices. Most significant, Kracht says, was the Press’s 2012 agreement to join Project MUSE, a program of the Johns Hopkins University Press to digitalize and make accessible all major social sciences and humanities journals and books.

“Pitt was among the first 10 university presses to join,” he reports.

Too often buried in the avalanche of Internet-related developments, Kracht adds, has been the fact that many libraries still want printed books, both because they last longer in one unchanging format and because many patrons still find them easier to use. “At the same time that digital publishing has been emerging, there have been dramatic improvements in doing short runs and on-demand printing. We don’t have to take on much risk, because we know we can go to press for just a few hundred books. Now we can always make a book available, which is very exciting. The book will last essentially forever.”

The Press’s impending move to Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze was necessitated by Facilities Management’s need to expand above the first four floors of the Eureka Building into the Press’s fifth-floor space, Kracht says.

But he has welcomed the chance to design new offices in what has been a mostly unimproved former factory.

Although the space is only slightly bigger than the Press’s current offices, it will house the staff more efficiently than the current space, he says.

“It’s nothing fancy, but it will be a very good work space for us,” he says. “In terms of esthetic appeal and utility, it’ll be a real benefit.” He expects construction to begin in about a month and to be finished three-four months later.

Kracht says he is enthusiastic about assuming his new position.

“This is a really good university press,” he says. “I think this is poised to be a really great university press. It’ll be really exciting to move from, in industry terms, being considered a small press,” to becoming a medium-sized house. “We’ll be on a healthier footing financially, and in terms of the attention we can get for our books.”

In the end, Kracht says, his own vision for the Press “is about increasing our impact on scholarship, which is really our mission.”

In announcing Kracht’s appointment, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson said: “Mr. Kracht’s vision for the University of Pittsburgh Press is well-matched to our overall academic vision for the University of Pittsburgh. He is committed to building a publishing program that reflects the highest standards of scholarship, enhances the academic reputation of the University, and serves an international community of scholars and students.”

Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature, Volume 45 Issue 10

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