Making Book 8: Desktop Publishing for Librarians

From book lists and flyers to newsletters, signs, and annual reports, librarians produce a variety of written materials. Until recently, the primary options were the office typewriter and the commercial typesetter—one offering the advantages of economy and control, the other a polished, attractive product. Now, using the tools and techniques of desktop publishing, librarians can have the best of both worlds. They can gain control over the design and typesetting process, save time in the editing and revision cycle, and even save money.

That’s the first paragraph on the inside front leaf of the jacket for this book (another one with a book jacket for the hardcover—I haven’t had many of those!). It’s a fair capsule version of why I wrote this book and G.K. Hall published it: There was an opportunity to improve librarians’ capabilities, and I thought I could help.

Desktop publishing first really made the scene in 1985, but at the time it required not only a Mac but also an expensive LaserWriter. I worked out something more cost-effective (and not requiring a Mac) and naively called it “desktop typesetting”—it’s what I used for the LITA Newsletter early on. I even prepared a booklength manuscript on desktop typesetting. Quoting from the preface:

The manuscript was rejected. What I had overlooked (or chosen to ignore) was that the methodology required for desktop typesetting was too cumbersome for most users and, more importantly, that desktop publishing would almost certainly migrate from the Macintosh to other platforms and come down in price.

Thanks to a small software company called Ventura and a surprisingly good marketing decision by Xerox, the migration to the PC happened—in a way that has brought the virtues of a competitive marketplace to the desktop-publishing field. Prices for desktop-publishing systems have come down; the capabilities of medium-priced systems have improved considerably; several digital type foundries offer hundreds of typefaces at varying degrees of cost, ease of use, and typographic precision and results.

In 1988, I converted the LITA Newsletter from desktop typesetting (and, frankly, I no longer remember what that cumbersome process involved—the manuscript has long since disappeared) and started the new, desktop-published, Information Standards Quarterly for NISO. I also used desktop publishing techniques to produce MARC for Library Use, second edition (see previous post).

I also began to see more ways libraries could use these techniques as my wife became library director at a small college library, and became convinced both that desktop publishing could serve all but the smallest libraries—and that librarians could benefit from a book on the subject written from a library perspective. So I wrote it. Naturally, I also produced the camera-ready copy, again using Ventura Publisher and Zapf Calligraphic.

The book consists of three parts with 14 chapters (plus fairly extensive back matter):

  • Uses for desktop publishing
  • Document design and production
  • Tools for desktop publishing

The book appeared in 1990. I believe it was timely. It did fairly well. I trust it was useful for libraries and librarians.

There’s an appendix on production methods which I find particularly interesting as it speaks to the time. I wrote and produced the book on a 12Mhz. 80286-based “AT clone” with 640K of RAM, a 40 megabyte (38ms. access) Seagate hard disk, an 11″ Samsung amber monochrome monitor, a Logitech P7 mouse, a Logitech ScanMan handheld scanner and an HP LaserJet Series II laser printer with a megabyte of added RAM to hold more typefaces. Note that this was still an MS-DOS system; Ventura Publisher ran under the GEM bit-mapped display interface and cheaper software came with its own display software.

Rather than an annotated bibliography, I had a bibliographic essay discussing books and magazines on desktop publishing, including hints for selecting from among the many books then being published on the topics and reviews of a dozen or so books and four magazines.

I suspect that some of the material on document planning and design is still useful. Otherwise, this is very much a book of its time—before Windows became usable, before bitmapped graphics became universal, before truly powerful computers were really cheap and truly powerful printers were even cheaper. I mean, think about the system I used—which I believe cost several times as much as the five-year-old notebook I’m writing this post on. The cheap old computer I’m using now has roughly six thousand times as much RAM, runs at about 166 times the raw speed (but the Core 2 Duo is a multiprocess and far more efficient for each cycle than the 286), has just over 6,000 times as much disk space and drives a dual-display system with no added hardware or software.

To say nothing of typeface quality, availability and flexibility…

And, to be sure, I “stepped back” from separate desktop publishing software to MSWord—both because the Corel versions of Ventura Publisher that ran on Windows became more and more unstable and because MS Word has become more and more capable for publications. It was all I needed for The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, and a whole lot easier to use.

Crawford, Walt. Desktop Publishing for Librarians. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990. ISBN 0-8161-1929-5. ISBN 0-8161-1930-9 (pbk.)

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