Relevancy in older book titles

A Publishing Executive’s Perspective on the Value of Older Titles

By Frank Menchaca

Library collections are developed with a keen eye towards selection criteria like quality, currency, and relevancy. These are logical considerations for any budget, but especially in today’s landscape, where libraries of all types and sizes are being tasked to make an increasingly greater impact, often with fewer financial resources.

When consulting with our library partners, we discover that oftentimes, currency implies relevancy and older titles, though tried and true, are quickly dismissed.

In the spirit of the old adage, “make new friends, but keep the old,” we’ve asked Frank Menchaca to share his personal perspective on the value of offering a collection which includes these older, but not outdated, research eBooks. Frank is the Senior Vice President of Global Product Management for the Gale, National Geographic Learning, and Professional groups at Cengage Learning.

When I think about how to talk about the value of original Gale publications in general, and the backlist specifically, I think about the works which I’ve been most personally and intimately connected: the ones whose “personalities” I’ve had the opportunity to shape and develop a sense of their quirks, idiosyncrasies, and excellences, sometimes in equal parts.

The first one to come to mind is The New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, published in 2005. This new edition of a classic, but very “white male” version of ideas, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in the 1960s, came directly from librarians who valued what the original was renowned for—deep, peer-reviewed exploration of key ideas in a readable style—but wanted a fresh look at the criteria of inclusion. We decided we should leave the old edition as it was, hire a new (female) editor, and remake the work according to the same exacting standards but with a determinedly modern table of contents.

Here’s a measure of how I think we did: of the many books I have around my house, it’s the one to which I most often refer my children, when they have an assignment, as a first stop. And that is as true today, when they are upperclassmen and high school juniors, as it was when they were in middle school. It is simply the best, most compelling, most intelligent resource for guiding a mind of any age through origins and development of an idea or a phenomenon that shapes our world. Here’s an example: one of my sons had to write a position paper on the events in Egypt during the 2011 revolution.

How could he understand the nature of political resistance? What is the historical dynamic that compels people to rise up? There was plenty of information around on what was happening minute-by-minute. But there was not much accessible, rock-solid material that could support evaluation, judgment and critical thinking. I sent him directly to the piece, “Totalitarianism” in the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. There he found an article, written to be read in one sitting which provided him a context for thinking about political oppression—how did our modern experience of it originate? When does typical heavy-handed-ness become abuse? How do different groups of people react when their government has its foot on their necks? Before he went to Wikipedia, or CNN, I though he needed just a little distance in order to ask these bigger questions.

That book was published almost 10 years ago. Reading the article again in preparation for this article, I find it no less valuable today. Because it focuses on the essence of an idea—its growth and development—it doesn’t date, unlike sources that claim to show the latest and greatest.

Gale’s original publishing is filled with hundreds of such examples: works that serve as guides to the student and the general reader to new ideas. These works don’t provide answers, the way SparkNotes do, for example; they help readers ask more informed questions, which is key to learning more. The backlist is therefore a treasure trove of materials that have a very long shelf life and add value to libraries in ways that news feeds, Wikipedia, and CNN—although valuable in themselves—simply do not.



[alert-info]Frank Menchaca

About the Author

Frank Menchaca began his career at Gale in 1994 and currently serves as the Senior Vice President for the Gale, National Geographic Learning and Professional groups of Cengage Learning.

In addition to being a publishing executive, Frank is an accomplished and published author and translator. He has written and published poetry, criticisms, reviews and video scripts. He won the Thomas Wolfe Awards for Poetry in 1982 and 1983.

Frank earned his M.A. in English literature, with honors, from Yale University, and a B.A. in English and Spanish literature, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from New York University.




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