Kent State hires new press director, has high hopes for university

Cameron Gorman

Kent State appointed Susan Wadsworth-Booth, previously the director of the Duquesne University Press, which closed this year, as the new director of Kent State University Press.

“I guess my goal right now is just to really figure out what directions we want to go in,” Wadsworth-Booth said. “I’ve been talking with various people around campus about the kinds of things they’re working on … so right now my goal is just to gather all that information and talk to as many people as I can.”

Wadsworth-Booth has been acting as the director since Sept. 11, and as she stepped into her role, William Underwood, the previous director of the Kent State University Press and the current acquiring editor, said she assumed a multitude of responsibilities.

“She’s in charge of the whole ball of wax,” Underwood said. “So she has to get up to speed on all the administrative functions —  managing the staff, the budget, relationships with authors, contracts and then she has to talk to me about new projects. She has to talk to marketing about publicity and sales. She has to talk with our managing editor about the editorial process and our designers about the manufacturing and production. So yeah, everything.”

Wadsworth-Booth is considering ideas looking more closely at audiobooks, which have experienced a resurgence due to the popularity of downloading or streaming audio-based media like podcasts and becoming involved with the upcoming anniversary of May 4.

“One of the things that really impressed me when I came over here was how committed the university seemed to be to the press,” Wadsworth-Booth said.

Though she has only just started at Kent State, Wadsworth-Booth said she felt that finding a vision for the press moving forward was part of her duty.

“But yes, I think part of my responsibility here and part of what the university was looking for when they hire a press director is for someone to do that: to really talk to all the people they can, think through what the trends are in university press publishing these days, but also what the strategic priorities of a particular university are, and to form that vision,” Wadsworth-Booth said.

In fact, Wadsworth-Booth stepped into the press in a time of change. The press only recently became part of University Libraries, which Todd Diacon, the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said is a current trend among universities.

“When I arrived, the press reported directly to our office, and that’s not an unusual relationship in universities,” Diacon said. “But there’s a growing trend towards having them report through libraries. … it’s really driven by some sharing of responsibilities, and it’s a way to get to save on expenses but yet still have a lot of great work done.”

Those involved in the change, including Kenneth Burhanna, the interim dean of University Libraries, hope the combination will produce synergy between the entities.

“Having it with the libraries, I think, could have some benefits for the press,” Burhanna said. “Our libraries are evolving, but I think the press has some similar values to offer, so for them, being considered as a part of this public good mission that the university can offer, I think, is healthy for them.”

However, after leaving Duquesne, where she had worked with the press since starting as an assistant editor in 1988, Wadsworth-Booth considered whether she wanted to stay in university press publishing at all.

“I really decided I wanted to stay in university press publishing, because I think it’s important,” Wadsworth-Booth said. “And I think now it’s needed more than ever because there’s so much information out there that isn’t vetted properly, and that people tend to believe or count on that’s not actually coming from a credible source.”

For a university press, the goal is not purely financial.

“Presses aren’t terribly profitable enterprises,” Burhanna said. “They’re really in it to get scholarship out into the world that might not otherwise have an outlet, and universities like Kent State think this is very important, so that’s why we’re committed to a university press.”

This function of university press publishing, like disseminating information, is part of its value, Wadsworth-Booth said.

“It’s true that universities have to make huge decisions about budgets and their limited resources these days, and I understand that,” Wadsworth-Booth said. “It brings you a certain kind of prestige. It gets your name out there in places that you might not otherwise get your name because the books go into places that the university might have no other presence, so sometimes people first hear of a university through the books that their press publishes.”

Underwood agreed.

“I think one of the really valuable things that university presses do is publish books about the history of the people and history of the state,” Underwood said. “Stories get told about important people and important events that a profit-making enterprise just wouldn’t touch, because there’s no money in it, or not enough.”

There are, at most, about 140 university presses in the United States, Wadsworth-Booth said.

Dicaon said as the number of university presses declines, it’s an opportunity for Kent State to become even more known for their press.

Wadsworth-Booth was chosen through a selection process involving a search committee chaired by Burhanna, who said he emphasized a need for increased visibility for the press.

“I know we’ve already had interactions from teaching faculty that want her to come to a class,” Burhanna said. “When she interviewed, was quite forthright about the idea of this teaching mission the press can engage in as well, so I do think so — I think she was by far the best choice for us to try to move this agenda forward.”

Diacon, who interviewed the candidates, agreed Wadsworth-Booth proved to be a compelling applicant.

“I was very comfortable with the selection of Susan,” Diacon said. “She wowed us at her interview, and she has great experience. She had good ideas about how to move the press forward, and I’m really happy she agreed to come here.”

Kent State’s press was an attractive option, Wadsworth-Booth said, because it was a functioning press, because it was geographically close to her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and because of its potential.

“There’s just so much possibility here for interesting things to happen,” Wadsworth-Booth said. “The press already has a very solid, varied list of kinds of books they do, so that’s interesting to me, and also, there’s a lot of things going on at the university that I’m hoping we’ll be able to tap into.”

Cameron Gorman is the humanities reporter. Contact her at [email protected].