Campus pays tribute to its authors March 11

by Connie Bagshaw
Staff writer

What do lemmings, logging and Leonard Cohen have in common? They were the subjects of books published by UBC authors last year.

"The quality of a university is very much a result of the wide-ranging network of scholarly and professional contacts that faculty members develop and maintain throughout their careers," said University Librarian Ruth Patrick. "Their publications are an essential component of the scholarly endeavour."

The inspiration and creativity of more than 100 UBC authors will be celebrated March 11 at the seventh annual Authors' Reception, hosted by Patrick and UBC President David Strangway.

In addition to books, UBC authors produced musical scores, compact discs and videos in 1996, including Five Canadian Folk Songs--a musical score written by Music Prof. Stephen Chatman--and the television documentary, A Round Peg, featuring Margaret Fulton, UBC's Dean of Women between 1974 and 1977, co-produced by Film Prof. Raymond Hall.

Almost every discipline taught at UBC -- from dentistry to fine arts -- provided subject material for the 106 titles being showcased but, contrary to common perceptions, not all books written by academics are dour tomes with limited appeal.

One reviewer writing about Critical Thinking: Understanding and Evaluating Dental Research by Don Brunette, head of Oral Biology, said: "Who would expect that a book on a dental subject would be fun to read? I am surprised to confess that I leave this unusual volume handy at my easy chair, for continued browsing and pleasure."

History Prof. Robert McDonald was lauded by critics for Making Vancouver: Class, Status and Social Boundaries, 1863-1913.

One review calls his study "an expert analysis of the beginnings of one of the great port cities of the world and one of the more beautiful. Making Vancouver is altogether handsomely done and has the hallmarks of a work destined for academic prizes. They would be deserved."

Some of the most prestigious publishers in the industry represent the UBC authors being celebrated on March 11, including Random House, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Prentice-Hall and UBC Press which published nine of the works in 1996 as well as six titles by others with university affiliations, including adjunct faculty and emeritii, representing almost half of the books published by UBC Press last year.

McDonald's Making Vancouver and other books on topics ranging from sustainable development to treaty talks in British Columbia are among the scholarly press's current publications.

"Our choice of areas of publication is based on areas of strength at UBC and areas of interest to British Columbians, meaning that the number of books published from people associated with UBC is a significantly higher proportion of the number of books submitted," said Peter Milroy, director of UBC Press.

"But as the only university press in the province and the major publisher on B.C. topics, we also have a high proportion of authors from other post-secondary institutions in B.C."

UBC Press receives about 250 submissions each year, of which 20 to 25 per cent are from UBC faculty members and researchers associated with the university.

Books published under the UBC Press imprint must be approved by a committee of distinguished scholars appointed by the president, Milroy said. Their task includes reviewing two or more peer evaluations of each manuscript and the responses to the evaluations by the author.

The primary criteria guiding the committee's work is the book's contribution to scholarship, closely followed by an assessment of the author's writing ability, Milroy explained.

Other considerations are the market potential of the work and the availability of resources to publish the book and to offset its deficit.

"We do our best to make these secondary issues but deficits can be taken for granted in the publication of most scholarly books," Milroy said. "Given the shrinking levels of general funding available to us from government, and the changes in the university's direct support to the Press, a book's eligibility for grants has become an increasingly important element in the decision to publish."

UBC Press has not yet been confronted with the growing necessity among university presses to limit their publishing to scholarly books that have commercial potential.

"Just as the traditional role of the university has been to support and encourage a wide range of scholarly research, much of which has no immediate economic application, the role of the university press has been to ascertain that the written results of that research are confirmed through peer review as being of scholarly merit, presented in readable form consistent with bibliographical conventions, made available to contemporary researchers and preserved for future scholars," Milroy said.

In addition to featuring UBC authors, attracting and publishing works by scholars from other Canadian institutions, and reaching audiences across Canada and internationally is vital to maintaining the value of the UBC Press imprint, Milroy added. He estimated that UBC Press sells approximately 40 per cent of its titles outside of Canada.

On campus, the books are available through UBC Press directly or at the UBC Bookstore.

So, if you're wondering how to succeed at organic chemistry, whether or not lemmings commit suicide or what the finite elements are for electrical engineers, you'll find the answers in books by UBC authors.