This page is a reproduction of the original page from the original website. It explains why the publication “BTG” was devised, and the intentions for it at the time. It’s a historical snapshot of the state of small print publishing and how it was viewed, in April 2001.
Bathtub Gin is published twice annually out of Bloomington, Indiana. The usual fare is a varied selection of poetry, short fiction, and artwork; after a period of experimenting with a sister newsletter, The Bent, which published small-press news and announcements, editors Christopher Harter and Tom Maxedon decided to devote an entire issue of BtG to the subject. The result is a lively sourcebook of resources and advice delivered through interviews with poets, small-press publishers, and independent bookstore owners. Below are two of those interviews: the first a Society of Underground Poets radio interview aired on WRVG-FM in Georgetown, Kentucky, between interviewer Troy Teegarden and Minnesota librarian and small-press activist Chris Dodge; the second with Karin Taylor, executive director of the Small Press Center in New York City. Contact information for Bathtub Gin, MSSRT and the Small Press Center can be found on our contacts page.
TT: With us now is Chris Dodge, activist-librarian and editor of the MSRRT Newsletter, a publication of the Minnesota Social Responsibilities Roundtable. Chris… tell us about the organization.
CD: The roundtable itself is a part of the Minnesota Library Association, which has nearly 550 members, and our unit has about 60-70 people. We’ve been active, or I should say “reactive,” for about twelve years since I got involved. There are a handful of people who have taken the ball each year and organized programs at our annual Minnesota Library Association Conference, but how you’ve seen us manifest is the MSRRT Newsletter, and that’s been going twelve years. It started out being simply a publication to let our members know what was going on in terms of programming and protests. It soon became a review publication, a Factsheet 5 for libraries that grew outside Minnesota and gained readership across the country and wider than that.
TT: At what point did you start sending out the MSRRT Newsletter farther than to just library people?
CD: Pretty early, because I was aware of reading Factsheet 5 back in 1988, and I’m certain I began sending it to him right away, and by getting listed in there other people began to contact me and I had already been seeing dozens of publications of a sort that, maybe today wouldn’t be called zines, but are alternative in that they question the status quo and they deal with things like the Peace Movement, for example.
TT: How did you personally get involved in all this?
CD: Sandy Berman is the personification of the term activist-librarian. That may seem like an oxymoron because the stereotypical librarian is someone who is a spinsterish woman who stands behind the desk or comes out only to shush children. Sandy is someone who has always acted proactively in trying to better connect potential library users who are underserved, and also to foster library services that are more fair, more accurate, more user-friendly, and he’s also been a real staunch advocate of alternative press publishing. He shared with me and many others some of his mail, simply that. He would share publications that he received and I would not only see and read them with fascination, but realize, “Hey, somebody oughta be reviewing these and indexing them.” So that’s what I began doing. It’s an individual who really gets me going, Sandy Berman by name.
TT: Do you have a large selection of small press publications at the library where you work?
CD: Not at all. Sadly, I work at a large suburban library system which has a lot of money and how they choose best to use that money is to buy more than 1,200 copies of the latest John Grisham novel and one copy of any of five editions of Ben Bagdikian’s Media Monopoly. So, I’m kind of like a thorn in the side of the institution. Some people would say that I do a service by letting our selection librarians know that certain things exist and I guess occasionally they do buy something. I think the library has subscribed to Factsheet 5, but that’s about it when it comes to getting zines out there for example.
TT: Now that Factsheet 5 is just about done, that’s not going to help much, is it?
CD: Right. No, I think they’ve subscribed for several years so give ’em credit for that. But very slow on the uptake. Traditionally, public libraries have been slow to collect certain classes of materials and librarians tend to view themselves favorably as gatekeepers. I think that the gatekeeper image is a bad one because it’s elitist, and, traditionally, public libraries have kept popular music recordings out, comic books out, and over the years certain classes of materials have begun to be accepted, but others have not. One entire class of music that we don’t get here it seems is punk. There’s certainly a huge market for it. Here in the Twin Cities there’s a record store called Extreme Noise which is quite successful, but our selection librarians never darken its doors.
TT: Maybe they just don’t want the punk kids hangin’ out at the library?
CD: I don’t know. But there’s lip service paid to “diversity.” Certain good things are done. But there are certain things which remain problems, and that’s a part of what some of us are trying to do in terms of advocacy. Another way of looking at it is in terms of “class,” because the library in which I work is suburban and its tax base is pretty upscale and affluent. So their collection is heavily weighted towards travel guides to the Caribbean and how to decorate your house, and there’s next to nothing on squatting, or the art and science of dumpster diving, or practical things for people who are living near the street, if not on it. Again, part of it has to do with working for a suburban library system and I do have colleagues and friends at the Minneapolis Public Library, where there is a somewhat different situation.
TT: Do you know of library systems that have a strong interest in small press publications?
CD: Yes I do. Minneapolis Public is a pretty good example because there are a lot of reasonable arguments against collecting zines in a library. If one is treating them equally with other magazines, you’ve gotta catalog them, which is a nightmare because they change titles frequently, it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from sometimes, they cease publication regularly. But there are ways around the problems. What MPL has done is simply to put them out. Go out and buy them, and put them out for public consumption. They check them out. But they don’t go to the trouble of cataloguing them. So I think that’s kind of a reasonable middle ground for a public library to take. Academic libraries could collect zines regionally, or the ones produced in their state or city. If you are a library that has a strong subject area in popular music, for example, then collect music zines.
TT: I know of at least one school, the University of Wisconson at Madison, they have a special collections that archives a lot of these publications, which is a very interesting idea to me because it seems like zines are created on the spot and they’re just barely put together and you read through it four or five times and it falls apart, so it’s good to see that somebody has been keeping these things on the shelf and holding onto a part of history.
CD: Yes, the whole aspect of history because just as with supermarket tabloids and slash literature, there’s some classes of literature that are represented in libraries secondhand, that is to say they are entire books about zines. There’s anthologies of zines, but if in years to come scholars and historians are only finding these secondhand sources, they’ll really be missing out because with secondhand sources you immediately get into problems. Wisconson Historical Society is really good for alternative presses in general. But they only collect Wisconson zines.
TT: So if one checked out MSRRT Newsletter, what would they find?
CD: MSRRT Newsletter is chiefly reviews. You’ll find reviews not of books from Harper & Row and the corporate publishers, whose books are automatically reviewed, but they will be from smaller independent publishers and sometimes outfits you’ve never heard of. It galls me to have to read that the publication Utne Reader, a few years ago, was represented in a magazine then called Small Press, now called Independent Publisher, on the topic of publishers’ press releases. The review editor of Utne Reader, when asked what she did with press releases, said, if it’s from a publisher or an author I’ve never heard of I’m more apt to throw it away, and this was somebody from Utne Reader! So that’s exactly the opposite of where I’m coming from. I’m most interested in publicizing, covering and reviewing things that nobody, or only a few have ever heard of — Public Enema, Prozac, and Cornflake. There are also several pages dedicated to things other than reviews. They typically involve commentary and news about library and publishing trends.
TT: Anything else to add?
CD: I’m gonna babble more about library trends, which seem to mirror publishing trends. In publishing, you have a certain degree of mergers. A smaller number of indie publishers are thriving and growing up between the cracks. In libraries and schools, there’s a trend towards running the library as a profit-making business. Managers are demanding of libraries that they make money and, in doing so, fees and fines increase. I find that problematic and that’s part of what I’m fighting in my work with MSRRT Newsletter. But we’re a small movement in a fairly, what I would consider, conservative profession: librarians.
Located in New York City, the Small press Center is a non-profit organization that supports the effort and work of small presses. It serves as a bridge between independent publishers and writers, as well as the general public. On a recent trip to NYC, Chris had a chance to speak with Karin Taylor, the executive director of the SPC. Here are some excerpts from their discussion.
BtG: In your opinion, what defines a small press?
KT: In terms of what I said about the Small Press Center’s definition [less than 12 titles published a year with print runs of less than 5,000]. But, of course, it is also an attitude and a commitment. We do distinguish between the small presses and independent publishers. Though the two terms are interchangeable, independent publishers are different. For instance, some of the university presses, like Oxford University Press, are absolutely huge. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux is an independent.
BtG: New Directions…
Yes, exactly. So, we have discussed at certain times in our evolution about changing our name to something that actually says “independent publishers.” But then people who are much involved with the SPC think that’s who we are and we are for the smaller people. “Independent publisher” does imply people who are more experienced, are larger, and they perhaps don’t need us in quite the same way. So, we’ve come up with a compromise: the Small Press Center of Independent Publishers.
This is a historical snapshot of a page which was available on the Archive Org website. We hope it helps anyone looking for one of these publications. Please tell us about you quest for a “hard to find book” in the comments, specially if you found a new source for that publication.