How Library Juice got started (and how it got its name)
I was just asked on Twitter how Library Juice got its name, from someone who wondered why we don’t state it in our “about” pages. I think a lot of people wonder why a serious business has what some might consider a silly-sounding name, so I think I should address that. The first part of the answer is that at the beginning, it wasn’t a serious business, but something very experimental and playful. So here is the story of how Library Juice got started…
Back in 1997, the World Wide Web was very new and very exciting. It was before social media, before blogs, before Twitter, and before Facebook (or Myspace or Friendster), but it nevertheless presented great new opportunities for networking and communicating with all sorts of people. At that time, I was a student in the MLIS program at San Jose State University (obviously before it was an online program). We were a cohort that was exploring the new potential of the Web for librarianship (although it must be said that the internet had existed for some time in text form, and librarians used Gopher and command-line databases like Dialog and Lexis-Nexis to a great extent already). SJSU was one of the more progressive programs, and a couple of years earlier had started a Listserv for the community of students, alumni, and faculty to communicate.
As library students go, I was particularly inspired by all the potential of libraries and their ethical foundations. I did a ton of outside reading, and found linkages between the curriculum and outside ideas, in philosophy and politics. I also delved into the history of progressive movements and activism in ALA, and was inspired by people who came before me, like Sanford Berman. I joined ALA SRRT and the Progressive Librarians guild in 1997, and became active in those organizations, and found my community there.
I had a burning desire to share what I was finding with the SJSU community that served as my entry point into this inspiring profession, so I began using the Listserv heavily. I reposted discussions and news items that came from other places, and wrote about political and philosophical topics that were of no interest to the majority of list members. I was posting very heavily, to the point that I was the most frequent poster on the list. I wasn’t engaging in arguments, I should add, just sharing what inspired me. But complaints began coming in about the volume of these “irrelevant” posts. At first I ignored them, but in January of 1998 I took heed and found a good solution. I announced to the list that I would be setting up my own email distribution service for people who were interested. (I got the idea from Phil Agre’s Red Rock Eater news service, which had been going for some time.) Very quickly, 80 people signed up, and I began distributing a weekly email.
With the first issue out, I saw that it needed a name. I don’t remember what other names I considered, but Library Juice seemed like it was a good description of what that distribution service was about. It was the “sweet essence” of librarianship as I saw it, with all its inspiring political and philosophical meaning. “Juice” also referred to the electricity behind the WWW as the emerging new medium for librarianship.
Library Juice, the email newsletter, ran until 2005, first as a weekly and then as a biweekly publication. After the first year it had around 2000 subscribers. Issues went out by email and were posted on a website as well. It was plain text, running to about 40K with each issue. It consisted of news items collected from other lists, email discussion threads, press releases, and short essays, often by me. This was the kind of material that would eventually be found on blogs, but before blogs, this email newsletter filled a definite need. (Back issues are all on the web, and can be found here.
Things gradually changed over the 7 or so years that I was publishing Library Juice, the email newsletter. One issue was that it became more complicated to send out an email to 2000 people, with spam blocking measures coming into use especially. With the emergence of blogs as a place where people could find press releases and commentary, the content had to change in order to provide something different. I began writing more essays and publishing essays by other people. I also began dredging up interesting articles from pre-1923 library journals, typing them up and republishing them in the newsletter. But the whole thing began to feel untenable, so in 2005 I discontinued it.
I felt that my avocation needed to continue somehow, and I wanted it to be something more than just another blog. I did turn the email newsletter into a blog (the blog you are reading now) in 2005, but wanted to do more. The possibility of publishing books had come to mind through a number of influences. One was the fact that a professor at SJSU, David Loertscher, had a side business publishing and distributing books himself, with High Willow Press. Another was reading about Ralph Shaw, a LIS professor in the 1950s, and the history of Scarecrow Press, which he started. Another was playing with the booklet product that Cafe Shops offered and seeing that laying out and printing a book was something doable. I learned about Lightning Source, which offered print-on-demand services to publishing companies. I had conversations with Tony Dierckins, a small press publisher in Duluth, MN, where I was living, and phone conversations with Robbie Franklin of McFarland Publishers. In 2006 I started working on the first four books published by Library Juice Press, which were published in December of that year.
As I got more serious, I started the company Litwin Books, LLC and spun off Library Juice Press as an imprint strictly for an audience of librarians. Although Litwin Books publishes a bit more broadly, the majority of new titles are still LJP titles, and most of our book sales are through that imprint. Between those two imprints and the smaller, more trade-publishing oriented Auslander and Fox, we’ve published 62 books all told, with about five to seven new titles coming out each year at the current rate. Publishing books was my avocation through my library career.
Fast forward to 2012… I had left my last library job to enter the PhD program in information studies at ULCA and had finished the first year of coursework. The funding situation for the following school year would be less strong than the first, and I needed to figure out a way to earn money on the side to continue my studies. I devised a plan to offer online classes for librarians’ professional development using Moodle, and began working on the project that summer. It quickly became a full time job, and I dropped out of the program before the second year.
Naming the online course business presented a dilemma. The Library Juice name was well-established, and had the advantage of an existing presence in the library community. Other names might have worked as well, but I decided to call it Library Juice Academy, to attach it to the brand that I had built, despite its sounding a bit silly in the new context. I sometimes wonder if having a silly-sounding name hurts the business, but things have been going well, so I don’t worry about it too much. I also wonder if using the same name as the publishing company was wise given that what we offer in terms of online courses, which are skills based and often technical, is so different from the books that we publish, which are political and philosophical. But again, it doesn’t seem to have hurt the business.
And that brings us to today. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments…