Enjoy another in our series of posts on how university presses and other small publishing concerns can enjoy greater financial security by creating new revenue streams. The introductory post is here. A second post is here. There’s another one here.

illinoisYears ago in Vancouver, I chatted with a guy who worked at an odd little museum off the city’s touristed thoroughfares. “Look for a pink door,” people told me, probably the best directions I have ever received, for the museum sat in a residential neighborhood, and even funky Vancouver boasts only so many pink doors.

Inside, the proprietor displayed the collected relics of a local who had traveled the world. There were wooden masks and totems from Africa, framed exotic butterflies, pictures of dark-skinned men with gigantic snakes and New Guinean highlanders, envelopes festooned with colorful stamps, close-ups of indifferent koalas, and a map showing all the places the collector had visited in decades of travel. It was all charmingly yellowed and do-it-yourself—no corporate sponsorship here—but the museum made all the travel guides and supported itself.

The UI Press building, all charmingly asbesto’d, serves as the final resting place of much old junk owned by the university. As many academic presses headquarter in similar spaces, it’s very possible you have this sort of thing lying around, too. Why not make use of it? Why not sell this stuff off to raise funds? It is a logical question. Alas, to answer it, we would ask to ask permission from state government, an institution where logic goes to die.

Fortunately, we’re not talking about a resale shop. We’re talking about a museum, one that displays the history of a press and its parent institution, and as such acts a magnet for alumni and the general public alike.

For example: the most cursory of rambles through our warehouse turned up a number of treasures. There’s the old wooden desk carved up by U. of I. grad Hugh Hefner in his college days. My boss won’t let me reprint what he wrote but it’s good! I found a still-thriving cult of people who worship Red Grange and for some reason believe Shirley Temple is president. In one remote corner of the basement sat a pile of dusty bones, the remnants of an experimental cattle herd eaten by Illini linebacker Dick Butkus on a dare in 1963.

I thought I had found the legendary lost caterpillar collection of former presidential candidate John B. Anderson, but it turned out to be the discarded early mustaches of alum Jesse Jackson. Behind our journals shelves leaned a bathroom wall covered with dirty limericks by songwriter/poet Shel Silverstein, one of the most famous people ever expelled from the university. We all had a good bounce on the trampoline of Judy Ford, Miss America 1969.

Undoubtedly, more relics await. So does the revenue the Press needs to fulfill its mission of creating a smarter world. Fortified by hope and ampicillin, we intend to mine the back halls of our building to see what else we can bring forth into the shining light of tourism, and money. Don’t let us be the only ones! Spend your next lunchtime in the nether regions of your press’s barely-above-code building. We think you’ll be glad you did, assuming you come back.

 

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