Publishing Local History
Showcase Interviews Acquisitions Director Carol Porter
Located in the Eastern Sierra, the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) finds, preserves, protects, educates the public about, and exhibits artifacts related to, the history of the region. Supporting this mission, they write and publish books that document and chronicle the region’s places and people. Showcase discussed the program with HSUMD Accessions and Acquisitions Director Carol Porter.
Showcase: What got the HSUMD into publishing?
Porter: Publishing is a very common practice for historical societies as well as museums. The publishing of books, sharing local history and personal stories was instrumental in the founding of the HSUMD and included in our statement of purpose as well bylaws. Publications help keep history alive.
Showcase: When did you start?
Porter: In 1986.
Showcase: How many have you done?
Porter: Fourteen Books if you count the second and expanded edition of one of them.
Showcase: The program consistently pays for itself and more than turns a profit. How do you account for its popularity?
Porter: The books we publish are most often in the human interest area or deal with known local landmarks. When the subject is one of these nearby areas, there are often interesting details of historic importance that are not commonly known and other little-know facts. This often piques the interest of local readers as well as persons with a specific interest in the subject. The single largest contribution to our profit margin is the volunteers willing to research the subject and the writers, photographers, and layout specialists who donate their time and talents.
Showcase: Do you have advice for other organizations wanting to go this route?
Porter: Keep it simple. Many photos to enhance the writing. Only enough detail to trigger interest and desire for more. Remember you are not publishing a textbook. These books are for leisure reading and to plant a seed of interest in the history and preservation of history in our area. Try to make the people discussed in the book come alive. Include personal information and anecdotes, even draw some comparisons to today if they apply. You need skilled photographers, writers and proofreaders. Keep the printing price down and focus on the quality of the content – not the showiness of the book itself.
Showcase: What’s on the horizon for HSUMD?
Porter: That is about it for what we have been doing, but we are branching into a new arena. We are planning to reprint books that have fallen into the out-of-print category. This is a bit more complicated due to the need to pin down permissions and establish our right to publish someone else’s work.
Showcase: Thanks for so many suggestions. Good luck with your new project.
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