LJ Talks to Julie Kirsch, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Rowman & Littlefield

Julie Kirsch, senior vice president and publisher of Rowman & Littlefield, shines a light on notable titles, both past and upcoming, and shares the changes and challenges that this independent publisher has seen over the past few years.

Julie Kirsch, senior vice president and publisher of Rowman & Littlefield, shines a light on notable titles, both past and upcoming, and shares the changes and challenges that this independent publisher has seen over the past few years.

Tell us a little about your time at Rowman & Littlefield.

I’ve had a number of roles at Rowman & Littlefield during my almost 25 years with the company, including running our production department during a decade of major technological change; expanding our scholarly monograph imprint, Lexington Books; and, since 2020, serving as publisher for our Rowman & Littlefield imprint. R&L has grown substantially in the past three decades, but our core mission has remained the same: to publish great books by experts for a variety of audiences, including reference works, scholarly monographs, professional resources, textbooks, and general interest titles. 

What defines Rowman & Littlefield as a publisher?

We’re independent! Rowman & Littlefield is proud to be privately owned in an industry that has seen enormous consolidation during the past decade. Our independence allows us the freedom to publish books that are part of the cultural conversation, help inform and inspire readers to create change, and provide the cutting-edge research and authoritative yet reasonably priced textbooks needed for the higher-education market. Our independence is one of many factors that draw think tanks and nonprofit organizations to copublish with us, and our authors also find the idea of working with an independent press compelling. 

What are some of your favorite titles that you’ve published for Rowman & Littlefield?

Recent favorites include The Encyclopedia of Racism in American Films, edited by Salvador Jiménez Murguía, which was named to RUSA’s 2019 Outstanding Reference Sources List and also listed as a Library Journal 2018 Best Reference Book of the Year. Also, Fearlessly Different: An Autistic Actor’s Journey to Broadway’s Biggest Stage, by Mickey Rowe, and Traveling Different: Vacation Strategies for Parents of the Anxious, the Inflexible, and the Neurodiverse, by Dawn Barclay. A perennial favorite is Chase’s Calendar of Events: The Ultimate Go-to Guide for Special Days, which has information about milestone anniversaries (2023 is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party), public holidays from every nation on earth, and special events and observances. Other books that stand out include The Savvy Ally: A Guide for Becoming a Skilled LGBTQ+ Advocate, by Jeannie Gainsburg; Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva; and The Devil in the Gallery: How Scandal, Shock, and Rivalry Shaped the Art World, by Noah Charney. This last one is a guided tour of the history of art through its scandals, rivalries, and shocking acts, each of which resulted in a positive step forward for art in general and for the careers of the artists in question.

In your time at Rowman & Littlefield, what has changed the most?

Our authors, books, and customers have become more global, and ebooks and audiobooks have transformed publishing. I am thrilled by the recent resurgence of independent bookstores as well as by increasing attention since the pandemic to the importance of libraries as third places offering crucial public services as well as access to both digital and print books. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been particularly focused on ensuring that our books are available at affordable prices to libraries and consumers in the formats they want, with an increasing focus on digital offerings, including single- and multiuser purchase options for libraries and course rentals for students. 

Upcoming titles for 2023 include a number of inclusive titles. Can you describe Rowman & Littlefield’s commitment to offering titles that represent marginalized communities?

Rowman & Littlefield enjoys a long tradition of publishing books that reflect the ever-increasing diversity of our readership. We actively seek authors and book projects that will bring visibility to marginalized communities and long-deserved recognition to the “hidden figures” in history whose contributions have too often been overlooked.

Recent and forthcoming books on important and underrepresented topics include The Encyclopedia of LGBTQIA+ Portrayals in American Film, edited by Erica Joan Dymond and Salvador Jiménez Murguía; The Rowman & Littlefield Handbook of Transgender Studies, edited by J.E. Sumerau; and On This Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time, by Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, and Ailsa Holland.

What challenges has Rowman & Littlefield encountered in recent times? How have you been able to overcome these challenges?

We’ve encountered the same problems other publishers have since 2020: lengthening print schedules, increasing costs, and manuscript delivery delays because authors couldn’t travel to do research, were dealing with personal crises, or were overwhelmed by adapting to teaching online. The fact that we have our own printing facility in our distribution center has helped us keep print books in stock, and we’ve expanded our digital offerings to ensure that students, professors, professionals, librarians, and library patrons can access our books whether they are in libraries, at home, or in their offices.

What is one thing that you’d like librarians to know about Rowman & Littlefield?

Rowman & Littlefield’s editorial program has a deep commitment to providing books for library users and librarians. This approach allows us to offer a one-stop source for collections development and professional development. Our attention to trends in libraries goes beyond providing nonfiction for adult and young adult patrons; our commitment to providing tools for librarians widens considerably to include professional publishing for all stages of a librarian’s career, leading textbooks for the education of future librarians, and practical guides to performing all library functions. Charles Harmon, our senior executive editor, has also developed an exceptional professional program that responds to emerging topics in the LIS field. Two successful series include the “Practical Guides for Librarians” series and the “Library Support Staff Handbooks” series. Charles has developed partnerships in the past decade with key associations, including the Medical Library Association and the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE).

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