LJ Talks with Roger Jänecke, Publisher of Visible Ink

Publisher Roger Jänecke talks with LJ about Visible Ink’s distinctive approach to reference.

Established in 1989 in the Detroit area, Visible Ink Press is known for its engaging mix of reference books that celebrate Black and Indigenous peoples and inform patrons about history, sciences, and even supernatural and unexplained phenomena. Publisher Roger Jänecke talked to LJ about Visible Ink’s distinctive approach to reference.

What do you want librarians to know about the role that popular and ready reference titles can play in meeting patrons’ expectations and needs?

I would argue that popular reference titles are similar to open-stack libraries. A patron might pick up a book for one thing, and then make a serendipitous discovery on a neighboring page or chapter. A student might pick up our African American Almanac for Martin Luther King Jr. and also find Dorothy Height or Benjamin Hooks or other, lesser-known notables. In contrast, online sources (whether a simple Google search, a Wikipedia entry, or a more sophisticated database search) work more like a closed-stack library, which can be excellent too, but easier for some patrons to use than others.

Your reference books cover many subjects—the expected history, but also parapsychology and unexplained phenomena. There’s much debate about what reference is these days. How does Visible Ink define it?

I once heard someone say (and I wish I could remember who in order to give them credit) that someone might pick up a book a second time because it was a good read, but if they pick up a book a third time, then they are looking for information, and that’s a reference. A book read for a third time for the information is a reference book. Still, I believe a reference shouldn’t just be for finding information for research, studies, or general knowledge. My hope is that a reader picks them up several times both because they want to learn about werewolves, say, but also because the Werewolf Stories are a good read.

You have a mission to not only inform but also entertain. Why is that important for reference books?

Thanks to the internet, access to knowledge and information has expanded and morphed. Vetted, reviewed, and edited information on a topic is no longer enough to entice a reader to pick up or buy a book when seemingly similar information is a click or two away. If I just want the facts, I can do the work, look at and compare a few trusted sites, and get the information I’m looking for. But if I want the story behind the facts—the lead-up or the fallout, say—then that is not so easily found, and that’s where our books come in. A good story draws people in and makes facts, figures, and history so much more interesting (and more easily understood). Plus, a good reference not only presents facts but also provides analysis, context, and viewpoints on those facts.

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