The American Library Association announced on Wednesday that Bill Ott, the legendary editor and publisher at Booklist for 39 years died in Highland Park, Ill. on April 8 after a brief illness. He was 76 years old.

Ott began working at Booklist in 1980 as editor of its adult books department, and was named editor and publisher in 1988; he served in that position for just over 30 years, retiring from his role as publisher in 2019 but continuing as contributor.

According to an ALA release, when Ott took the helm at the bi-monthly pre-pub review publication for librarians and educators, as well as booksellers, that was launched in 1905, it generated about $800,000 in revenues. During his tenure, Ott “consistently increased that number, with revenue reaching over $5 million several years in a row. Bill’s work also resulted over the years in tens of millions of dollars in net revenue that continue to fund other ALA programs and services.”

During his long tenure, Ott spearheaded many significant changes at Booklist, including expanding the reach of what was then a print publication by adding a website and digital products, including newsletters, webinars, white papers, and sponsored e-blasts. Ott also conceptualized and built Booklist’s licensing program, which both expanded its audience and generated new sources of revenue. Booklist itself as a publication expanded during this time; it currently publishes 8,000 reviews each year, up 33% from 6,000 reviews annually in 1980. Ott himself wrote more than 3,000 reviews and 400 Back Page columns, and in 2017, he served as interim associate executive director of ALA Publishing in addition to his responsibilities at Booklist.

In an essay eulogizing Ott that Keir Graff sent to PW, the former Booklist executive editor, who worked with Ott for 18 years, wrote: “Bill himself was a clear and elegant writer, both in his reviews and his Back Page column. He had started it as a way to sell more ads on the inside back cover and figured literary quizzes were a good way to save librarians from having to do actual work. But he often wrote essays—about authors and books, mostly, but also about life at Booklist and life in general—that were as good as anything in the New York Review of Books. Actually better, because Bill’s clarity of thought made reading every one a pleasure. I think the real secret to his success was that he never thought of Booklist as a trade journal or a review mill. He thought of it as a bona fide literary publication that always respected the intelligence of its librarian subscribers. He often reminded me that the single most important thing was the quality of our reviews.”

Even after Ott’s retirement four years ago, he continued contributing to Booklist, assigning, writing, and editing mystery and crime fiction reviews and related content. At the time of his death, he had just completed his final Spotlight on Mysteries & Thrillers, which will appear in the May 1, 2023 issue.