The Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association and the Midwest Independent Booksellers issued a joint statement on Monday afternoon in support of the beleaguered University Press of Kentucky, which has come under attack from the state's governor and his administration.
In January, Governor Matt Blevin announced his proposed state budget for the year. He wants $85 million in cuts, including a cut to the press’ entire $672,000 allocation, which would force the press to close. The $672,000 covers the salaries and benefits of seven of UPK’s 16 employees; the rest of the press' funding comes from book sales -- which are about $1.8 million annually -- and financial support from a private nonprofit foundation, the Thomas D. Clark Foundation.
UPK, headquartered in Lexington, was launched in 1969 as the successor to the University of Kentucky Press, which was founded in 1943 to publish scholarly books. Since its reorganization almost 50 years ago, UPK is actually a consortium of scholarly presses in the state: UPK publishes and markets the lists for all of Kentucky’s state universities, five of its private colleges, and two regional historical societies. It is well known for its Civil War history and cultural history titles, film and military studies, and titles of regional interest, about Appalachia as well as Kentucky itself. There are about 2,100 UPK titles in print.
Commission sales rep Bruce Joshua Miller of Miller Trade Marketing in Chicago, who specializes in selling university press titles and who successfully led the fight to save the University of Missouri Press in 2013, made a proposal three weeks ago to the heads of the two regional bookseller organizations that they issue a joint statement in support of UPK, declaring, "If we cannot stand up to actions like the potential gutting of a press like the University Press of Kentucky, then what are we for exactly?"
The statement, drafted by Miller and members of both boards, condemns the attack on UPK “in the strongest possible terms," declaring that “regional presses are often the lifeblood of independent bookstores” and that “regional books represent a significant contribution to the life of every bookstore in the United States.”
MIBA and GLIBA’s statement demands that “the authorities, the university, and/or the Kentucky legislature restore the funding of [UPK] immediately.”
The statement includes endorsements written by two GLIBA booksellers that each have a personal stake in saving the press. Michael Boggs, the owner of Carmichael’s Bookstores in Louisville, Ky. declares in his statement, “I have witnessed first-hand the high level of interest among my customers in books from [UPK], because nowhere else can they get essential stories of the place they call home. This decision is shortsighted and imprudent, robbing the citizens of Kentucky of connection to their land, their history, and their traditions and customs.”
Nathan Montoya, the owner of Village Lights Bookstore in Madison, Ind. explains that Village Lights is located across the Ohio River from Payne Hollow, Ky, where the artist Harlan Hubbard and his wife, Anna, homesteaded in the mid-20th century. Noting that Hubbard has been called a modern-day Thoreau, and that visitors come from all over the world to visit his homestead, Montoya disclosed that UPK publishes seven of the eight books in print by or about Hubbard. “The loss of these titles would diminish not only the richness of our store’s offerings, but the literary and cultural heritage of our entire region,” Montoya wrote.
An earlier version of this story did not include that the state's $672,000 allocation to the press covers benefits for seven employees, in addition to their salaries, and has been corrected.