Sustaining & Growing the Vision of an Academic Library’s Fine Press

Emily Tipps, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah
Crane Giamo, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Publishing in the fine press tradition at a public research university is a rare and unique occurrence. The University of Utah’s Marriott Library houses one such imprint, Red Butte Press (RBP), which produces handbound and handprinted books in limited editions. The press is maintained and operated by the faculty and staff of the Book Arts Program, who are also active in academic programming at the University, support K-12 outreach, and coordinate community workshops. Established in 1984 with the donation of a Columbian handpress, RBP originally directed its energies toward building fine press editions with handmade paper and exquisitely printed content, both of which made for high-end production value. Well-known authors, artists, and bookbinders from across the country collaborated with RBP printers. These books’ steep price made them primarily available to individual collectors and special collections. Since 2012, RBP has reshaped its vision without sacrificing the quality of its product; it now focuses on working with local writers and artists, printing and binding each edition in-house, using experimental forms and affordable materials, and engaging students in the production process. While many aspects of this shift have been successful—such as the expansion of RBP’s audience, the growth of a catalogue that includes more affordable publications, and the implementation of fine press publishing as a pedagogical tool—challenges remain: How can a library fine press become financially sustainable? How can RBP best provide students with a meaningful learning experience, while maintaining its quality standards? What partnerships and marketing strategies can best serve the press? How can a fine press enhance the library and enrich the patron experience? Our presentation will address these questions and examine the place of fine press printing amid the changing shape of university libraries as they continue to transition into flexible, interdisciplinary environments that support collaborative learning experiences.