Thursday, March 13, 2008

Background - First Installment

I think it's time now for a little background:

Warning: Don't read this unless you have some misguided interest in my professional history or in the low end of the publishing world.

I spent almost 30 years in some form of visual activity, which abruptly stopped in 1988. My visual career began quite unobtrusively in about 1962 or '63 at the State University of New York, Brockport. I was poor and a scholarship student who also had to work. My friend Patrick worked in the AV department and got me a job making line drawings of archaeological photographs so that they could be projected. I sat at a drawing table in the basement of the Admin Building with lead-paned windows--quiet and alone. I found I liked this very much. I liked the translucent tracing paper, the pencil sharpener, the clarity of the lines.

Humble beginnings to be sure. But, they didn't usurp my passion for reading and for all things literary. After a few checkered years, and an unfinished degree, I ended up in Boston running folding and collating machines at G.K. Hall, Boston, MA. For years they published huge books which contained reduced images of index cards from the library card catalogues of special collections around the world. And, that is what I did, for half the day I dealt out index cards onto a frame (21 to a page I think), slapped on a printed page header, clicked the camera, changed the header, swept up the cards, and replaced them with the next batch. The other half of the day I sat at a circular table, turned by a foot pedal, and pulled out folded pages that were then stacked--one signature to a stack. That alternated with running a folding machine which folded these pages in half.

(A web note here: Using these books, a researcher could "browse the stacks" of world famous collections without actually going to the library. Needless to say, this was doomed by the Internet (closed in 1993). And, interestingly, while there are myriad G. K. Hall publications referenced on the web, there is no history of this niche publishing firm, which certainly was a significant one in the annals of American publishing.)

I worked on the fifth floor, but it was the fourth floor that interested me. There was a woman there who work with triangles, rulers, and books full of variously printed alphabets. I would make any excuse to get down there and look at her drafting table. I also learned to play the numbers--strictly a fifth floor activity! But I made enough money to get myself transported back to Brockport and to buy my textbooks for the semester. I campled outside the Financial Aid office until they gave me a student loan and a job. I finished my degree (B.S. English) in two semesters and returned to Boston, where I ended up working as an editorial assistant for Benwill Publishing, now defunct, but then a publisher of two respected technical trade journals: Electromechanical Design and Circuits Manufacturing. (Electronic History Note: we featured the first "micro chip" on one of our covers and recognized the future--this was some time in 1970.) We also featured the first HP hand-held calculator -- it could add, subtract, multipy, and divide and cost $100.00!) (After my stint here, Richard Seltzer also worked at Benwill. (If you don't know who Richard Seltzer is, you weren't one of the early adopters of the web (or maybe just too young!).

Enough for now -- I'm finding as I write this, that my working life has been connected with the electronic age from the beginning. As a result, it's taking longer than I thought to get up to the present day. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment