We talked to Purdue University Press Director Justin Race about navigating a university press though a pandemic, what the last year has taught us, and what he’s concentrating on as 2021 begins.
Q: What was/is it like directing a university press in the midst of a pandemic?
Justin Race: Strangely, the suddenness of it was a blessing. There was no time to form committees or to debate. One week COVID-19 was a possibility still seemingly far away. The next week it felt like something really could happen that impacted us directly. The week after that we were working remotely. Necessity is a good motivator, and we addressed whatever challenges that came up as they emerged. Nearly a year later, it feels more “normal” to be working from homes than it would be to report to the office. I’m most grateful that I’m blessed with a flexible, understanding, and patient staff. It was an all-hands-on-deck, do-what-needs-to-be-done shift. Everyone pitched in.
Q: Has this past year substantially changed any of your views on running a university press, big or small picture?
Race: Some of us miss the energy and comradery of being physically together. Others enjoy the flexibility of working from home. At the end of the day, we have a job to do, wherever we’re doing it, and I’m proud of my team that we are getting it done. I’m also grateful that we work in an industry where that is possible. Most authors we publish I will never actually meet in person—everything can be done digitally, and we publish authors who live all around the world. It’s odd, but it turns out the same is true for staff: we may only be a few miles from one another, but it’s possible to do almost everything digitally and remotely. Personally I don’t feel that’s ideal, but it’s good that it’s possible.
Q: What kind of effect does the pandemic have on your vision for Purdue University Press and the whole university press world going into 2021?
Race: Nobody likes uncertainty, and of the many ills that COVID-19 has brought, uncertainty has been a constant. People speculate on what the “new normal” will be after the pandemic passes—I have no idea, and for the sake of running a press as well as my mental health, I try to focus on the immediate. What needs doing now? What challenges can we overcome? What’s most pressing? Authors write, readers read, publishers publish. That was true before COVID-19, is true during COVID-19, and it will be true after COVID-19. Though there’s much uncertainty, the pursuit of knowledge and importance of a marketplace of ideas are certain. Though so much has changed over the past year, it’s just as important to remind ourselves what hasn’t changed.
Q: What are some ways that Purdue University Press is unique?
Race: We’re a small group and we’ve been together for a long time. We know each other well and we trust one another. The intimacy of our group has always fostered a shared mission and common purpose—there are no silos, and every employee has a seat at the table and a voice. That’s essential at all times, and it’s bond that COVID-19 cannot break.
Thank you so much to Justin for his time. You can find some other blog posts by our director here: