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Technology and Scholarship at UMI

One of the miracles of our time is that more information is available on more subjects to more people than at any time in history. We have not only developed technologies unimaginable to times past, but, having created them, we have put them to use in countless ways. In some countries only the state makes ultimate decisions on the deployment of technology. In a democracy, such fundamental judgments are left to the discretion of people-at-large and limited only by available resources and by the imaginative powers of man.

In Michigan, one company especially has made a unique contribution to research and learning. Through its efforts, the modern resources of microfilm and computers have been put to work in the cause of disseminating information, not about any narrow or parochial discipline, but about the entire gamut of learning. This is the story of UMI, University Microfilms International.

In the thirties, Eugene B. Power, the son of a medical doctor, having graduated from the University of Michigan with an M.B.A., was working as marketing manager for an Ann Arbor publisher and printer, Edwards Brothers. In his work, Power became increasingly aware of the need for short-run publication. As the world was becoming more complex and specialized, in-depth information about a growing number of subjects was being sought by a market which, though numerically small, was incredibly multi-faceted. How could these many small markets be adequately serviced? The evolving technology of the time seemed to provide an answer, and one principal component of it was microfilm.

In 1938, Eugene Power founded University Microfilms International. His concept was so ambitious and his vision so vast that he must surely have faced many doubters in a tough and skeptical world which was struggling to free itself of global depression and girding itself for yet another armed confrontation. Gene Power wished to make available every English-language book published from the invention of printing to 1700. That project alone took some thirty years to complete. Moreover, he wanted to give students and researchers ongoing access to every doctoral dissertation in every discipline from American universities, beginning with the year 1880. And he thought that he could establish the world's first "demand publishing" facility, i.e. producing only material specifically requested.

New Books in Musicology

Serendipitously, rather than putting an end to Power's idealistic projects, World War II immediately provided a wider testing ground than even he had dreamed of. Drafted into the Army's Office of Strategic Services, Power was sent to England and put to work microfilming rare documents at the British Museum. Micrographics, it was realized, would provide at reasonable cost a safeguarded store. Power, described as "a renaissance man" by former Editor-In-Chief of UMI's Research Press, Richard T. Wood, kept finding new uses for new developments. Images projected on ceilings, he thought, would enable bed-ridden persons to read. He began to think about applying micrographics to serials and periodicals. After the War, Power became active in a number of learned societies, discovering their needs, and investigating new ways of applying modern technology to the wider dissemination of data. "He's a mover and shaker," says Wood. "He knows an awful lot of people among the illuminati and intelligentsia. He's used his influence wisely and to the benefit of education and culture in general." UMI grew, both as a labor of love and as a business venture.

The late chairman of the board of Xerox, Joe Wilson, described as "a friend and kindred spirit" of Eugene Power, came to Ann Arbor one day to see some of the new machines and techniques in use at UMI. The visit led to Xerox's acquiring UMI, assuring a continuity which Power thought desirable, together with the enormous potential arising from the merger by way of shared resources. It was, in 1962, Xerox's first corporate acquisition.

Today, UMI's principle areas of activity are Dissertations, Serials, Out-of-Print Books and Research Collections.

Most universities make available to UMI the dissertations granted under their auspices. (There are some exceptions: Harvard assigns dissertations on a school-by-school basis; the University of Chicago and USC have their own reproduction facilities. However, even the exceptions furnish basic bibliographic information to UMI for inclusion in their data base.) Orders are received, computer-processed, the microfilm taken from the vaults, the dissertation reproduced either on microfilm, microfiche, or paper, and usually put in the mails, invoice and all, within five working days, an astonishing feat when one keeps in mind that one is dealing not with two or three hundred books, but with three or four million line items. So enormous is the volume of available data that UMI publishes two abstract journals, Dissertation Abstracts International and Masters Abstracts. These author-prepared concise summaries are effective content keys which are easily accessed through the application of the most modern computer technology and bibliographic methods. The most definitive reference source, however, is the Comprehensive Dissertation Index, containing information on almost every doctoral dissertation accepted in North America between 1861 and the present.

Librarians throughout the world have had to grapple with the problem of periodical access and storage. For one thing, they are perishable, the paper used not designed for indefinite wear. Moreover, a missing issue reduces the impact of the entire set. Most significant, of course, is the storage problem, the librarian's perennial bane. UMI's serial publishing program has been a great aid in making periodicals available on microform requiring less than one-tenth the space of bound volumes, and in many cases costing less than binding current volumes. By arrangement with publishers, no microfilming is done until serials are at least one year old. The 1980-81 catalogue of serials in microform takes up over 900 pages. In music alone, the alphabetical subject listing contains no fewer than 292 serials from A M (Adult Music) to Your musical cue and ranging back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection now contains some 13,000 serial titles, over 7,000 of which are currently being published, and new titles are being added constantly.

Another major dimension of UMI's activities is the publication of books and collections. The research collections in microform are considered an essential resource for academic and professional research in a wide variety of disciplines. The UMI Research Press makes available in hardbound, handsomely published volumes some outstanding titles in five general areas: business, studies in American history and culture, fine arts, musicology, and computer science. Although a few titles actually originated as books, the great majority is dissertation-based. Each series has an editor who is principally responsible for the selection of material. This is a formidable task, considering the number of dissertations and manuscripts produced annually.

In musicology, George Buelow of Indiana University has been at the editorial helm, managing an admirably balanced publications program. Some titles are very specific (Adrienne Fried Block's The Early French Parody Noël, Sharon Winklhofer's Liszt's Sonata in B Minor: A Study of Autograph Sources and Documents); some more general (Deane L. Root's American Popular Stage Music, 1860-1880, Barbara Russano Hanning's Of Poetry and Music's Power: Humanism and the Creation of Opera). Many studies are devoted to music of the past; but several focus on our own century, e.g. Rita H. Mead's Henry Cowell's New Music, 1925-1936, Alan P. Lessem's Music and Text in the Works of Arnold Schoenberg: The Critical Years, 1908-1922. UMI considers their printings as "short run," but print runs may vary depending on expected sales. A book of such wide general interest, for example, as Kim Kowalke's Kurt Weill in Europe would be issued in larger numbers, but some books, like Barbara A. Petersen's Ton und Wort: The Lieder of Richard Strauss, have been in such surprising demand that they have had to be reprinted within a short time of their original publication.

Because all books are published in limited editions compared to standard trade books, they are costly to produce, resulting in fairly high prices. Moreover, UMI cannot offer the same discount structure to dealers as trade publishers, thus creating a certain distribution problem. However, the UMI staff is geared to promoting their products on their own, relying heavily on direct advertising and mailing. The market, after all, is not as amorphous as the far larger market for trade books, and it is fairly easy to quantify and reach. By far the largest single component of UMI's market is institutional rather than individual.

UMI is particularly interested in seeing that rights are protected, and they go to some lengths to offer writers all the protection which the copyright law allows. Authors receive royalties on sales, including sales from demand dissertations. Some writers choose to restrict access to their work, but the bibliographic information on their thesis is captured in the database. Publishers also earn royalties on the sales of their periodicals and books through their licensing agreements with UMI.

Detailed information and constantly updated catalogues are available on request from University Microfilms International, 300 North Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, telephone (313) 761-4700.

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