UT Press Library Launches from Bespoke Bookstand at FILUNI
- Oct 16, 2023
- Global Engagement and Strategy
- Ellen Stader
Editor’s Note: This story is part of Texas Global’s series on The University of Texas at Austin’s leadership and activities at FILUNI 2023, a multinational book festival and conference that took place Aug. 29-Sept. 3 in Mexico City. The largest Longhorn delegation in history — more than 140 people representing 23 units — traveled to the event, which attracted 42,000 attendees from 11 countries.
When thousands of readers walked into FILUNI 2023, likely the first thing they saw was the University of Texas Tower — or a 13-foot replica, at least — backlit in burnt orange, rising from the UT Austin bookstand in its honored space at the center of the exhibit hall on the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
Next, they probably saw a thousand-plus books arranged enticingly on curved orange-and-white bookshelves, offered for sale by the University of Texas Press, which headquartered at the stand and anchored the festival’s liveliest meeting spot.
UT Press has participated in FILUNI since the book festival’s inaugural year in 2017. At the annual conference, the international publisher introduces hundreds of university librarians and readers from across Latin America to a vast array of books and journals covering topics that include the history, culture, arts and environment of Texas, as well as Latin American and Latinx studies.
Established in 1950, UT Press has published more than 3,000 books over six decades, currently producing approximately 100 new books and 13 journals each year, with authors from around the globe. It issues both commercial and scholarly work, including the results of original research conducted at UT Austin as well as across the United States, Latin America and the world.
“UT Press started attending FILUNI in its very first year, and over several subsequent years, the event has become an important part of our institutional calendar,” said UT Press Director Robert Devens. “For a publisher with such deep offerings on Mexico and Latin America, FILUNI has been a great match for us — a way to meet those who use our books, whether students or librarians, and to explore partnerships for licenses and translations that will further disseminate our work.”
These relationships with academic publishers, librarians and their audiences are paramount for many segments of UT Press, including the scholarly journals program, whose electronic and print journals reach more than 120 countries and feature work by authors from more than 40 countries.
The international rights program, which licenses translation rights for books from the UT Press catalog to be offered in Spanish, is a major aspect of press business, much of which is transacted at FILUNI and similar international book events.
“Our goal has always been to go out there and try to find new collaborations, new relationships with university presses in Latin America,” said Angelica Lopez-Torres, international rights manager at UT Press. “FILUNI has expanded our reach with those editors, those publishers.”
UT Press staff participated in several events during FILUNI, including the Longhorn welcome ceremony, the awarding of the Rubén Bonifaz Nuño recognition (bestowed by host university UNAM to recognize a distinguished career in publishing) and the breakfast for university librarians at the National Botanical Gardens on the UNAM campus. At the latter, Devens, Lopez-Torres and Journals Manager Chris Farmer gave an overview of the functions and features of UT Press.
Farmer informed the audience about UT Press’ journals division and its parallels with topics addressed in the books division. “Librarians at UNAM and in Latin America know that we do multilingual language journals in the field, but I don't think they knew all the other titles and subjects we cover in Latin America ... music, culture, information, all those topics.”
Lopez-Torres detailed UT Press’ pivot into the digital landscape during the pandemic, when the publisher expanded its online operations to offer digital collections to university libraries so they could better serve students no longer on campus. She described several of the platforms that now allow the press to reach libraries all over the world, expanding its reach to a global market.
Devens presented a slideshow detailing the many areas of the globe from which the authors originate and also where the press maintains sales representation. He emphasized the press’ international scope and breadth of constituencies, which distinguish UT Press from many other university presses.
Audience response was so enthusiastic that later at the bookstand, the sales staff wondered if librarians would buy out the entire UT Press stock before the conference’s first days were finished.
In previous years, logistical and space considerations had limited the number of books the press could sell at FILUNI, but this year was different. With the University’s leadership in the event and its status as guest of honor, UT Press was empowered to expand its offerings dramatically. The publisher proudly showcased 600 of its titles, offering more than 1,100 volumes for purchase among the 20,000 available at the festival.
“When we’d go to a regular scholarly conference — and we do dozens a year — on average, we would bring about 50 titles and display them all on one small table,” Devens said. “It’s safe to say that the number of books sold [at FILUNI this year] was 10 times what we would expect to sell at most scholarly conferences we attend.”
In keeping with this expansive scale, the University’s custom-built bookstand performed like a true showstopper, with the UT Tower image rising to a burnt-orange ring that loomed above the tall windows, offsetting the bespoke bookshelves and illuminated display cases beneath. The bright, circular space quickly became a popular photo backdrop for thousands of conference attendees.
The bookstand’s bustling lounge also served as an ideal gathering space for meetings between colleagues and dozens of impromptu conversations. Visitors enjoyed daily slideshows with information about UT Austin’s campus and pride points, conference sessions and featured books. And seven UT Press authors offered book-signing sessions there throughout the week, which thrilled their readers and fans.
“Most of our top sellers were books by UT faculty — including a few who were not present, but definitely all of the authors who were there,” said Devens.
One of those authors, Celeste Gonzalez de Bustamante, presented her book, “Surviving Mexico: Resistance and Resilience Among Journalists in the Twenty-first Century” for scholars and readers, including several local students who followed her from the reading to the signing table.
“One of the best parts of the book signing was meeting students from local high schools,” said Gonzalez de Bustamante, noting that it may have been the first time the students had heard someone speak about journalism. “They were very interested in the topic and asked wonderful questions.”
She also noted her appreciation for the chance to present her work in Mexico, to members of her primary audience. “Our book is about a dire situation that many journalists face in Mexico,” she said, “so I was grateful to have the opportunity to present our work to a Mexican audience, which is very informed about the subject and understands the importance of the issue of press freedom.”
The chance to witness these types of interactions — which occurred frequently during the week — was a chief benefit of utilizing the UT Press bookstand as both gathering place and collegial resource. The phenomenon of authors and readers spontaneously sharing ideas is a clear measure of success, said Devens.
“That's related to the book. For us, it's all part of the same package. It doesn't get captured in sales, but it's part of how we measure the success of what we're doing,” Devens said.
“How are we reaching the next generation, not just with the physical book itself but through an author voicing the ideas in that book? What’s so gratifying about an event like this is that we can see these exchanges happening and experience them firsthand.”