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Fifty Years of WLU Press

By Siobhan McMenemy Date: February 27, 2024 Tags: Blog

WLU Press is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What better time than an anniversary to recognize remarkable achievements and reflect on new directions for the future? 

In 1974, Norman Wagner, a scholar of Near Eastern studies and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, was instrumental in establishing the Wilfrid Laurier University Press and became its first director. In a press release dated September 20 of that year, Dr Wagner is said to have remarked that “dissemination of the results of scholarly research is vital to the life of the nation.” The release continues: “Dr Wagner noted that the WLU Press will publish books of interest not only to scholars, researchers, and students but for the educated reader in general. It will also publish books of regional interest.”

And so it has, for a remarkable fifty years. Under the subsequent directorships of Harold Remus, Sandra Woolfrey, Brian Henderson, and Lisa Quinn, our publishing programme has reflected the expansive, creative spirit press staff have embodied over the course of its history. The publishing programme, which now boasts almost 900 titles, is wide-ranging in scope, demonstrating our commitment to the scholarly community and communities of readers whose interests include new research in the social sciences and humanities as well as creative engagements with the world through poetry, cookbooks, comics, photography, and field guides. 

Over the same fifty years, technology has transformed the way we communicate and engage with one another and with the wider world. The world of university press publishing, perceived as ponderous, cautious, and slow to change, has in fact met recurring need to rethink and revise its modes and methods of editing and production, as well as its practices with respect to publishing formats and methods of printing, distribution, marketing, and promotion.

Early on, WLU Press used software developed by WLU Computing Services to handle our sales and subscription services. In 1984, the staff expanded to include a technician with publishing experience to help us move into the era of publishing from digital manuscripts. 

Subsequently, the press embraced early opportunities to experiment with developing digital formats. In 1994, we became the first university press to host a website. Journal publishing at the Press expanded in the late 90s and we were one of the first publishers in Canada to create an electronic journal, braving the new world of hyperlinked references and digital subscriptions. Likewise, WLU Press recognized early on the significant value of digitizing its backlist, an undertaking that proved vital to supporting our publishing activities and that cemented our reputation as a university press prepared to lead the Canadian industry in new digital directions.

Following these transformative undertakings, we have since become leaders in collaborative, research-based experimentation with born-digital and accessible publications. Our publications include print and electronic books (now seen as conventional, but not long ago, required a remarkable revolution from within for publishers), a book app, audiobooks, and scholarly podcasts. We continue to explore the potential of multi-modal, hybrid scholarship that pushes insistently at the boundaries of scholarly conventions and foregrounds equity and accessibility as driving principles of our work.

In 2019, we launched a series of open educational resources in the form of educator’s guides, available in print and as downloadable .pdfs on our website. That same year, we devised a peer review process for scholarly podcasts, working with our collaborator Dr Hannah McGregor on her podcast Secret Feminist Agenda.

The Press launched its audiobook list in 2020, drawing on backlist titles of general interest, each with a DAISY accessible audiobook available through NNELS (National Network for Equitable Library Service). We now have 41 audiobook titles available.

As part of our ongoing role as co-creators and collaborators of the scholarly podcast network Amplify, we supported the print and Open Access publication of Amplify’s A Guide to Academic Podcasting, by Dr Stacey Copeland and Dr Hannah McGregor (2021).

In 2022, WLU Press became a Global Certified Accessible Publisher by Benetech, then only the third university press in North America to achieve this standard. And in 2023, we created our first born-digital catalogue and enhanced the general accessibility features of our website.

Inspired by past cohorts of press colleagues, those of us calling ourselves WLU Press today—Anne Brackenbury, Maia Desjardins, Clare Hitchens, Lindsey Hunnewell, Siobhan McMenemy, and Murray Tong—are reveling in this impressive record of fifty years of scholarly publishing. In the spirit of that past, which has always led the way to the future, we’re looking forward to setting ourselves equally ambitious goals for WLU Press of the next fifty years.