To say that the last two years haven’t been what I expected when I agreed to be board chair of IBPA would be an understatement. To say that I am incredibly proud of the work this organization has done during two very challenging years would also be an understatement.
When I signed on, IBPA was relatively healthy and doing what it has always done so well: supporting and educating our members in their publishing endeavors and advocating for independent publishing. Thanks to the amazing staff and board, including former chair Brooke Warner, our membership was steady and our programs were valued. I expected to lead the board and staff to fine-tune some programs and practices, and I thought my big job would be to help establish a better system for our affiliate groups around the country.
Instead, in March 2020, right before I took over, the pandemic threw the world into turmoil. We isolated at home, with bookstores and other establishments closing their doors to stop the spread. What was expected to be a few weeks stretched into months, and life and business as we knew it was tossed into chaos. Many were paralyzed by the unknown.
But the staff and board at IBPA launched into action. Recognizing that what our members needed most was community, they started weekly roundtable discussion groups. At first the groups focused on financial support for our members’ businesses. The staff set up webpages with information about how to sign up for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The roundtables were an opportunity for members to share their successes and challenges. The networking and community, although virtual, was exactly what we needed at the time.
And then George Floyd was brutally killed in Minneapolis. Although this incident was not directly related to book publishing, it caused many to reexamine important aspects of American life and society. That was the case for IBPA as well. It motivated us to make an honest assessment of not only our organization but the publishing business as a whole. What we saw was unsettling: an industry, whether intentional or not, steeped in privilege and bias.
Once again we were spurred to action. The staff and board formed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, with the goal of developing a strategic plan to increase the diversity of IBPA but to also challenge the established publishing industry. It is my belief that independent publishers are often more facile than companies in the “Big Five,” and that we can lead the way to embracing a wider variety of voices and helping more people recognize themselves in the pages of books. The members of the task force—Seth Dellon, Karen Pavlicin, Kelly Peterson, Kristina Radke, Kathy Strahs, Victoria Sutherland, Lindy Ryan, Tieshena Davis, myself as board chair, IBPA’s CEO Angela Bole, and Director of Education and Programs Lee Wind—spent several months, first reflecting and evolving, then developing strategic goals for how to make our organization not only less biased but actively antiracist. Our goals were to examine all of our own policies and practices, but to also be an example to the industry. It was challenging but rewarding work that continues with the newly established DEI Committee made up of board members, staff, and members. The work we do will continue for years, I’m sure, but the ultimate goal is for the practices and policies to be embedded so deeply in our organization that we no longer require a committee to specifically address the work. I expect to continue to be integrally involved with this work even after I step down as chair.
As the pandemic kept on, the staff continued to find ways to support our members, including offering our members access to put their audiobooks on NetGalley; launching new consumer marketing programs; and leveraging the IBPA Bookstore Catalog to raise nearly $15,000 for the nonprofits Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) and We Need Diverse Books (WNDB). And they continued to stay on top of the government support options to share with our membership. The roundtables evolved, becoming open forums for all to share challenges and gain insight from our peers. Most importantly, we shifted to a completely virtual Publishing University in 2021, with staff seeking and adopting a conference platform they had never used before. The result was a terrifically successful 2021 Publishing University with record attendance and fantastic programming, including an added focus on the unique issues in the world at that time.
At the same time, the other committees extended their work on the issues affecting us all. The member benefits committee overhauled their evaluation criteria, adding confirmation that the companies endorsed were committed to antiracism. The editorial committee developed content that was unique to the challenges of the pandemic world. The advocacy committee tackled a number of issues, weighing in on the CASE Act, the Internet Archive proposal for access to digital copies of books, and others. They have all been responsive but also thoughtful in their recommendations.
The work I’m most proud is the reflection upon and sharpening of our core values and ethics. Instead of assuming that all members are familiar with these values, we now require explicit acknowledgement by any person or company who joins or renews their membership with IBPA.
This has led to some challenging but necessary actions that we felt we must take in order to be true to our values and to make IBPA a safe and welcoming community for any and all. We’ve put in place a procedure for reporting and acting on any discriminatory or inflammatory content published by one of our members. We adopted a clear and detailed definition of hate speech and discriminatory content. I need to emphasize that these processes have involved hour and hours of discussion, debate, and reflection by staff, committee members, and board members. No hasty decisions were made, but instead I am grateful for the depth of reflection and consideration by every person involved, reaching unanimous commitment to our policies and procedures. We know that this work is the right thing for IBPA, for publishing, and for the world.
During a time when other organizations have struggled, I am so proud that we have grown to the largest membership we’ve had in years. This led to a much-needed organizational overhaul, more clearly defining the roles of each staff member, and welcoming Adeline Liu as the new director of marketing and communications.
As we learn to live in the new pandemic reality, we have much more work to do, and I am sure that new challenges will arise. I could not be more confident that this organization will continue to thrive as I hand over the reins to Karen Pavlicin—who has been such a strong support for all the years I’ve been on the board—to the continuing and incoming members of the board, and to the outstanding and committed staff.
Indeed, the last two years were in no way what I had expected, but at the same time so much more than I had imagined. It has been said that you can evaluate the health of an organization by how it handles adversity. By that measure, I am honored and humbled by this outstanding organization.