Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Bellagio Publishing Network Research and Information Center

Below is a summary of the report given to the Bellagio Publishing Network meeting in December 1999 by Philip Altbach, head of the Bellagio Publishing Network Research and Information Center, Boston, USA 1992-1999.

The Bellagio Group and the RIC were established around the same time. The impetus came from the first Bellagio conference on publishing and development, held in February 1991 at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Study Center in Italy. This meeting brought together 26 experts on publishing, publishers from developing countries, and officers of several donor groups for several days of intensive discussions. Ivan Kats of the Obor Foundation and Alberta Arthurs of the Rockefeller Foundation provided key support for the meeting, and the Rockefeller Foundation provided the sole financial support for the RIC throughout its existence. From that highly successful meeting came the Bellagio Group, some of the ideas that led to the establishment of the African Publishers' Network (APNET), the Bellagio Secretariat and the Research and Information Center.

The RIC was responsible for the first 19 issues of the Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter between January 1992 and March 1997, distributing it to around 900 people and making it available in full text on the World Wide Web from 1995. In that time it grew from eight to 28 pages, and became recognized as one of the key sources for information and discussion on publishing issues as they affect developing countries. In 1997, responsibility for the newsletter was transferred to the Secretariat in Oxford.

The Bellagio Studies in Publishing, a monograph series focusing on publishing in Africa and developing countries, has been the RIC's most important lasting contribution. The first of eleven books was published in April 1993. They were published extremely inexpensively, using the support of many experts, publishers and others in Africa, in other developing areas and in the industrialized nations. It is fair to say that the book series has added significantly to the literature on publishing as it relates to development. Typically 200 to 250 copies of each title have been mailed free to publishers, libraries and other institutions in Africa and developing countries elsewhere and to selected donor groups, with later free copies provided on request. Since 1997 commercial sales to libraries and others in the north have been handled by the African Books Collective (ABC) in England.

The RIC has been responsible for two other important benchmark volumes that have contributed to an understanding of publishing and development: Publishing and Development in the Third World, Philip G. Altbach, ed., (Oxford: Hans Zell Publishers, 1992; New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992; and Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers, 1992) and International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia, Philip G. Altbach and Edith Hoshino, eds., (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1995). With the permission of Garland Publishers, the RIC published a special edition of this encyclopedia that was made available free to publishers and others in Africa through Book Aid International.

The RIC provided information, research advice, and coordination on an informal basis for scholars, publishers, and others; also articles on publishing and development related to Bellagio work in such journals as Logos, Publishing Research Quarterly, Unesco Copyright Bulletin and The Bookseller. These articles focused attention on publishing issues and spread information concerning Bellagio concerns.

The RIC functioned on very limited funding. Core funding came from the Rockefeller Foundation, and funding in kind came from institutions. The State University of New York, from 1992 to 1995, and Boston College from 1995 permitted Philip Altbach to spend some of his research time on Bellagio activities, and Boston College was especially generous in supporting part of the salary of one graduate assistant. Access to extraordinarily inexpensive printing, and authors who were willing to accept modest or no payment for their work have also resulted in low costs.

In all cases when selecting book topics, choosing authors, and seeking advice on individual chapters, the RIC has been able to count on colleagues in Africa and Asia. While it is impossible to mention everyone who has helped, I must single out Henry Chakava, Walter Bgoya, Urvashi Butalia, Tejeshwar Singh, and Victor Nwankwo. Hans Zell deserves special thanks, not only as the publisher of the first book, but also for writing a number of articles and providing endless advice. ABC helped improve the quality and appearance of the books. On several occasions advice from APNET officers and staff concerning proposed titles and authors has been/was invaluable. We have valued several co-publishers: two titles were co-published by Sage Publications in India and East African Educational Publishers in Kenya. One was co-sponsored by the Obor Foundation.

From the outset, it was decided the 'operational' part of the Bellagio Publishing Network would be the responsibility of the Oxford Secretariat. The RIC enjoyed the support and colleagueship of Katherine Salahi throughout and was able to count on her insights, advice, and guidance. The RIC also provided an important support for the Secretariat. The RIC and the secretariat staff made a good team.

The work accomplished by the Research and Information Center (RIC) in its seven years of existence, from 1992 to 1999, has proved extremely valuable - providing a benchmark for knowledge about publishing and development issues generally and about African publishing in particular. It has focused attention on such issues as copyright, the role of African languages, the emergence of the market, women and publishing, and other central topics including, in all publications, analysis by African and third world authors. An indication of what others think of this work is found in the following comment from John Feather, who reviewed a Bellagio book in the Spring 1999 issue of Publishing Research Quarterly, 'Philip Altbach's contribution to the developed world's understanding of the book trade in the third world is immense and without parallel.' [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 31.]

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