Masters of Pantology: Publishing and Ooligan Press

I’m a recently admitted grad student at Portland State, and I spent my spring term working for Ooligan Press. On my first day at the press, I peered into the intricate, finely tuned machine that manages the day-to-day workings of the student-run publisher. Multiple departments run the gamut of the book publishing process, from acquisition to print. Within each department, tasks are assigned and the real work of the press is put into motion. There are weekly project meetings for upcoming titles, developmental workshops, and a wide array of design, editing, marketing, and social media topics to cover. What’s been so exciting about the program so far is the way in which these disparate systems work together, seemingly unphased by the monumental task of bringing ideas together and onto the page.

As an alternative to the worn-out phrase “jack of all trades,” Thesaurus.com provides a term you may never have heard of before: “pantologist.” Pantology is the systematic view of all human knowledge, and it was written about at length by a man named Roswell Park. Certainly there aren’t pantological handymen roaming the halls of Portland State, but “Oolies,” as the Ooligan staff members are called, provide a sufficient knowledge base for the development of the many systems needed to run the press.

As we all learn in the publishing program, having a varied set of skills as a professional is simply the new norm. Publishers wear many hats, writers are producing more diverse and complex work, books are being digitized, and their materiality is being called into question. That question, however, seems to be deeply rooted in a history of change and progress. To quote Millicent Weber and Aaron Mannion in Publishing Means Business,

“This work combines an understanding of the symbolic and functional significance of cultural products with investigation of the practical and political ramifications of the real-world context in which these products are produced.”

I consider myself a photography-centric multidisciplinary artist and a conscientious dissident. I strive for innovative, collaborative ways of thinking, and I seek out those who are pushing culture forward. Taking an early note from Kathi Berens, assistant professor of digital humanities and publishing, I’m encouraged by the ways in which publishing technology can make a difference in our collective lives. In the digital skills course, learning to code web pages in HTML is something akin to developing black-and-white negatives. There’s a set of almost invisible information that, once parsed and prodded, creates something new. It is essential to the health of our society that we delve further into the ways in which we communicate and the ways in which content is disseminated.

Try New Things

I’ve only ever applied to two colleges in my life. Which, if you know me at all, will seem like a drastic deviance from my general personality. You might say, based on this knowledge, that I’ve “always known what I want to do” or that I’m “really good at making decisions.” The first one less than the second but really, neither apply.

My original plan, before applying to the Masters of Writing: Book Publishing program here at PSU, was to take a year off, work, and generally exist in a space other than an educational institution. I spent the spring, summer, and fall after I graduated doing just that, and if we’re being honest, I kind of hated it. Maybe it’s the structure of classes or the comradery of late nights and finals or the fact that I just really love learning, but I was ready to get back into a classroom and work toward my next goal. But mostly, it’s the fact that I value the stories we are able to share through books and that I want to be a part of that process in whatever way I can, promoting voices we don’t hear often enough.

Actually applying for the program took a long time, especially curating the writing sample and writing the personal statement, so plan ahead. (If you’re interested in knowing more about the admissions process, check out the Ooligan site here.) But once you’ve completed all the things and have been accepted into the program, what can you actually expect?

Every student’s experience is different. Yes, there are core classes that every Ooligan student has to take, but after those are done and even while you’re in them, you can start to tailor your studies to better fit your goals. For me, that means taking a lot of marketing classes and trying to do social media projects for the books I’m working on. For someone else, that might mean taking every editing or design class they can find. I think that’s one of the real strengths of this program; the ability to adapt your learning to the areas you’re interested in while still having opportunities to gain new skills in areas that might be underdeveloped or unfamiliar.

For example, I don’t really consider myself an “editor,” but I’m actively seeking out opportunities where I’m able to expand those skills. That’s probably one of the best things about this program. The ability to try new types of projects, which I highly recommend, is just one way the program prepares you for the publishing industry. Where else are you going to get an opportunity to do both marketing and editing in substantial capacities?

Aside from the general courses, it’s really the work in lab and studio that I’ve found offers the most flexibility in tasks. One week you might be sending emails to potential review outlets, the next you’re taking pictures of collateral, and the next you’re copyediting a section of an upcoming title. Even with all of these small opportunities, after a few terms, you’ll hopefully get a sense of everything you’ve accomplished. I haven’t found much, as of yet, that brings me as much joy as seeing a book I’ve worked on, even in the smallest of ways, out in the world for people to see. If you have an inkling that you too may feel this way, publishing, and, more specifically, a program like the one Ooligan offers, is right for you.