Our day out in Oxford

Blackwell'sLast week, Tommi, Ellie and I travelled up to Blackwell’s headquarters in Oxford.  We started the day with a visit to the library services offices and a tour of their warehouse and then we spent the afternoon visiting Blackwell’s flagship shop in Oxford city centre.

Those of you who regularly read our blog may have read my post about Tommi and my trip to YBP last spring (you can read it here if you missed it!).  Like YBP (who supply our North American customers), one of Blackwell’s main jobs is to supply university libraries around the world with the books they want as seamlessly as possible.  First we met with Anne Davies and Sarah Saunders. Anne is our main contact at Blackwell’s and she makes sure that everything is running smoothly between us and them (which thankfully it is!), while Sarah is the buyer for all our titles. Sarah receives title information from us and decides which and how many of our books she thinks libraries will order from Blackwell’s.

Once the books have been ordered and published, they then arrive in their warehouse where Blackwell’s team of 4 profilers are busy at work.  They use exactly the same system as YBP (which I described in the post mentioned earlier) and between the 4 of them they catalogue 20,000 titles a year – that works out at approximately 20 minutes per book.  This demonstrates just how important it is that the blurbs, the contents page and introduction etc set out clearly what the book is about and who might be interested in it, as not long is spent cataloguing each book.  The categorisation of the book by the profilers then determines which libraries automatically purchase the book, and which receive a slip informing them that they might be interested in buying it.

Tommi and Ellie outside Blackwell's bookshop
Tommi and Ellie outside Blackwell’s bookshop

After the introduction to the work of the profilers we then moved into the main warehouse, from which books are shipped all around the world.  One of Blackwell’s main aims is to ensure that the processing of orders is done as quickly as possible and they have several processes which help them to achieve this.  Firstly, the system is fully automated and so books are scanned and checked at many steps along the way.  This minimises errors and means that they know exactly where every book is at any given time.  Last year they processed over 1 million books, and only 13 went missing, which is quite an achievement!  Secondly, they have a good relationship with the bookshop in Oxford, and a van whizzes between the shop and warehouse 4 times a day.  As the bookshop is so well-stocked the likelihood is that either the warehouse or bookshop will have a copy of the books that a library wants, so they can get hold of the book quicker than the warehouse alone would manage.

One of the really interesting areas of the warehouse was the section in which books are packed and processed according to each individual library’s specification.  So, for example, a library might ask for the books to be covered, stamped with their logo, stickered on the spine, or any number of usual or unusual requests be carried out.  The team of workers have a folder in which each university library has given its specifications and they must ensure that all books are adapted to the precise requirements demanded by the university, as once the books are stamped they are, of course, only suitable for that one library.

Bilingualism and Language Education books - how many Multilingual Matters books can you spot?
Bilingualism and Language Teaching books – how many Multilingual Matters books can you spot?

Once we’d finished our tour and enjoyed lunch at Blackwell’s canteen we headed into Oxford city centre to the bookshop.  Blackwell’s boasts one of the largest collections of books available for purchase in the UK and so the bookshop is quite impressive, and is one of a very few shops where you can walk in and find many of our titles on the shelves.  Here’s a photo of the bilingualism and language teaching section, I wonder how many of our books you can spot (there are quite a few!).

We met with the buyers of the linguistics and tourism departments and discussed how they choose which of our titles to stock and how best to send them information about our forthcoming titles.  It was lovely to see the wide array of titles on their shelves and it was really quite difficult to tear ourselves away!

As you’ll gather from the length of this post, we really enjoyed our day and found many aspects of the way in which Blackwell’s work fascinating.


Tommi and Laura’s US Travels

I’ve just got back to the office after two and a half weeks in the US. Here’s a little round-up of what kept Tommi and me so busy in Boston, Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.

Yankee Book Pedlar

Our first meeting of the trip was with Yankee Book Pedlar, a US library supplier, in Contoocook, New Hampshire. While Tommi had visited before, this was my first visit and so they kindly gave us an overview of how they work. I especially enjoyed being shown how the books are profiled, and was amazed to hear that a team of fewer than 10 log over 60,000 books a year. These titles are profiled so as to ensure that university libraries get books that they are interested in, and only the books that they might want. The profiling is done with the book “in hand”, so the staff get to look at a large and diverse selection of titles each day. Tommi said that if he ever retires from publishing that this might be the job for him!


After our meeting, and driving in the wrong direction for half an hour (!), we took the coastal road back to Boston and enjoyed visiting Portsmouth, which was unsurprisingly very different to Portsmouth, UK.

EBSCO's Charging Station

On arrival at EBSCO we were given a tour of the offices, and were impressed with all the measures they are taking to be eco-friendly, such as installing solar panels on the roof of their offices; providing their reps with hybrid cars and electric charging points in the car park; developing a green staff café, complete with a solar water heater and providing staff (and Tommi and me!) with re-usable travel mugs. If you’d like to read more about sustainability, EBSCO’s blog on it can be found here. Following the meeting, Tommi and I returned to Boston via Salem. Although we didn’t find any witches, we did stumble upon this incredible second-hand bookshop.

Bookshop in Salem

The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conference ran for the next four days and as usual we were very busy catching up with many academics and publishers, and selling our books of course. Amongst the most popular titles were Aya Matsuda’s edited volume Principles and Practices of Teaching English as an International Language, Theory and Practice in EFL Teacher Education edited by Julia Hüttner et al and Joel Bloch’s new book Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing. We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting in Dallas and to receiving book proposals based on some of the interesting projects that we were told about.

Boston Bruins versus Tampa Bay Lightning

After the conference was over, and before leaving for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Conference in Philadelphia, Tommi and I found time to enjoy a well-deserved break: a not-so-relaxing, but very fun, evening at the Boston Bruins versus Tampa Bay Lightning Hockey match. While Tommi might maintain Finnish hockey is better (!), it was the most exciting hockey game I’ve ever seen.

On arrival in Philadelphia, Tommi barely had time to eat a cheesesteak before it was time for the TESOL conference to get underway. Our stall was very popular, giving us little time to explore the exhibition hall, and the evenings were filled by fellow publisher Caslon’s drinks reception in one of Philadelphia’s historic buildings and an enjoyable dinner with some of our colleagues from CAL. Before we knew it, it was time for Tommi to head on to Canada for AERA and for me to take a few days’ holiday in New York before returning to the UK. Watch this space for news about Tommi’s Canadian trip.