Prior to returning to graduate school, I worked for several years as a contract writer, researcher, and editor. My largest client was the Friesens Corporation from the town of Altona in southern Manitoba. Friesens is a book manufacturer (they used to be known as Friesen Printers), not a publisher as most of us understand the term.
At their plant, ink comes in barrels and paper comes in rolls the size of a SmartCar. The plant has manufactured some of the most recognizable books on the market, including children’s books for Scholastic, and much of the Harry Potter series. They are also known for their excellent work on colour separation, so are often contracted to print and bind art and photography books, such as If you’re not from the prairie… by David Bouchard and Henry Ripplinger. If you worked on your high school yearbook, you also might recognize their footprint.
Perhaps their most enduring legacy, in terms of historical work, has been their promotion of local history production. An offshoot of their yearbook division in the early 1970s, the printing of local history books for clubs and communities has been an important aspect of Friesen’s success. My role was to rewrite and edit two how-to books, Make History and A Guide to Making History. These books operate as manuals for groups looking to produce a local history book, and offer advice on everything from finances to editing to production.
A second role involved writing a newsletter for the history book division. Entitled “Keepers of the Past,” the newsletter (currently in hiatus) offered tips, profiled Friesens history book staff, and offered articles on the nuts and bolts of publishing and promoting local history. Several of the articles were based on my MA thesis, which studied the production of local history books in Saskatchewan from 1955 to the early 1990s.
Although blogs and websites continue to offer exceptional content in local history, and most towns and villages offer historical information through their town or museum website, books continue to be an appropriate historical medium. Perhaps it has something to do with the weight of history…