Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gale Research Company History

This is a detail of a brochure that accompanied a set of reproductions of illustrations of early libraries distributed by the Gale Research Company at the 1965 American Library Association Conference in Detroit. It is from my collection of librariana.

I recently received a review copy of the book “Knowledge Is of Two Kinds…” A Short History of the Gale Research Company and Its Advancement of the Second Kind 1954-1985 by John Tebbel and edited and amended by James M. Ethridge. The Gale Research Company developed into a major publisher of reference books and information for libraries during the period covered by this book. Anyone who has ever attended a conference of the American Library Association is eternally thankful for the free shuttle buses sponsored by the Gale Research Company and its successors. I felt compelled to read the book just out of gratitude. Somewhat to my surprise I found the book to be interesting, entertaining, and well written. John Tebbel, author of A History of Book Publishing in the United States, was commissioned by Gale to write the book, but after he turned in the draft of the publication in 1984 it was never published. The manuscript was recently found and James M. Ethridge did the final editing and revisions. It has just been published by OmniData of Detroit, Michigan. The title of the book comes from the Samuel Johnson quotation: “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” The history of the Gale Research Company and the biography of Fred Ruffner, its owner, are intertwined throughout the book. Ruffner is treated sympathetically by Tebbel but this comes across as genuine. I was immediately drawn to Ruffner who is a collector of librariana. One item that he acquired was a Cotgreave Library Indicator, a device for checking books in and out, that was designed by Alfred Cotgreave (1849-1911) while he was librarian of the Wednesbury Public Library in Staffordshire, England. Tebbel tells a great story about how Ruffner obtained the sign in front of Leary’s Book Store, a Philadelphia used book store that claimed to be “The Largest Old Book Store in America”, when it went out of business in 1968.
The Gale Research Company developed an extraordinary relationship with the American library community. The Tebbel book does an excellent job of documenting this relationship. The book will be enjoyed by those with an interest in library or publishing history. It will also be of interest to students, teachers, and practitioners of reference services. Ruffner sold Gale Research Company in 1985. He is now Chairman of Omnigraphics.


Anonymous said...

I worked at Gale Research Book Publishing Company in the 80's. If you could imagine the "perfect" place to work, Gale would be it. Until It was sold. I don't believe the sold date is correct here. Seems like it was later.

Anonymous said...

I started at Gale in 1986, and Mr. Ruffner had already sold his company. However, he remained as CEO for several years after the sale; perhaps this is what the previous commentor is thinking of.