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book collecting

Alec Spencer, MRes 2014-16 (part-time)

September 25th, 2014 by Alec Spencer | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Alec Spencer, MRes 2014-16 (part-time)
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Alec SpencerWhen I told my daughter I was about to embark on the MRes course, I commented that perhaps I was getting a bit too old to take on further study. She replied, as she always has done, in a supportive way reminding me of the quotation by Mahatma Gandhi “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.  So here I am – at the start of a 27 month programme.

For those who know me they might think it a little strange to choose Publishing Studies as an interest. A life-time’s involvement with Prisons, Criminal Justice and Criminology has set me on a different path and I continue to be involved in a number of criminal justice areas – The Scottish Consortium for Crime and Criminal Justice (SCCCJ) and its thriving new e-publication under the management of Mary Munro ‘Scottish Justice Matters’; my commitment as an Honorary Professor at the School of Applied Social Science here at Stirling, and my work as a trustee of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Incidentally, through my work as a Public Appointments Adviser for the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, I have a fascinating insight into the demands and complexities of running Public Bodies in Scotland.

So where does my interest in publishing come from?  Apart from indexing a law book in my post-grad student days (first time round!), and authoring a book on sex offenders published by Jessica Kingsley, I have had little truck with the publishing industry … or so I supposed.

One hobby I did have, perhaps some would call it an obsession, was to collect Penguin books. I have done so since the late 1970’s and by the 1990’s had about 2,500 first editions (or Penguin first impressions) on shelves, but on moving house found their way into boxes. What to do with them? A conundrum. Keep or sell?  In the end, and somewhat reluctantly, I decided to sell. Selling on eBay involves photographing the books, and eventually I had swapped about half my books for a virtual collection – of images. It took a little imagination on my part, and some techy help from my son, to set up a web-site www.penguinfirsteditions.com which now boasts over 6,200 entries and over 5,600 images. This ‘story’ can be found at the tab ‘About us’. Penguins have used wonderful designers to enhance their book covers – and the covers themselves are a separate area of interest and research.

Of course, ‘Penguin Books’, and Allen Lane its founder, is a marvellous exemplar of innovation and a revolution in publishing, which also was reflected in the process of social and educational change. These little paperback books are iconic and collectable. My interest has become a little less physical – I don’t need to own the books – and more reflective about why it is that individuals collect Penguin books, and not just specific genre or series – but sometimes the whole publishing house!  I started with this exploration in May 2014, when I visited Angus Mitchell, (interview) who donated his collection to Stirling University Library and I am looking forward to continuing on the journey of discovery about publishing and Penguin book collecting.

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