Mission Bell Media (MBM), a new publisher with a laser-like focus on leadership, took one step further into the public eye, debuting its official website (www.missionbellmedia.com) on April 22. MBM is the brainchild of veteran academic publisher Rolf Janke, who founded SAGE Reference, an imprint of SAGE Publications, in 2001 and led it from three titles to nearly 300 over the course of a dozen years. During that span the company racked up numerous awards, from “best” and “notable” reference accolades (starting with its first title, Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment and including titles like Encyclopedia of Leadership) to the prestigious Dartmouth Medal (Encyclopedia of Journalism and International Encyclopedia of Political Science, both honorable mentions).
“Mission Bell Media is the summation of my publishing career,” said founder and CEO Janke. It combines two passions: his own longtime study of what creates compelling leaders and his 30-plus years in academic publishing, which, he said, gave him a unique perspective on librarians leading change in academic libraries and paving the way for the next generation. Janke said these two threads, leadership and librarianship, came together in his new venture.
“MBM will have one content focus, leadership,” said Janke. “It’s generational, it’s broad.” And, he said, “it will have two types of products: one-volume, affordable reference works and a ‘Leadership in the Library’ series.” Both will be available in both print and digital formats. “Most of the titles out there are the obvious ‘how to be a leader,’ said Janke, who aims to go beyond the obvious.
With his deep background in reference, it wasn’t surprising to hear that Janke would continue to publish reference works. “I don’t care what people say about ‘reference is dead.’ If it has value and adds to the student’s research experience, then it’s relevant. The more focused you get, the more you can help a student search.” The titles are aimed at students, faculty, and librarians in academic libraries; many will cross over to public libraries as well. Though the company was only established in December 2013, it already has four titles under development for spring 2015: Sports Leadership: A Reference Guide, African American Leadership, Asian American Leadership, and Hispanic American Leadership.
Janke said he was looking at some “radical” pricing ideas, though he wasn’t ready to elaborate. “Before you can define price, you have to define value,” he said. He doesn’t put the blame for the falloff in reference sales on ebooks, as most publishers do, but on pricing. “[Reference] publishers lost their sensitivity to price vs. market vs. customer expectations. They ignored the pricing.”
“Leadership in the Library” series
In contrast to the one-volume reference titles, the library leadership books will be small paperbacks/ebooks. “Leadership is scattered all over the web. There’s a lack of information for librarians on leading within the library,” even among established library publishers, said Janke. The books will be directed at public, university/college, school, and special librarians at all levels, as well as the first- or second-year LIS student.
They will cover things you never learned in library school, like how to survive as a leader when you don’t have a background in finance, as well as topics like emerging leadership; “followership,” which goes hand in hand with leadership; mentoring; and empowering leaders. Millennials, said Janke, are very smart and technologically savvy but “perhaps more shy” about taking on leadership roles than previous generations have been. “My favorite topic right now is finding the next-generation leaders in your library,” he said.
Janke, who is based in Santa Barbara, CA, took his company’s name from the Santa Barbara Mission, one of the oldest Franciscan missions in the state, established in 1786. “I wanted to give the company name something that had a local feel,” he said. “The logo is the mission bell.”
So far, the response to MBM has been enthusiastic, said Janke, who planned to continue to meet with librarians and old publishing colleagues at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Las Vegas this June. You’ll probably see him out and about at ALA striking up those leadership conversations. “We’ll take those conversations back to Santa Barbara and create product,” said Janke.