Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the month “December, 2012”


I went into Manhattan today to take my computer into Tekserve and visit the Customs House for a Global Entry interview. As the ferry pulled into the dock on the Staten Island side, I noticed the flags were at half-mast.

Shortly thereafter, when I boarded the subway in Manhattan, a herd of 3rd graders (the teacher’s badge said “3rd Grade Spanish”) crowded on with me. I was sitting at the end of a bench – two boys scuffled for a space next to me, and finally out of sheer determination not to lose to the other boy, they both squeezed in with loud arguments over whose bottom touched the seat first.

A man on the next bench rolled his eyes and got up to move to another car. And I suppose I might have as well, on any other day. Probably because I am a mother, the sounds of shrieking children spike my blood pressure. When two children are shrieking, generally that means I have to do something about it, and more shrieking will inevitably ensue from one party or another (probably both).

But today, as the two little boys squeezed into the seat, I didn’t get up. Their shrieking subsided, and they both apologized to me – but continued emphatically and silently to cram and wiggle their way in. I could have gotten up to give them more space, but of course you don’t want to give kids the idea that if they are obnoxious, they win something. So I stayed put. And eventually they calmed down – we remained tightly packed, but they smiled at me and stopped wiggling.

It was a small moment, amidst plenty of other hubbub; the class was about 30 students. But I’ll hold onto it the way I held onto my Scamp last Friday. Kids are making their way in a brutal world the same way their adults are. We can all accommodate one another with some grace, and the least we can do as adults is throw some appreciation their way. They are so small, and they are trying so hard.

In Oxford

I love England. Love, love, love it. I am not sure why, except that my family is (in various strains) English, Scots-Irish and Welsh; I grew up on a steady diet of children’s literature set in London; and my parents were huge consumers of anything the BBC re-broadcast through PBS.

Also, I have these. Which were our dinner plates for every Thanksgiving, when I grew up. Which is weird!

At any rate, I haven’t been very many places in England except London-ish. So I was quite pleased to be able to go to Oxford.

Balliol College

This is at Balliol College.





I’m sure there’s a story here. But…creepy and cool.


The steps are so worn, they are rippled.


The Whomping Willow!


Some blooms even in Fall.


The students are just…students. But they are surrounded by all this ancient-ness.


Dumbledore’s Grave! Actually, it’s just some foundation stones from a building that went up in the 1200s.


Alice-in-Wonderland-y arches.


And a spire.


More rippled steps, and the entrance to the library. If you dare.


A final spire.



Searching for Emery Koltay

I was fortunate to be in the UK for the FutureBook 2012 conference, followed by an International DOI Foundation meeting in Oxford. While having dinner with Stella Griffiths, the Executive Director of ISBN International, and Beat Barblan, the Director of Identifier Services for Bowker (and my boss) we talked a little bit about the early days of EDI and commerce-oriented book numbering systems.

Stella brought up Emery Koltay, whom neither Beat nor I had heard of. But apparently he and David Whitaker (presumably one of the sons of “J. Whitaker & Sons,” publisher of British Books in Print as well as Whitaker’s Almanack) developed what became the ISBN. J. Whitaker & Sons eventually merged with several other companies to form BookData, and was ultimately acquired by Nielsen. Emery Koltay…worked at Bowker and eventually headed up the ISBN Agency in the US.

Which – well, apparently Emery Koltay had had enough adventures in his lifetime so that settling down to a career of what amounts to arithmancy and ancient runes was a welcome relief. This is his obituary (originally sent by Stella, and which I later found online):

Emery I. Koltay of Eastchester, NY passed away on August 23, 2012, after a long illness. He was born in the Transylvania region of Romania December 22, 1921. During WWII he escaped from several Hungarian work camps and survived the war in Budapest hiding under an assumed name. After the war he returned to Romania where he completed his education and started a family. In 1958 he was arrested by the Securitate, secret police, and spent four years in a communist prison for aiding the escape of Jews from the regime. In 1963 he emigrated with the family to the U.S. where he established himself as editor and publisher of reference books. He also took a lead in working with the library of Congress, developing and implementing the international book numbering system for U.S. publishing. Klara, his wife of sixty one years, died in 2007. He is survived by two children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Yeah, my jaw dropped too. Six years after getting out of work camps, hiding, oppression, and communist prison, he introduced ISBNs into the US book supply chain.

Apparently he continued working at Bowker (even after “retirement”) until 1996. I wish I had known him.

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