Natural History

Happy 50th Birthday Otago University Press

In 1993, when the University of Otago Press moved the distribution of its books to HarperCollins, one of their sales representatives was heard to say: 'Real books – not mass trash!' By then, the Press has been publishing books for scholars and occasionally the wider community for thirty-five years, with the Press established in 1958 and the imprint first used in 1959. Initially a part-time unpaid task performed by the University Librarian, with limited technologies and producing modest monographs, the Press appointed a full-time Managing Editor in 1993, and now has staff, spacious quarters, website, international distribution and an expanding and diverse list of publications.

Many of these developments followed ongoing technical changes in the book and print trades. Photo-setting and galley-proofs were eventually replaced by direct-imaging, and production time-frames were compressed. Communication methods between the publisher, editors, authors, designers, production-editors, printers, distributors and retailers have also changed dramatically.

The role of the Press has also changed. Slim publications, often used as presentation copies or sold at a nominal cost, have given way to substantial works, many illustrated in colour, that are sold beyond the academic environment. Books are printed in Hong Kong as well as New Zealand, and there is a greater emphasis on marketing books through distributors, local and overseas conferences and books-fests, and direct sales initiatives. In 1999, a distinctive new Press logo was created by Anneloes Douglas and in 2006 there was a subtle name change; to Otago University Press.

Crucial in the Press's development have been the University Librarians – such as Peter Havard-Williams and W. J. McEldowney – and later editors – Dr Bill Sewell, Dr Iain Lonie, Dr Helen Watson White, and Wendy Harrex. There have also been various acting editors at various times: Professors Jocelyn Harris and Alan Horsman. The Dunedin firm of John McIndoe Ltd, under the leadership of John McIndoe, was another vital component in the Press's development. Until 1993, they printed and marketed the books to the trade.

This exhibition, 'A Record of Achievement: The 50th Birthday of the Otago University Press', celebrates the Press's 50th birthday. It offers an overview of the wide variety of publications produced, those involved in the making of the books, including the authors, the editors, and the book designers, and those events that have shaped its development. Unless stated, all the books on display are published by the Otago University Press. Although selective, it represents a proud achievement. Long may the Press flourish.

Special thanks to W. J. McEldowney, John McIndoe, Helen Watson White, Wendy Harrex and her staff, and all the authors and designers who responded kindly to my queries.

Donald Kerr, Special Collections Librarian, December 2008


A variety of books published by Otago University Press. Please feel free to visit the exhibition next door and view 'A Record of Achievement: The 50th Birthday of the Otago University Press', which will run to 27 March 2009.

Also, please feel free to view full contact and publication details about the Otago University Press on their website:




Full List of Books on Display

Print Logo