In 1891, his first year as curator of the newly founded Provincial Museum, John Fannin published a Check List of British Columbia Birds. Since then, our museum has produced thousands of books, papers, pamphlets and other documents about its collections, research and activities. This week, I sat down to chat with Royal BC Museum publisher Gerry Truscott…
Melaina Haas: Tell it to me straight – what’s the history of the Royal BC Museum publishing department?
Gerry Truscott: It really started in 1942 with Clifford Carl, a former curator. He published the first handbook which was Fifty Edible Plants of British Columbia by G.A. Hardy. That was the first time the museum published for the general public.
The first Royal BC Museum book published
for the general public (25 cents? A steal!)
MH: And what does a museum publisher actually do?
GT: I guess you could divide it into three main categories. One would be working on books that we’re going to publish – right now I’m working on a book called Return to Northern BC, which is one of Frank Swannell’s photo journals. The second thing I do is what I call “routine work,” all those regular administrative things. And the third major thing I do is editing material for other departments – mostly exhibitions. For instance, I either rewrote or edited all the text for Behind the Scenes.
MH: How did you end up at the Royal BC Museum?
GT: I used to work for a small publishing company called Press Porcepic – I edited my first book in 1984. I did three work terms in a row there because they were desperate for students. Then I applied for the job at the museum – and got it. That was 1989… 21 years later and here I am!
MH: What kind of books do you publish? Are they all written by museum staff?
GT: We publish in three main areas: history; First Nations art and culture; and natural history. Oh and I guess there’s a fourth category: museum stuff. That is, exhibits-related books. When it comes to books, it’s about 50/50 [written by] museum staff and outsiders. I count research associates as staff.
MH: Are you a writer?
GT: Yes. I’ve written about six or seven short stories, a bunch of non-fiction articles and then the Free Spirit: Stories of You, Me and BC book.
Gerry with his Free Spirit book
MH: If you were a font, which one would you be?
GT: Definitely not Arial. If I was a font… I’d be Palatino.
MH: Ah, my favourite!
GT: Just because it’s elegant and functional.
MH: Like you?
GT: Yeah… And it’s a little bigger than it should be.
MH: What’s one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring publisher?
GT: Just really know what you’re getting into.
MH: Please channel your inner Emily Carr and express (in sketch-form) a “day in the life of a Royal BC Museum publisher.”
GT: A day in the life of a publisher?
MH: Yes. And you have less than one minute.
Sketch by Gerry: Why I Work With Words
MH: Do you have an afterword?
GT: I really enjoy my job. I get to be a bit of an expert on certain things for a little while… makes for good party conversations. It’s helped me out a lot in my own writing – and in my own personal life to some degree. It’s kept me active, mentally active.
MH: Thanks for talking to me today, Gerry.
For more information about the Royal BC Museum publishing department, visit us online.