Friday, July 15, 2011

Growing up in a literature-loving family, Karen Copp remembers family vacations with a car full of siblings, all of whom were devouring books.

“My parents would have to glance back and say, ‘Stop reading, look up,’ whenever we passed something scenic along the way,” Copp said.


Karen Copp stands in front of a window and smiles at the camera

As associate director and design and production manager at the University of Iowa Press, Copp works to enhance the physical appeal of a book, examining it from cover to cover along its eight-month journey to publication. Though Copp spends a considerable amount of time working on and overseeing cover art for books the UI Press publishes, she said many readers do not realize the time it takes to design a book’s interior. Certain typefaces and page sizes work better for specific types of writing, she said. Copp has to consider not only the look but also the feel of a book, all essential to enhancing a reader’s experience.

“Book design is really a specialized skill and there are -- especially in scholarly books -- so many pieces to the books: photos, figures, tables, maps, extracts, and multiple headings,” Copp said.

In addition to reading, Copp has always loved art, earning her BFA in studio art at the University of Texas. After college, Copp was unsure where she wanted to work, but found a job at a small print shop in

Texas. There, in addition to her work as a designer, she burned plates for the press, spent time in the darkroom with a stat camera, and learned how to operate an old clamshell press used for numbering tickets.  All these experiences, she said, laid the groundwork for understanding that technology is always changing.

In her 21 years at the Press, Copp acknowledges the technological changes that have taken place in her field, citing the e-book and e-reader as the biggest changes.

“Readers can now alter the look of the page, all the work and thought that has gone into the print edition that isn’t in the e-edition. Does that matter?” Copp said. “I think it matters.”

No matter the format, Copp remains passionate about her work and the type of literature she works on.

“I can honestly say that every book we work on is interesting and I love the variety -- from poetry to national history to short fiction and memoirs,” Copp said. “We definitely publish in areas that I don’t have the scholarly background to understand, but it’s still fun to dip into them and understand the message the author is trying to send.”