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Stanford Report, April 12, 2000

Staffers reach a pinnacle with release of book

As avid climbers, John Rawlings and Glen Denny have scaled many a mountain. But they practically had to move one to publish a book about their pet hobby.

Rawlings, a bibliographer with Stanford Libraries, and Denny, an assistant bibliographer, teamed up to produce The Stanford Alpine Club, a large picture book chronicling the 40-year history of the climbing society that phased out in the early 1980s. Published by CSLI [Center for the Study of Language and Information] Publications and Stanford Libraries, the book features text by Rawlings and photos edited by Denny.

And while reading a book on work time is a fantasy for most people, Rawlings was actually able to write his while on the job. His book selector/bibliographer role requires that he occasionally stage library exhibits that fall within his areas of responsibility, such as travel and exploration literature. He also conducts selection duties for philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, medieval studies, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Rawlings was looking for a new project and one presented itself -- in the form of a three-year endeavor that, like a rough climb, was fraught with challenges and breakthroughs.

"I am a lifelong mountaineer and grew up with the stories and photographs of some of the people in the book -- it was a happy convergence of opportunity and interest," Rawlings says.

With 208 pages that feature 178 duotone photographs and illustrations, the book doubles as the catalog for an exhibit of Stanford Alpine Club history that will open May 13 in the Bing Wing of Green Library. Also on that day, a film festival about the club will begin at 2 p.m. in Cubberley Auditorium.

"We put in as much time as we could without neglecting our work," Rawlings says.

Established in 1946 by three World War II veterans, the Stanford Alpine Club (SAC) in the 1950s became one of America's top mountaineering clubs. Its coeducational membership distinguished it from well-established eastern clubs. SAC members, who would go on to climb the highest peaks, contributed to the development of Yosemite rock-climbing techniques "and helped carry the lessons learned to the world's great ranges."

Early mornings found Rawlings and Denny hunkered over their research materials at some big table in the east wing of Green Library, since Rawlings' office space was too small for them to spread out materials. They'd ensconce themselves in reference rooms and adjourn in early afternoon when the noise and drop-in traffic peaked with visitors. "We didn't want them to touch the stuff," Rawlings recalls.

The "stuff" included hundreds of photographic images taken by Tom Frost, Henry Kendall and Leigh Ortenburger that were on loan to them.

Denny, a former filmmaker and winemaker, assembled the collage of prints that make up the back cover in the social science room of the Bing Wing. It was not Denny's first publishing venture. In the 1960s, he worked on a marketing journal for the Sierra Club.

At times, it seemed Denny and Rawlings were seeing too much of each other. "The potential for creating tension in something like this is great -- kind of like climbing," Rawlings says, adding, "except this went on forever."

The three-year book adventure took them through unfamiliar terrain -- such as fundraising and publishing mazes. "We had our fingers in all aspects of it at different times," Denny recalls. But along the trail, peers joined them for a spell here and there.

"At almost every point there were staff members helping," Rawlings says.

In the initial stages, University Archivist Margaret Kimball authorized an oral history assignment of former SAC members. She then linked up Rawlings with the Stanford Historical Society, which gave him space in its magazine, Sandstone & Tile, to write about the club and solicit information about it from its readers. There was good response, and Rawlings embarked on scores of interviews with older SAC members who were "so fascinating and passionate."

Money Rawlings earned for a story about SAC that appeared in Stanford magazine went into the kitty for graphics work. Until the book project, Rawlings said his brushes with design and presentation were "amateurish," restricted to making posters and fliers on how to find things in the reference section of the library. For the book he learned how to use QuarkXPress, a desktop publishing application "that allows you to do more."

One former SAC member, the late Henry Kendall, who had been a researcher in physics and an assistant professor here before moving to Boston, traveled to Stanford to meet with Rawlings. Kendall also organized former SAC members in a pledge drive that secured part of the funding for the book project. Other funding for the book came from the library's revolving exhibits catalog fund. The 1,000 copies printed will be distributed and sold (for $39.95 each) by Dikran Karagueuzian, a research scholar with co-publisher CSLI -- a duty Rawlings and the library are pleased to pass on. "We're not set up to sell and distribute -- it's a real hassle," he says.

Becky Fischbach, a library exhibits designer and graphic artist, helped with the magazine articles and volunteered one of her computers and part of her workspace. Well into the project, they discovered Malgorzata Schaefer, who works in the Eastern European area of the library, was the wife of their Brisbane printer, who had been referred to them by Joel Leivick, a lecturer in the Art and Art History Department.

Schaefer graciously consented to serve as a courier, helping Rawlings and Denny save time on the road. The Phelps/Schaefer Lithographic Co., which does pre-digital work, was able to reproduce the crisp black and white prints in the book. The shop cut them a lot of slack, allowing them to make changes without assessing extra fees. "We know you're amateurs -- we'll see what we can do," was a common refrain.

Rawlings, a native of Washington, earned undergraduate and master's degrees in history and librarianship at the University of Washington. Denny, who grew up in the Central Valley, earned bachelor of arts and master of fine arts degrees from San Francisco State University.

The Stanford Alpine Club can be ordered from CSLI Publications via its website at SR