“It was very important in the early days to maintain a high level of quality and we continue this philosophy to this day” – an interview with Edward Elgar


To mark the publication of the 300th title in the International Library of Critical Writings in Economics we interviewed Edward Elgar, the founder and Chairman of Edward Elgar Publishing, to learn more about how this important book series began and its enduring popularity amongst academic reference libraries.

The first titles in the series were published 25 years ago.  What was your original vision for the series and how did the idea for the series come about?

The idea developed from a conversation I had with the great Japanese bookseller Sumio Saito in 1986.  There was a huge appetite in Japan for works that helped scholars identify the seminal research papers and much of the material was not available electronically making it difficult for libraries, particularly newer libraries to obtain important materials.

The series (together with the other Elgar reprint series) was very innovative as the articles were, and still are, reproduced using the facsimile method so they are reprinted in exactly the same form as when they were first published.  This greatly enhances the value of the series as a research resource as it retains the original pagination enabling scholars to trace references to the original published article quickly and easily. By contrast most other publishers reset the articles in a uniform style which changes the pagination with the ever present danger of introducing typesetting errors. In our experience most scholars enjoy being able to see famous articles by, for example JM Keynes, in exactly the same format as they would have appeared to his contemporaries in the 1930s.


Why do you think the series became so popular in markets, like Japan, Korea and Taiwan, where English is not the first language?

Asian countries in particular were investing heavily in higher education and much of the important economics literature was published over a large number of journals and books, that were not easy to obtain.  The scholars we invited to edit the works did a huge amount of research to identify the most important articles and our staff then sourced them from all over the world and cleared permissions.  This was highly valued by researchers and their libraries who did not have English as a first language.


Right from the start the volume editors were the leading scholars in their field.  How did you succeed in persuading so many great economists and Nobel Prize winners to publish in the series?

This is true, many important scholars have contributed to the series, including Nobel Laureates Olivier Williamson, Gérard Debreu Edmund S. Phelps and Eric S. Mankin.  We decided that if we couldn’t have the leading scholar we would not publish a book on that topic.  Very soon the reputation of the series grew and we found it was easier to persuade others to become editors.  It was very important in the early days to maintain a high level of quality and we continue this philosophy to this day.


As Major Reference Works have become less popular amongst libraries why do you think this series has continued to sell internationally?

The ILCWE series became the benchmark for Major Works and I think this is well recognised amongst librarians.  We continue to be careful to listen to our academic advisers and commission books that are relevant to current scholars.  One library described the series to me as being “doubly peer reviewed – the “creme de la creme” which is certainly true, it is often a great source of pride for a scholar to have an article included.  From a practical perspective the articles are still drawn from a large number of journals and books as well as other resources, sometimes historic documents, that a library may not have access to and so they remain an important part of any serious research library.


The ILCWE series is still published in printed book form. Looking ahead do you think digital publishing will affect the books?

This is a very good question.  Librarians tell us that the valuable articles sometimes lack visibility in the library.  We have therefore developed a complimentary online version called Research Reviews on our Elgar-online platform.  This replicates the introduction included in the print books and helps to make the books more discoverable. For instance we provide cataloging records for the electronic version with details of the chapters appearing in the print books and a link to find the print book in the library (or publishers’ websites?).  Elgar-online has proven to be very popular amongst leading libraries in the US and we have started making it available in Asia as well.

It is remarkable that the series is continuing to enjoy such a strong demand after 25 years of publishing and we hope such innovations will continue to ensure its popularity for many more.

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  1. An interview with Edward Elgar | Library and Info Services updates - April 17, 2015

    […] the publication of the 300th title in the International Library of Critical Writings in Economics . Click here to read the […]

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