EVERY YEAR since 1942, when it was established by the late Frederic G. Melcher, president of the R.R. Bowker Company, Publishers Weekly has given the Carey-Thomas awards "for a distinguished project of book publishing." The bronze plaques are highly prized, because merit alone is the criterion, not commercial success. Never has this been more poignantly pointed than in this year's honor citation to Patrick O'Connor, editor-in-chief of Popular Library, a mass market paperback house. O'Connor, balletophile, bon vivant and super dance, is addicted to good fiction in a day and age when publishing good fiction in mass market is akin to swimming upstream to spawn. Many die and lie gasping by the rocky shores, but Patrick, buoyed up by his natural optimism and by Helen Van Slyke, Popular's prolific best-selling author, goes on printing and publishing such literary lights as Margaret Drabble, Nancy Mitford, Anthony Powell, Dorothy Dunnett, Janet Flanner, Robert M. Coates and Owen Dobson, merely because he loves their work and wishes to bring it to a wide but mostly apathetic mass market.

In his acceptance speech, he recounted sadly that one of Popular Library's top sales representatives, hearing which of O'Connor's authors the Carey-Thomas celebrates, told him: "Patrick, that's the booby prize." Then, turning gleeful, O'Connor declared that nothing would hold him now. "How can they deny me anything?" He promises in the very near future the complete works of Ivy Compton-Burnett and Ada Leverson, all at paperback prices.

The other honor citation went to Princeton University Press for its Lockert Library of poetry in translation, and the main award to Basic Books and Edmund Engelman for the latter's Berggasse 19 , a remarkable book of photographs of Sigmund Freud's home and office, with text by Peter Gay.