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Publish don't perish – Instalment 1

Writing for the library literature


When Emerald approached me about starting a column on writing for publication, I was instantly excited about the opportunity. Writing for the library literature has enabled me to connect to the profession, to colleagues around the world, and with our ongoing professional conversation in varied and never-anticipated ways, and I welcome the chance to share this excitement with others. Beginning to write for the profession can be an unfortunately (and often unnecessarily) intimidating process. As with anything else, though, the more we familiarize ourselves with the tools, practices, and conventions of publishing, the more comfortable and natural the idea of participating through publication becomes. Through these columns, I'll begin demystifying the publishing process, showing how to get started, how to improve your odds of getting published, and how to interact in this new environment.

We all have something to say

Apart from writing for the professional literature, we all benefit from reading the professional literature – and the more varied voices that are willing to participate, the richer and more interesting our literature becomes.

Many potential and newer librarian authors falter originally under the belief that they have nothing new to contribute. For most of us, nothing could be further from the truth! We are all both professionals and practitioners, and can approach our writing from either angle. Whether you write about how you and your library carried out a successful programme, start out small by writing book reviews or conference reports, create your own weblog, contribute a short article to an online newsletter, or conduct and write up the results of a lengthy medthodologically-strict research project, you are adding your voice and helping others learn from your experiences and insights.

As professionals, we make a habit of sharing with others through conferences, e-mail lists, workshops, or just one-on-one conversations with colleagues. Writing for the literature is just another way of participating that helps formalize these discussions and make them accessible to both your current colleagues and future researchers.

Why write?

As budgets shrink, technology changes, and demand increases for our programmes and services, we generally have no problem keeping ourselves busy. The question then becomes: why take time out of our busy schedules to contribute to the profession through writing for publication?

Reasons for writing vary as much as librarians themselves. You may be required to write for peer-reviewed journals in order to gain tenure or promotion in your academic institution. You may want to share the results of a successful programme or service that your library has implemented, or may be required to write these results up as a requirement of a granting body. You may want to enhance your resume as you think about moving up the career ladder; you may like to see your name in print; you may be encouraged to publish by colleagues or administrators – or, you may just enjoy the process of writing itself!

In any of these cases, your main reason for writing should be to share your enthusiasm for the profession, connecting with colleagues through your publishing activities. You may in time establish yourself as an expert on a certain aspect of librarianship, finding your own niche, or you may use your writing as an opportunity (or excuse!) to research and to inform yourself about a variety of subjects. Either way, you stretch yourself professionally, keeping informed and involved.

If you want to write, start by reading

No, I'm not trying to resurrect the idea that all of us joined the profession because we loved books, and that we somehow spend our days poring over obscure volumes in some musty back room. But in order to keep up with changes in our profession and to find fodder to spark our own imaginations, we do need to devote time each day to our professional reading. In order to see what others have already suggested and to find gaps where our ideas might fit, we need to make a commitment to keeping current with the literature in our areas of interest. (This will make you, not only a better author, but a better professional!)

Your professional reading here of course ranges from association publications, to magazines and journals in your areas of expertise and interest, to online venues such as e-mail discussion lists, newsletters, and blogs. Our opportunities for learning about our profession and for expanding our own knowledge are endless, and each of these venues also provides a potential outlet for your own work.

As you read, let others' work trigger your own ideas. Ask yourself questions while you read: How would you respond to someone else's article, build on the author's ideas, or spin off on a tangent? What additional topics do you wish your favourite journal would cover? Why has no one done a study on a recurring topic in the library-related news? What warrants a closer look or would benefit from an alternative viewpoint? The more you train yourself to think about the literature as an ongoing conversation, the more clear it becomes that everyone does have something to contribute.

What's next?

In later columns, I'll be discussing more specific ways of beginning – or enhancing – your library writing career, from finding an appropriate publishing outlet, to working effectively with your editor, to handling rejection, to just carving out the time to research and write. Some of these areas might come more naturally to you than others; we each have personal strengths and sticking points.

In the meantime, why not take some time to reconnect with the professional literature and to spy out where there just might be a place for your voice. I'll look forward to hearing your side of the conversation!