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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 16

Why library literature is important

Those who want (or are required) to write for professional publication may step back at some point and ask themselves: Why is the library literature important? Let alone: Why is it important to contribute to the professional literature? When we think about the reasons why our literature is important, then we can more easily see why our contributions are necessary. When we understand the value of the literature, then we can get excited about being part of something larger than ourselves and our own institutions.

Our literature is essential for a number of reasons, but here I'll talk about four major ways it affects us:

  • Our literature is part of what makes this a profession, not just a job.
  • Our literature helps us make sense of the world around us.
  • Our literature is how we represent ourselves to others
  • Our literature makes us think.

We write for varying reasons, and the library literature is valuable to each of us in different ways in different points in our careers. Looking at a few of the major ways in which the literature affects us and our profession, though, helps us place our own contributions in the context of a larger whole.

Our literature makes us a profession

Our underlying literature helps make us into a profession, rather than just a field in which we happen to work. Without our literature, we easily become insular and insulated, focusing only on the day-to-day tasks of our present jobs rather than on the larger issues facing our profession and/or on growing as professionals.

Library literature provides a foundation for us to build on, a historical record to understand how the issues change over the years (and in what ways they remain the same), and documentation of how our professional values remain constant.

When you write for the literature, you influence the profession and participate as a professional. This holds true whether you contribute a thoughtful blog or a lengthy peer-reviewed article, a how-to piece for a local newsletter or a book for one of the library presses. Writing about issues and ideas, about programmes and possibilities, keeps this a growing and thriving profession; the give and take of this ongoing written conversation keeps us relevant and connected to the world around us.

On a related note, our literature helps us retain status in an academic environment. Academic librarians who write for peer-reviewed journals are able to relate to other faculty with similar responsibilities and concerns, and the very existence of our literature helps us present ourselves as a profession to others.

Our literature helps us make sense of our world

As human beings, we make sense of the world around us by constructing narratives to explain our surroundings. We take facts and impressions and ideas, putting them in order to tell a coherent and connected story. Our stories help us make sense of the profession and of where we are headed, and they give us a larger context in which to place the issues affecting us and our institutions.

As librarians, we should be especially cognizant of the importance of narrative, since part of what we do is collect and bring order to the world's stories. Our stories are as deserving of the light of day as those of any other field; our narratives help other librarians understand the similar issues they grapple with. Writing for the profession lets you make sense of your corner of the library world and share your stories with others.

Our literature is how we represent ourselves to others

As we collect and organize and make available the world's literature and the writings of each profession, shouldn't our field be well represented as well? When we write for the library literature, we are not always just talking to ourselves, but are representing our profession to the larger world.

When someone researches an issue like intellectual freedom or privacy or censorship, we surely want them to find librarians' discussions and perspectives. When they investigate the profession, we want them to have a clear picture of what librarianship involves, what we think about, and what we find important. This is especially important when we write as librarians for publications outside the field; we need to be aware that our identification as librarians affects how nonlibrarians interpret what we write, and that how they view our field is partly based on what we say.

Our literature makes us think

Our literature affects us both as writers and as readers, laying out the issues affecting our institutions and our profession, and provoking us to address them. When we think about the profession and about the issues we face, it helps make us better librarians. When we read others' stories and nod in recognition, or read others' ideas and take them back to our own institutions, we realize our connection to a larger whole and understand that we are far from alone.

This is one reason why a diversity of contributors and perspectives is so very important. Exposure to a variety of viewpoints and stories helps us avoid groupthink and allows us to think about issues and problems in different ways. When you write for the profession, your perspective can spark ideas in or influence the opinion of other librarians – how exciting is that! Approaching the literature both as a reader and as a contributor lets you participate more fully in the ongoing conversation, pushing you to think and learn and grow.

For all of these reasons and more, this is an important and exciting time to add your contributions to the literature. A diversity of voices reflects our diverse profession; a wealth of stories both reflects and affects our world. I'm looking forward to hearing yours!