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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 22

Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?

Recently, someone asked me if I believe that every librarian should write for the library literature. The answer is no – but, a nuanced no. I believe that more librarians should write for the library literature. I believe that many of us have something to say, yet stifle ourselves due to fear of rejection, lack of confidence, or a preconceived notion of ourselves as readers, not writers, as consumers, not producers. I believe that too many librarians tend to convince themselves of their own writing ineptitude without giving the process a fair try.

Yes and no

I also believe that our literature is part of what makes us a profession in the first place (See Instalment 16 for more on this). Further, the health of the body of literature that underpins our field depends on a variety of voices and viewpoints; when more of us write, we help create a more vibrant and representative literature.

When we join this profession, we assume certain responsibilities, including the responsibility to give something back to the field. Some of us contribute by writing for publication, while others give back in many different ways. Some librarians mentor newer and potential professionals, others become active in local or state or national associations, while others present at conferences, create networking groups, or maintain or contribute to websites, blogs, wikis or e-mail lists.

Whatever way we initially choose to participate, though, the mere process of becoming professionally active and connected can later lead to publication. Editors often, for example, seek out potential authors based on their involvement in other venues, from e-mail lists to conferences. Your professional activity in itself shows your commitment – and demonstrates that you have something to say. Also, the more you participate, the more you may find you do have ideas and projects you then want to share with a larger audience.

Who should write?

You should seriously consider writing for the library literature if:

You have always secretly wanted to publish your work, but don't know where to start

If you have previously toyed with the idea of writing, or looked at a paper or project or grant report you have written up and envisioned it in print, give yourself that little push. Allow yourself to take the next step, whether that be polishing a finished piece, researching potential markets, or reading up on the process of writing for publication.

People keep telling you that you should write, or that you should publish what you have already written

Has a library school professor suggested that you rework a paper for publication? Do colleagues that read your messages to e-mail lists or blog posts ask whether you have published your ideas more formally? Has an editor contacted you after a conference presentation or informal conversation to see if you might be interested in writing for her journal? Take this as a sign that you should pursue the opportunity.

You need to publish for tenure or promotion

If your institution requires professional publication for tenure or pay raises or moving up to the next level, then this is an avenue you need to pursue. Find out what you need to do and where you optimally need to publish, and go from there. It may help to talk to others in your institution who have already been through the process, or to cooperate with colleagues and coauthor work for which you can share the credit.

You have a passionate opinion about an issue affecting the field and want to share it with others

Have something to say? Here's your chance. Editors look for writers with new ideas and an enthusiasm for their subject. If you are focused on a topic or overflowing with ideas, let them out on paper (or screen). Don't get hung up on publishing in "big name" journals; start small or where your topic best fits.

Who (maybe...) shouldn't write?

You may not wish to write for the library literature if:

You find the act of writing physically painful

If the mere thought of writing for publication makes your head spin or your gut clench, you might be better off looking for other ways to contribute to the profession. If you find writing so difficult that hours of effort leave you with little to show but a pounding headache, perhaps it's just not in the stars for you to see your name in print.

You can think of ten different and better ways to contribute to the profession

After a while, we begin to know where our individual strengths lie. Perhaps yours lie in in-person connection or informal conversation or working behind the scenes. See what works best for you.

You have absolutely no interest in writing, and are only considering it because you feel as if you "should"

One caveat here: you may have to publish without an inherent interest in doing so if you are in a tenure-track position – but, you knew that going in! Otherwise, if you really lack any interest in the process, find out what you are interested in and pick a different direction.

You have nothing to say

If you come up empty on ideas, or find that your thoughts on a subject mirror what has already been written, this may not be the time for you to write. This isn't to say you will never have an original article idea – you can take some time to read the literature, browse around online, talk to others and leave yourself open to later inspiration.

Writing for the library literature is a fantastic way to contribute to the field – but not the only way. Find the path that is right for you, but do make the effort to get involved in some way. See librarianship as a career, rather than a job; see yourself as a professional and as part of a larger whole; find the right place to put your professional energy.