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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 35

Why write?

Many of us simply take as a given that we should write for professional publication; either graduate school acculturates us to the notion, or the assumption of "publish or perish" permeates our tenure/promotion path at work.

It can be useful, though, to step back for a minute and think about your real reasons for writing for the library field. Knowing why you write goes a long way towards determining answers to the rest of the "w questions", e.g.

  • what you write,
  • who you write for, and
  • when you write.

How often you write is an important question to consider, too.

Common reasons why people write for publication

The decision about why to publish is personal, and each of us has our own impetus. There are, however, some common reasons why people write for publication, including:

  • Grant or other funding requires you to write up your project. Especially if you authored all or part of the original grant, the task of writing up the project results may fall to you as well. Local association journals often serve nicely as a vehicle for these sorts of articles.
  • It's part of being a librarian. You may always have seen writing as part of your commitment to the profession, an essential part of what we do as librarians.
  • Personal satisfaction. Some librarians just find it fun to write, like to see their name in print, or appreciate the opportunity to have their voice heard.
  • Someone asks you to. Maybe a co-author asks you to write with them; maybe an editor asks you to contribute an article or a book chapter. Just say yes!
  • To build your résumé. Even those not on the tenure track can benefit from a demonstrable record of research and contribution to the profession. Writing creates both name recognition and marketability.
  • To contribute research to the field. Done the research? Why not write about it! Whether you embark on a research project out of personal interest, as part of a grant process, or with the intention of eventually writing it up, research is best when shared with others.
  • To impress your boss. Even if writing for publication is not a formal requirement in your workplace, you'll fairly quickly get a sense of informal requirements and of what your supervisor or administration likes.
  • To share a story. Our field thrives on stories and collaboration; sharing yours in print can be a natural extension of your daily practice.
  • You want tenure. Academic librarians in many institutions must publish in peer-reviewed outlets as part of their tenure requirements. If you are only publishing to gain tenure, see if you can find additional reasons to write lest your inherent reluctance shine through.

You may have your own combination of reasons, whether these include one or more of the above or others not listed here. Take a moment to list your own real reasons for writing – even if you haven't yet published in the field! See if you can rank these in order of importance, and see where your reasons take you.

Publishing for tenure

Is tenure at the top of your list? Take some time to find out what publications tenure and promotion committees in your institution view most favourably.

Investigate their guidelines and target one or more for your first (or next) piece. Read up on the scholarly publication process; see if your library or larger institution offers any support, groups, or guidance.

See whether you can find a co-author in your own institution, someone in the same tenure-track boat or someone with a history of publication success who can help guide you through the process.

Publishing for personal satisfaction

Does personal satisfaction rank near the top of your reasons to write? If you aren't subject to the pressures of tenure and promotion, why not range further afield? You can afford to be choosier on where you submit your writing and who you decide to work with. You may never write for a peer-reviewed publication – and that's fine!

If you are uncomfortable with the pricing or copyright practices of a given publisher, you can avoid them altogether with no repercussions. If you have fun writing for smaller publications, online publications, or a personal blog, go for it – get your voice out there, and continue to have fun doing it.

Publishing to contribute to the field

Do you want most to contribute to the field? If so, then perhaps your top priority will be to publish in journals with the highest citation impact; or in venues with the highest readership. Look into online publication, or into publication outlets that make part or all of their content available online.

Think about posting your articles in an institutional or subject-specific online repository; make sure that your agreement allows such use before signing.

Publishing to share your story

Do you like to share your stories with others? In this case, you might only publish occasionally, whenever you have a story worth telling at your library. Keep an ongoing file of notes and ideas when you embark on any big project, with the thought of eventually using this to write up the results. Track what worked, what didn't, and what you might do differently in the future.

Final word

In all of these cases, why always comes before where, how, who and what. Why helps determine the course of your career in library publishing, and why can change over time.

Once you achieve tenure, for instance, you may find that you have grown over the years to enjoy the writing process – but might change your focus and your topics.

If you change jobs, you may find that publishing is more important in your new workplace or that specific publication outlets are regarded more highly.

If you complete an amazing or innovative project at your institution, you may feel compelled to share it with others, even if you never intended to do so at the outset.

Keep your mind open, and always remain aware of why you write. The answer may surprise you, and give you new directions to take your publishing career!