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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 6

Online is fine, Part I

When we think about writing for professional publication, many of us tend first to gravitate toward the familiar: big-name publications, popular print outlets, the journals that we read and discussed in library school and that we read and pass around our workplaces.

As you progress in your writing and professional reading, though, you will find that many of the exciting innovations, most-read publications, and informal yet influential outlets have moved online. The following sections cover some of the reasons to write for and ways to locate online publications; next month's column will address self-publishing online.

Online advantages

The biggest advantage to many librarian writers in publishing online is that of timeliness. An article submitted to a traditional peer reviewed journal may take a year or more to appear in print; peer reviewed online publications tend to shorten that timeframe, while non peer reviewed online outlets sometimes publish your work only weeks after you submit it.

Publishing on the open Web also exponentially increases your potential audience. When talking about the impact of online publishing on tenure decisions, Marylaine Block puts it simply: "We should consider the question of readership as well. The fact is, any journal article in even an esteemed scholarly journal will be read by a minute fraction of scholars in the field, and virtually not at all by students, hobbyists, and those who simply want to explore the subject. The very same article, if it's placed on the public web and earns a high ranking, may be read by thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of people, which can improve the general public's understanding of a topic or an academic discipline (".

Think about how you came to read this online only column. Perhaps a colleague e-mailed you a link, maybe you have signed up with a web page monitoring service that notifies you when new articles are posted, you could easily have found it through a Google search, or it is possible you saw it listed on someone's blog. The ease of locating and sharing online material translates into an inherently larger readership.

Librarians and information professionals often think about marketing our institutions and our profession long before we think about marketing ourselves as professionals. Our careers, though, need just as much nurturing as our libraries – and publishing online is one fantastic and simple method of self-marketing. Online publishing in open-access journals creates name recognition more quickly than publishing only in print, and gives you freely accessible examples to point to when you are marketing yourself and your work in the future.

Publishing online

Writing for the online environment can be as simple as publishing in a freely accessible, informal e-journal or zine, or as complex as going through the traditional peer review process with a refereed online publication. Your target outlets will vary depending on your goals. If you want to be published in an online journal, think about the ones you yourself read, do a search on your area of interest, or see if familiar print publications have an online counterpart.

As with print publishing, focus on what you need to accomplish. Do you need to write for peer reviewed journals during a tenure or promotion process? Find out how your institution views online publishing, both formally and informally (ask around!). Ask colleagues for their favorites, or explore journals like First Monday or LIBRES. Do you just want to share a particular experience or viewpoint? Look into relevant newsletters or zines like's Info Career Trends; think about their target readership and whether it matches your topic. Are you a student? See whether your library school or student organization sponsors an online publication like the McGill Library and Information Studies Student Association's Marginal Librarian.

Think also about publishing in print journals that provide part or all of their content online. Even a freely accessible table of contents and abstracts can provide an impetus for site visitors to look up the full text of your work. Look at what different publishers are doing in this area: see for example tables of contents and selected articles from any of Information Today's periodicals. Library Journal currently makes its articles available online.

Online inevitability

More publishing outlets than ever have embraced the inevitability of online publication, either in whole or in part. A number make selected articles available online; others allow authors to post final edited versions on their personal web sites some months after their first appearance in print. For an example, see the Computers in Libraries author FAQ, which notes that authors can post the final version of their articles online as long as they include CIL's legal permission statement.

Newer journals assume the importance of an online presence from the outset. As Richard Naylor, editor of the Journal of the Library Administration & Management Section (JLAMS) of the New York Library Association, notes: "An electronic format has several related advantages for us. While the most obvious advantage is cost, it is also important that we are able to reach all our library association members without first selling them on the advantage of paying. And, since our goal is not to raise money but to provide additional services to our members and to further the professional goals of librarianship, the more people that read the journal, the better."

Some editors see personal professional benefits as well. Priscilla Shontz, web master of and editor of The Librarian's Career Guidebook, started LISCareer as an outgrowth of her first book. She says: "The site offers me the opportunity to contribute to the profession both by publishing articles that share practical advice with new and future librarians and by offering other librarians a publication opportunity. I've also been able to widen my professional network as more people find the site". (Find more on creating your own site in next month's column.)

As you build your writing career, think about how publishing online can interact with your offline publishing activities, helping you build your portfolio and your name recognition. Keep an open mind, and always be on the lookout for new opportunities.