Getting Your Ideas Out There First

Academic librarians are generally not competitive types. If we were we’d probably have gone to business school. But that competitive spirit may show up when it comes to presentations and publications. Getting a paper or panel accepted for ACRL’s 14th National Conference in Seattle was certainly a highly competitive process with just a twenty percent acceptance rate. Another arena in which we compete is getting our articles and books published. That’s why I found the article in this week’s Chronicle about authors racing to publish books on the same topic of interest. We don’t talk about this much in our academic librarian conversations but I hazard a guess that it is something many of us have experienced. As we write our papers or books on our original ideas we wonder if there is someone else out there who’ll get their manuscript – on our idea – to an editor before we do.

I know I certainly had this in the back of mind as I worked my way through the book I was writing in 2006 that was published in 2007. I believed it was an original topic – for our profession at least. I certainly knew of no other articles written or presentations on the same topic. Yet I really had no way of knowing if someone else out there was writing about the same topic. While I had been thinking during the writing process about starting a blog on the same topic - which is becoming a more accepted way to begin getting your ideas out there and to get comments and feedback while writing – it also struck me as a way to claim my stake to this whole area of study (new for librarianship at least). Think of it as a pre-emptive strike. Of course, that would probably not mean all that much if someone else had published a book on the same topic before my own (by the way, co-authored with John Shank). It turns out I had little to worry about. Only just recently have I noticed a few bloggers mentioning the application of design to the librarians’ work process or the idea of the library user experience. Unlike the batch of competing books about Web 2.0, this book about design has pretty much had the field to itself.

That said, I’m open to more librarians thinking and writing about design thinking. The more librarians that begin conversations about it the more librarians who will think about these ideas more seriously – which is what I hoped to accomplish in the first place. Still, unlike the authors profiled in the Chronicle article, I’m glad that I didn’t experience discovering another author writing a similar book at the same time. No one likes to appear competitive, but when it happens to you it can be pretty distressing.

Now, if your challenge is more specific to problems encountered in trying to write about your ideas then you should give some thought to a good idea discussed in another article in the same issue of the Chronicle. Get yourself a personal writing coach. That’s right. The next time you need help getting started or getting over your writing block, ring up your coach and let him or her help to figure out why you are having trouble – and more importantly get you writing again. Impossible you say. You could never afford it. Well, you may actually be able to get some help for free. Were you aware that the ACRL College Library Section offers a program called “Your Research Coach“. The program, run by the Section’s Research Committee, will connect aspiring writers and presenters with more experienced colleagues (they are actually called “coaches”) who can help with idea formation, methodology, research strategies, etc. Sometimes just talking over a writing hurdle can be a big help. I participate as a coach and I know I’ve been able to help a few folks just by listening to their ideas and then sharing some advice or steering them in a certain direction. The only requirement is that you need to be an ACRL member.

2 thoughts on “Getting Your Ideas Out There First

  1. I’ve heard my faculty friends–you know, the REAL faculty, ha ha–express great dismay when books are published on their areas of research and I’ve always been kind of confused about that. Don’t you like knowing that you’re not all alone in the world? That your ideas aren’t happening in a vacuum? Writing and thinking are ultimately such enormously solitary processes that I would think finding kindred spirits asking your same questions would be like finding a gold mine, or the right descriptor in Sociological Abstracts for your obscure critical theoretical research question. As a librarian, used to collating like with like, I am always pleased as punch to find like minds. Since none of us is really getting paid for our professional writing, and since my book doesn’t trump your book in a market this tiny and specialized, why does it upset people so much to find themselves in good company?

    (I also used the ‘good company’ argument to console myself upon my own panel rejection from ACRL!)

  2. I do agree with your statement […Sometimes just talking over a writing hurdle can be a big help. … just by listening to their ideas and then sharing some advice or steering them in a certain direction]
    I am not a member of ACRL yet, but I I wasn’t aware of the Personal Writing Coach that ACRL has to offer. Regards, Jan Eelco

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