Getting rejected in the library world. What now?

I would like to address something that might be slightly uncomfortable topic for some. Rejection.  I know it’s definitely uncomfortable for me. I had planned to write about this topic, but I had planned to write about it near the end of my tenure at ACRLog.

Rejection comes in many forms, but the rejection that I am talking about is the type you get in this profession. Rejection of a proposal, job-position, book chapter, grant, or article. As a first-year academic librarian, the first year (so far) has been great, stressful, and eye-opening. I would not trade this for the world, but that also means accepting what comes with it.

I submitted an article for an academic journal and in less than 24 hours, I got a rejection. Now, a rejection stings, but it stings even more when you read the comments.

“this draft would not be publishable as a scholarly article. It is really a rambling excessively personal  recollection of various experiences, without a clear thesis or focus. “

Ouch (to say the least). I had to go back into my email and fetch the rejection and copy and paste it into this blog post…and that alone was hard. I was crushed, sad, lost, and many other things that I cannot find the words for. I was still at work and it was right before my hour at the reference desk. I had to keep it together and keep myself from staring at the computer screen. Now, rejection is different for everyone. For the first couple of hours, I felt frustration and like the wind had been knocked out of me.

This frustration was not towards the journal or the reviewers, but it was frustration and anger towards myself. “This is my fault”, “I knew I wasn’t ready,” “This was my responsibility” were the thoughts in my head.

A lot of students in library school present at conferences or get their feet wet. I, however, did not get my feet wet. I did not have any experience with presenting or publishing, but I was eager to do so. It was a lot harder than I thought, but I knew that if one day I wanted to work as a tenure-track librarian, then I needed to get my act together. This was my first submission and the first rejection. Needless to say, it stung.

Now what? What was next? I needed to move past this and continue with my professional life.

“Moving past” are the keywords. It is not “getting over it.” No one wants to feel what I felt, but I believe it’s important to keep moving forward.

My first thought and question was if anyone had written about his or her rejections. At the time of my rejection, I would have never published my experience. I was too embarrassed and too ashamed.

I found a blog post that detailed the writer’s rejection with a well-respect library position in this country. In “We need to share our rejections,” Brianna Marshall aspired to become a candidate for the North Carolina State University Fellowship Program (NCSU). As it turns out, Brianna was not part of the pool of final candidates.

“It was hard to feel good about myself. Instead, I felt deeply disappointed and humiliated.” As I read these words, I instantly felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew I was not alone. I was so grateful that someone had been brave enough to write about their experience and to have the courage to put it out there for all to see.

“I remind myself that moving forward is a good thing even if it’s not always easy.” And so this is what I needed to do. I needed to pick myself up, make a plan, and move ahead. I had told myself that it was going to be alright, but for the first time, I actually believed it.

I believe that people can succeed on their own. However, when they fail, the help of others is absolutely essential. The rejection had sunk in and reading Brianna’s blog suddenly brought a moment of clarity. I do not know about you all, but when I experience these moments, I cannot sit still. I have to make a plan, I have to take action.

So, if anyone is in this position, here are a few things that helped.

  • Take some time for yourself and let it sink in
  • I strongly recommend reading Brianna Marshall’s Blog post “We need to share our rejections.” It made me feel so much better and I hope it can do the same for you
  • Once you feel a little better, make a list of goals. Both short and long term. What do you want to accomplish this semester? who can help you? How can you do it?

For myself, I find it therapeutic and important that I keep myself busy, especially after a rejection.

And here is the most important thing. Keep applying. Don’t stop. It could be hard to write something else or apply for a conference because of the fear of rejection. Not applying because of that fear would be worse.


To my surprise, many good things came out of this rejection. They were determination, acceptance, patience, and a feeling that maybe I should not be so hard on myself. I think this is definitely a situation where you can learn from your mistakes, but I also think that once all the harsh feelings pass, you can move on. That’s what I did, I submitted proposals for a conference and a symposium, and guess what? I got a panel proposal accepted for a national conference in California and a symposium for critical libraries and pedagogy.

I am proud of myself and know that rejection is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean stopping and giving up. It means moving forward and doing work that you can be proud of.

I know scholarship will be a difficult and long process for me, but I think I can do it. I hope that this post serves as a way for others to see that it’s not the end of the road if you get rejected, and most importantly, that we can and should talk about this topic.

20 thoughts on “Getting rejected in the library world. What now?”

  1. There is a group at ALA that helps folks just starting out to break into the whole publishing thing: Library Research Round Table. They have a mentoring group that may be useful to you. See: Above all, don’t feel too discouraged and don’t give up!

  2. Enjoyed reading your article. It was actually quite refreshing and I experienced something similar my first year or two as a librarian (library director). When it comes to scholarship and getting published, writing grants, and academic endeavors in general, the best thing to do is what Sir Winston Churchill advised: “Never, never, never give up.”

  3. I thought that I was ready for rejection, because I had years of being a rock musician under my belt. But I have been passed over by two jobs that I really, really, wanted.
    It stings. Hang in there.

  4. As a new tenure-track librarian, I share so many of these fears! I appreciate not only your candor but your courage in sharing this experience. Thank you!

  5. I find scholarship to be a highly rewarding experience, but there are always ups and downs even when you’ve been doing it a while. Even constructive “revise and resubmit” advice can be difficult to swallow.

    Every scholar should find mentors and peers who will read proposals and drafts before submission. On top of the obvious support they provide, those connections and networks with other scholars with similar interests are the most rewarding aspect of participating in scholarship. ACRL has a program to link people up to scholarship mentors if a librarian wants such a relationship. I have been a mentor to two librarians and it was a great experience. Good luck in your future endeavors, and you’re definitely not alone.

  6. I’ve been rejected so many times when I was in the USA, even with my Master’s in Library and Information Science and my visa. I don’t know why. I came back to my country a couple of months ago and didn’t have any difficulty finding a new job, so I don’t know what was my mistake, however, I am sure that have learned a lot from this experience. You are not alone 🙂

  7. I’m in my last semester of library school and am in total fear of rejection. But it’s good to know I’m not alone!

  8. This is a great and needed blog post! It is just as important to talk about our disappointments as our triumphs. Thank you for writing about your experience. As a note, I think the wording of the rejection notice you were sent was fairly unprofessional. Hopefully we can all think about how our words impact those who were are sending a rejection and use them to be constructive and helpful to that person in the future.

  9. You know, the wording of the rejection did sting. A lot. Was it unprofessional? I think I need to think more about that. Then again, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”

  10. Thanks for the post, Quetzalli. I admire your strength and your courage. First I am going to follow your advice and read the Brianna post. Then I may think about narrating my own rejections. You have started something that we all can profit from.

  11. Find a mentor and then don’t forget to mentor back. You’re definitely on the right track.

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience, Quetzalli.

    I serve on the editorial board (as a reviewer) of a specialized library journal. We are encouraged to include productive comments and focus on the positive even if writing a negative review. Your comment was very harsh so I don’t blame you for getting your feelings hurt! Rejection hurts enough on its own without degrading the author.

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