When do new librarians start publishing anyway?

Confession: I’m 10 months into my first job in an academic library and I haven’t published anything. I haven’t been on a conference panel, and I haven’t given a full length presentation about my research. I’m not tenure track, so there’s no pressure to publish or perish; but conducting research, presenting ideas, and publishing papers is something that I definitely want to do.

Here’s the thing. I have a lot of ideas, and I know some of my research interests. I think I’m fairly lucky in that regard because creating a research agendas isn’t easy. I feel as if I’m just now getting the hang of things in my day-to-day professional life (learning my job, how this university functions, billions of acronyms) and can start to consider my next steps in regards to research. I’m settling in and thinking about what I can do next.

I’m not sure when new academic librarians publish their first paper or give their first presentation. Is there a typical timeline? Is this something everyone should do within the first year? The second year? These questions are probably coming from the little place where my imposter syndrome lives, but I’d genuinely like to know the answer to this as well. I follow a lot of prolific librarians on Twitter, so it seems like everyone is publishing and presenting all of the time, or like they walked out of the womb with a CV full of citations. It’s hard not to compare myself to others.  

That said, I’m glad that there are resources like The Librarian Parlor out there that help demystify this process, or else I’d be super lost. It’s also a place that addresses some of my questions. A recent article by Allison Rand really stuck with me because she talks about how hard the process is and what her beginnings as a researcher looked like. I’m trying to take this quote of hers to heart: “don’t let your past professional experience (or inexperience) define your professional path.” It’s good to remember that what I do next isn’t necessarily defined by what I’ve done before.

I’ve taken a few baby steps towards publications and presentations. For one, I’ve been writing for this blog, which is a helpful way to gather my ideas and write for a larger audience (quite frankly, this can be scary). I’ve started research projects with colleagues in the field and am putting some proposals out in the world. Even having informal conversations about research with others has been useful. I’ve also given a few lightning talks. Lightning talks are a low stakes way to begin presenting because you only have to prepare a 5-7 minute talk about a specific topic. I can talk about almost anything for 5 minutes. I presented two lightning talks locally, and am excited that my most recent lightning talk proposal will be presented at ACRL in April. This talk, and others that I’ve given are a stepping stone to what I envision will be a much larger conversation and research topic in the future.

And, for any other new librarians out there who aren’t sure if they’re on the right track with research, presentations, and publications, I feel you. We weren’t taught how to navigate the publishing field, and we haven’t had a lot of practice creating research studies; however, if we keep talking to each other about our research, are transparent about where we are and how we are doing, we’ll get there in the end.

When did you first publish or present your research?

3 thoughts on “When do new librarians start publishing anyway?”

  1. It’s funny you should bring this up, because my post for HLS on ways that library science students can start publishing before they graduate went live today also ( https://hacklibraryschool.com/2019/02/21/academic-currency-and-leprechaun-gold/ ).

    I was very fortunate in that the honors program where I got my BA really emphasized undergraduate research and gave me my first opportunity to present at an undergraduate conference. I think that played a big role in orienting me to look for opportunities, so it became standard practice for me in grad school (both my first master’s and now library school) to follow the boards where calls for papers could be found and to try to twist term papers and other projects for classes into submittable material to answer the calls. During my first master’s most of those ended up in rejections but, being a little older and wiser approaching library school, my success rate has been much greater this time around.

  2. I wouldn’t stress out about this too much. I think I was in my second library job and about three or four years into my career before I presented or published anything meaningful. Don’t worry about trying to meet some arbitrary threshold or deadline. I think when we focus too much on how we’re progressing professionally or whether we’re “as good” as other people we can lose sight of why we do this work in the first place. Focus your energy on what you’re trying to do for your community and the papers and presentations will come.

  3. Good afternoon Ms. DeWitt,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on when the right time to publish for new librarians. You’ve inspired me to think more deeply about this issue, and I’d like to share with you some of my reflection.

    I’m a university student working toward an MLS degree and employed by one of my university’s libraries. I have no experience with publishing articles in scholarly peer reviewed journals, but I have gained a bit of experience with presenting at a paraprofessional conference. In reflecting on the one conference presentation experience I’ve had, I realized that my presentation method affected my presentation’s effectiveness. Many of the other presenters (a mixture of librarians and paraprofessionals) read their paper’s introduction, then shared the remainder of their ideas via PowerPoint. What I did was I read portions of my paper from the introduction, body, and conclusion. I had no PowerPoint, and that was a mistake. As for what I did right, I watched the other presenters, and realized the most effective ones had one aspect in common. PowerPoint was the medium through which they primarily communicate their ideas. In realizing what they’d done to make their presentation effective–insightful and engaging–I vowed to employ what I’d learned from them. Needless to say, I may be getting this chance, since I have submitted a conference presentation proposal for this year’s edition of the paraprofessional conference, being held in May. Because of how beneficial this experience has been, I encourage you to consider presenting at conferences. I believe you will gain a lot from it!

    Thank you again for your inspiring insights, and I wish you further success in your career as a librarian.


    Jo Anna Rohrbaugh
    MLS candidate

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