Help With Publishing Can Keep You From Perishing

ACRL’s New Publications Advisory Board and the College Library Section co-sponsored the “Publish, Don’t Perish: Helpful Hints for Authors” program at the ALA Annual Conference. I attended along with several College Library Section colleagues as we were graciously invited to briefly describe the Your Research Coach program. I spoke for just a few minutes on my experience as a research coach, explaining how I’ve helped the partners with whom I’ve worked. There was lots of good advice and practical strategies from the speakers (Marie Radford, Rutgers University, Tony Schwartz, Florida International University, and Patricia Neal-Schuman, Neal-Schuman Publishers). Their suggestions for would be authors included starting small but thinking big, creating time for writing, dealing with rejection letters, communicating with editors, and much more.

One of the common themes among the speakers was the need for and value of seeking out help from others. Perhaps Tony Schwartz nailed it when he said “writing is a social interaction”. In other words, authoring, even if you are writing solo, involves others. Less experienced writers may be intimidated about asking for help, but the presenters’ message was that your colleagues are often glad to provide help – and help can come in many forms.

Even more could have been said about the essential importance of having a good, workable idea. As Walt Crawford wrote, “first have something to say”. You need a good idea to write about before you start writing anything of substance. If an idea is not well focused or too far a field from your expertise the writing process is bound to become a struggle. The intangible factor is passion. Passion for your topic can make the difference between hitting a wall during the writing process and getting to the finish line. Attendees were clearly challenged by getting started, and several questioners wanted advice on good ways to kick start the writing process. In almost all situations where help is needed the source is likely to be a colleague (although Tony recommended seeking colleagues outside your institution who are not your friends and much more likely to provide realistic feedback). For those who need or want to publish or present more regularly – or just want to get that first professional article or presentation under the belt – the good news is that there is help out there, both in print and from colleagues.

Conference 2.0?

Just as the virtual library is an enhancement and not a replacement of the physical library, so too the in-person conference is supplemented and not replaced by technology. This is the first ALA Annual Conference I won’t be attending in a while. I’m glad I’ll be able to keep up through blogs and wikis, but I’ll miss the face-to-face interaction with colleagues from all over the country.

How is social software changing conferences? Is social software making it easier for people to make in-person connections? Are audience members participating more in presentations by having access to chat or Google? Or, are conference-goers isolating themselves in their own technological bubbles? If you are at the conference, why are you reading this blog instead of talking to someone face-to-face? Isn’t that why you are at the conference and not at home in front of your computer?

I always found conferences to be the easiest places to walk up and talk to people. You’ve been pulled away from your to-do list and spend a lot of time in limbo, waiting for things, standing in line. And so has everyone else. Instead of pulling out your BlackBerry or cell phone, try these essential 21st century skills: Eye contact. Smile. Hi, what library are you from?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

What Should We Call Them?

Every academic librarian has their own personal preference for what to call them. At a library I once worked at one of the other librarians called them “readers.” Well, readers is probably less descriptive of the people who come into our libraries these days – it may have worked well in the fifties but now I’m not so sure. What I do know is that we sometimes struggle to find a good term or phrase to describe the folks who use our libraries. I have tended to call them “users” or “my user community”. According to Don Norman, design expert, I may need to find another word to describe them. In an essay titled “Words Matter” Norman states that we depersonalize the people we serve by calling “user”. In fact, it is derogatory. He doesn’t like custormers or consumers either. I think we agree on that. So what should we call them? Norman says we should just call them people. He says we’re people, we create system for people, and resolve the needs of people – so why not just call them people. Or do we call them library people. I will have to give this some thought. To me, saying my “user community” just sounds a whole lot better than “my people”.

No Technology Replaces Critical Thinking

I recommend you read this brief essay by John Stuckey, an Associate Editor of Ubiquity. It resonated with me because I too worry that we sometimes feel pressured to jump on technology bandwagons for fear of having users desert us if we hesitate. In his essay “Critical Thinking for the Google Generation” Stuckey focuses on a similar issues; faculty fears about being left behind or left out if they don’t incorporate technology into the teaching and learning process. He’s not opposed to teaching technologies. He says used correctly it can enrich and strengthen education. In coming to the conclusion that we do our students more harm than good when we pander to their desires for “digital dessert and candy” in order to keep them pacified he says:

  • …they still require education in learning how to ask the difficult questions that most likely have no simple answers. That is what critical thinking requires.
  • We owe it to them to explain the differences among a Google search, a literature search, and research.
  • Good education is still hard work and not usually glamorous.
  • So while it is no doubt easier to convince ourselves that we are doing good things for our students when we give them Google-like search boxes on the library’s home page – and tell ourselves that by making it all easy for them there will be no need for user education, I think we are perhaps taking shortcuts to avoid that hard work Stuckey speaks of and as a result we do a disservice to those we are here to help.

    Meet An ACRLog Blogger At ALA

    I don’t expect that to be the highlight of anyone’s conference experience but just in case you are at the conference and would like to share your thoughts about the blog, make some suggestions, or whatever a good time to reach me is on Saturday afternoon (6/24) in the exhibit hall. More specifically I’ll be at the ACRL booth between 4 and 5 pm. I hope you stop by to say hello.

    Be An ACRLog Blogger At ALA

    Maybe you’d rather be a blogger than meet a blogger at ALA. Thanks to those who responded to our call for bloggers, but there are plenty of ACRL programs to go around and we could still use some additional bloggers. It’s easy. Just take some notes, write it up, and send it in. It’s not too late to get in touch. Even if you don’t contact us in advance, if you decide to send in some notes after the conference that’s fine with us.

    1998 Presentation Has Held Up Well

    As I was preparing for my class this week I came across some notes from a presentation that I had put in the folder, probably intending to use at some point, but long forgotten. This particular presentation was by James Neal and it was from 1998. Neal, who is now heading up library operations at Columbia University was still at Johns Hopkins’ Sheridan Librarian at that time, and they were involved in some unique entrepreneurial enterprises. As I re-read the notes I thought that much of what Neal discussed or predicted then reflected many contemporary issues that academic librarians are confronting now. For example, he discussed societal and cultural change that we needed to understand. Here are a few items mentioned:

  • Wireless will change how we compute and work
  • -mobile computing has had an enormous impact

  • MTV generation
  • -new modes of learning and the importance of user participation (sounds a bit like our current discussion of Millennials and Library 2.0)

  • ATM Environment
  • -self-initiated services are now routinely offered in academic libraries

  • User Expectation Revolution
  • -this one was right on target; this is the age of the user experience and it’s defined by users expecting simplicity, ease of use, and “if it’s not online it doesn’t exist” (which are the exact words he used to define what he meant)

    I was also intrigued that I had written some notes about new staff in academic libraries. Even then Neal was talking about academic libraries needing new professionals that would not necessarily be librarians, but who would bring to the library systems and learning skills that librarians were lacking. It’s interesting that Neal was thinking about this back then, and is now involving many different kinds of non-librarian professionals at Columbia (see his Library Journal article on feral professionals).

    So I thought what Neal had to say way back in 1998 has held up pretty well – and he gave some good advice for the future librarian in the digital age. Among those that still make sense:

  • Understand user behavior
  • – (little did we know how much Google would impact search behavior)

  • We’re in the teaching/scholarship/personal (user) development business
  • – a good philosophy for librarians that wish to avoid being marginalized

    It was certainly good to come across this old talk. I found it enlightening and informative back then, and while lots of things have changed since 1998 one thing that hasn’t is the value of what Neal shared with us that day.

    Change, Change, and More Change: LTF Proceedings Now Online

    The Proceedings of the most recent Living the Future (LTF) conference at Arizona are now online. The presentations embrace a variety of important issues, but, like the recent Taiga Forum, the emphasis was on change – where is it coming from, how fast is it coming, and what can we do to help manage it effectively? I didn’t make it to Arizona this year, but comments from attendees are welcome.