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.

Do We Need Library 3.0?

Okay, so what does Library 2.0 really mean in practice? What are the bigger implications?

A dissenting opinion to Kevin Kelley’s “Scan this Book” article has been filed in the court of public opinion by the Wall Street Journal. Like John Updike, Lee Gomes thinks the idea of mixing commentary into works is a poor substitute for the kind of interactivity that traditionally happens between a book and its reader.

It is an odd state of affairs when books or movies need defending, especially when the replacement proffered by certain Web-oriented companies and their apologists is so dismally inferior: chunks and links and other bits of evidence of epidemic ADD. Reading some stray person’s comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I’m watching.

Apart from questioning the value of such remix culture, libraries need to grapple with some conflicting values that are heightened by technological opportunity. We think good sources have authority, but we hesitate to tell readers which are best (though we don’t mind putting best sellers and prize winners on our websites). We believe that it’s good to cite sources and share what we know; but we also believe what we read should be utterly private. We want to engage in social networking and empower our users, so we imitate Amazon and invite reader reviews; we also know such reviews can be manipulative and aren’t the same as carefully constructed reviews by experts. We love the idea of LibraryThing, but we are leery of storing patron reading records because we know everything you read could be used against you in a court of law. We like personalization, but when it’s done by computer, information on individuals is retained in ways that we have traditionally avoided – for good reason.

While librarians worry about Big Brother, legislators worry about the hypothetical Uncle Nasty. Legislation limiting social networking sites is protecting the baby by throwing it out its bathwater, its bathtub, and saying it must never, ever bathe, because … well, you have to get naked to take a bath and it might give somebody dirty thoughts. On the other hand, forcing ISPs to keep all records in case some of them include child pornography or tracking millions of phone records because some may be useful in prosecuting terrorists is a departure from interpretations of the fourth amendment that limit such searches to individuals for whom there is some evidence of involvement in criminal activity. Until now, the rest of us have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. To continue the (rather ridiculous) baby/bathwater metaphor, this is like making us all get naked to make sure none of us is concealing a weapon. If Uncle Nasty has a security clearance, he’s having a field day, but it’s making the rest of us mighty uncomfortable.

Libraries need to find an ethical way to let our patrons do the kinds of record keeping and sharing they find useful and even natural while making sure such activities either are protected or that users are fully informed about the privacy they are giving up and its potential consequences. Most of our discussions have been “get with the program or die” or “get with the program and our values die.”

Take a look at the discussion over on Library Juice and give it some thought. We surely can come up with a way to do what libraries do best – share – while staying true to our values. But it won’t happen until we think through all the implications with our patrons.

Libraries for Loitering

Carla Yanni argues in the current issue of the Chron that “all campuses need public places.” in her words:

In addition to inviting undergraduates to public lectures and including them in research projects, another effective way to connect faculty members and students would be to make the physical environment more conducive to informal gathering. Loitering should be encouraged. Lingering should be a positive value.

She also adds that people use designed space in unanticipated ways – that their uses will change the design on the fly. This reminded me of Scott Bennett’s idea of designing libraries for learning – not limiting education to traditional classroom encounters, but enhancing all the social and playful behaviors that support learning outside the classroom. And making library planning student-learning-centered rather than service-centered.

So why not make the library the public place? “The libraries are not lively gathering spots because they have no food” according to Yanni.

Well, some do, and many of them are lively. Is there compelling evidence that banning food is so important it outweighs the benefits? It’s nuts for an institution to spend so much on providing a public space – and then erect barriers that prevent it being used to its maximum advantage.

We May Have Lost Your Comment

Owing to circumstances beyond the control of the ACRLog blogging team, the last several days worth of posts were lost just yesterday. Our hosting service had a software failure that resulted in the loss of all posts from the last few days. Thanks to Bloglines, the content of the posts that were lost were available, and we did our best to rebuild the posts from this week. However, we could not restore the comments. We apologize if we lost your comment to a previous post. We welcome you to try to re-write the comment if time allows.

Do Academic Librarians On The T-Track Blog

How blogging impacts on the academician’s career continues to be debated and discussed in the blogosphere. We’ve discussed academia’s conflicted reaction to blogging here previously. A worthwhile list of the pros and cons of blogging for those with and working for tenure appeared in a post by Christopher Sessums titled “Academic Research and Blogging.” He writes:

Recently a professor/mentor of mine noted that I seem to spend more time writing on my blog rather than writing for academic journals. She noted that I will not get tenure or be promoted for my blog posts but that I will for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. I’ll admit, she made a good point. I use my blog space to reflect on ideas for “proper” articles. In many cases I receive useful feedback that helps me tighten my argument or consider alternate or opposing viewpoints. In this light, my blog serves as a handy testbed and sandbox which allows me room to play.

What are some of the pros and cons? The blog allows freedom to explore, the ability to get ideas out there more quickly, the benefits of feedback provided in comments, and regular blogging may help with writing skills. Of course blog posts can also be poorly written, offer little in the way of cited sources, contribute to sloppy research methods,and fail to reach the intended audience.

Academic librarians are doing a fair amount of blogging, and I wonder who these folks are. According to data collected by Michael Stephens for his blogger survey 41% of the 283 respondents claimed an academic affiliation. That is nearly double the number of bloggers from the next largest group, public librarians. So who are all these academic librarian bloggers? I wonder how many are on the tenure track? I ask this because it is my guess that librarians on the tenure track are not blogging. Why? Probably because some senior librarian or mentor, not unlike Sessums reports, warned against blogging because it counts for tenure status about as much as cleaning out the library staff room frig once a week.

If that’s the case it could be unfortunate. While a blog has all the potential in the world for being a pointless time sink, a thoughtful, well designed and maintained blog can be far more helpful to academic colleagues than a stack of academic journal articles. There’s a place for the scholarly publication of course, and it shouldn’t be a case for anyone of all of one and none of the other. If you’re an academic blogger, tenure track or not, you ought to be able to show you’ve got what it takes by publishing a credible scholarly article or two. Otherwise, all that talk about your academic library blog helping you to write better, to get your thoughts out, to test new, radical ideas, to gather feedback from colleagues, may not amount to a hill of beans if you can’t demonstrate the ability to go beyond blogging as a means of professional communication.