On Monday, six academic business librarians gathered at the Salem College Library in Winston-Salem, NC for a morning-long discussion of professional writing and speaking opportunities.
Salem College is oldest women’s college in the United States (13th oldest overall), having been founded by Moravians in colonial times. The campus is adjacent to Old Salem and near our condo, so I walked over to meet with friends for our chat. After our discussion we strolled over to what used to be the Winston-Salem Southbound Railway building for a bistro lunch.
A few of us have faculty status and so are required to write and speak; one of us is deep into a PhD program and very involved with research and publishing; and others are interested in doing more writing and speaking.
After sharing our summer news and vacation recaps, we decided on this simple agenda:
- How to identify topics that are publishable;
- Where to publish;
- The same but for speaking
I didn’t keep complete notes on my iPad, and some of our talk should be kept private, but here are some points that are hopefully interesting and useful. Sorry if these notes seem too brief. Maybe another general point to make here is the importance of building and using your professional network to explore opportunities.
1. How to identify topics that are publishable
Question: do you start pursuing a writing idea with the topic or the publishing venue? We discussed that it could be both, too. Sometimes we get solicitations or encouragement to write something from a publisher or editor. It can certainly by harder for a newer librarian to benefit like that from a professional network, but partnering with another librarian to write something can help.
There are a few blogs about library writing which often list opportunities:
As for topics? The first question in response is — what are you passionate about? What are you most interested in? Start from those topics. Don’t force yourself to write about something you find boring. If you get rejections on a topic you have passion for, you may need to tweak the main idea but don’t give up on it too quickly.
However, having a unique angle on your topic is pretty important, or having unique or better data of some sort. Look for gaps in the literature (like PhD students are encouraged to do when they are considering a dissertation topic).
Go with your comfort writing, which may be quantitative or qualitative. Consider partnering with a friend who has a writing strength you don’t have.
Offer to write a column (email a column editor about an idea you have) or consider writing a position piece (“Librarians need to start doing….”). It doesn’t have to be a research article every time.
Got a preliminary idea? Write a blog post about it (lots of them accept guest-writing). See if you find the writing interesting and would be interested to write more. You might get some useful preliminary feedback, too. (Just don’t publish your complete manuscript as a blog post – save some writing and ideas for the more traditional publication.)
Regarding rejections from editors, one librarian told of getting an article harshly rejected from a mid-quality journal, getting a no-feedback rejection from a low-quality journal, but later being told by editors of a high-quality journal that it was among the best papers they have ever received. So don’t give up.
We discussed that some editors are supportive and helpful (even when rejecting an article outright) while others are well, less so. The editors for ACRL’s College and Research Libraries have a reputation for being harsh, but they do receive a large number of mediocre submissions that don’t even try to follow its “instructions for authors.”
We discussed institutional review boards a bit. It’s good to make a friend on the board who can provide advice. Sometimes you will submit a proposal to the board and it will declare the research to be exempt from IRB requirements. So don’t fear the IRB. You can usually check with the IRB before running a survey, etc. to get feedback.
2. Where to publish
We talked about good and bad experiences with editors. One of us co-edited a book but received almost no support from the publisher. Two of us wrote a Q/A article but didn’t have our names listed as co-authors until six weeks after publication. Bogus!
I reported on writing a book chapter for an ABC-CLIO book edited by two librarians in Alabama and having an excellent experience.
And one of us wrote a book chapter for IGI and had to use their format, which really didn’t fit the content of the chapter, but otherwise had a good experience with IGI and would write for them again.
We emphasized the importance of researching what kind of articles (editorials, practical pieces, reviews, or research) a journal publishes, and of course what topics it tends to publish. So look at recent articles and table of contents, and read the journal’s scope/author instructions very carefully.
Except for occasional special issues in various journals, the main venues for business librarianship have been the Taylor & Francis Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship and the new Ticker open-access journal, created by some of the ABLD directors.
There’s nothing wrong with writing a short practical article for publications like College & Research Library News or Academic BRASS.
3. On speaking
There was a pretty free-wheeling discussion, since we all had stories to tell from various conferences. We considered ourselves lucky to have lots of high-quality small, annual conferences within a short drive of our homes.
We discussed ACRL a bit too. Alas it has no business section but many business librarians do attend and speak (and party) there. Key aspects when designing a panel proposal to ACRL: uniqueness, applicability to other libraries, and connection to hot trends.
You can submit an excellent proposal for an ACRL contributed paper and not be accepted if there aren’t other related submissions than can be combined with your own to form an hour-long series of papers.
Some conferences invite speakers to contribute to a conference proceedings, which is an easy way to get a peer-review article published as well as credit for your talk. LOEX, the Charleston Conference, and ACRL are examples. Your proceedings could be just a narrative write-up of your slides, or could provide deeper analysis or additional case studies.
Some international conferences can be less expensive than you might think (one of us recently spoke in Dublin). Two of us are now attending and speaking at business professor conferences, which our administrators really like. So don’t limit yourself.
We can’t say with certainty, but we assume that a proposed panel of librarians from different libraries is often more interesting to a conference programming committee than a panel of librarians from the same library. ACRL bears this out we think.