It’s true that not everything can be taught in library school, that there are some things that it’s really only possible to learn on the job. There are things that institutions do differently, there are vast differences in the academic libraries in existence, and who you work with once you get a job will be completely unpredictable. However, there is one area of my position as a tenure-track faculty member that was not touched on even ONCE in my time as a library student at the best library program in the country.
Writing for publication.
Now that I’m a tenure-track librarian, not only is writing for publication a boost to my qualifications and an important way to contribute to the field–it’s a lifeline to my job. Why wasn’t this topic mentioned in any of my library school classes? Why wasn’t there a research methods course offered?
Well, I can’t tell you. But I can describe my own experience setting out on a path to publication without much knowledge of what I was doing. This is a work in progress, so be prepared to hear more later.
Finding a Topic
I still don’t have this one figured out. Choosing a topic to research is a careful decision that could impact the direction of the researcher’s entire career. At the same time, as a new librarian my options for research are limited to things that I already know and directions that don’t take years of data-gathering to present. The biggest hurdle of all is that the topic that I choose should be something that matters. Something that others could benefit from hearing about. Us librarians are busy people, and no one is going to waste time reading about something that is not original and compelling. No pressure.
Getting a Mentor
There was no way that once I chose a topic I could immediately dive into the research without a little bit of direction from someone with experience. I was fortunate enough to find some friends among the faculty here that were willing to meet with me, talk about my research idea, and give me examples of IRB proposals. While I don’t want to down-play the expertise and intelligence of these mentors, I did find it interesting to learn that many faculty with doctorate degrees have already spent up to six years doing research before graduating and getting a position in higher education. No wonder they had it figured out so much more than me! I had spent two years studying to be a librarian (which was valuable! Don’t get me wrong), and in that time I had only written two papers longer than eight pages. The leap from these short assignments to a full length peer-reviewed paper seemed much larger than what the faculty around me might have experienced.
Long story short, I was very grateful for their help.
Writing an IRB Request
There was a lot I didn’t know before beginning the process of writing the IRB request–how hard it is to write good interview questions for one. I also learned that a lot of background information has to be assembled before any of the heavy lifting can even begin. Even if the results of my survey take my research to an unexpected place, I still need to have a foundation in place for my IRB proposal. This was a little surprising to me, and it took some time for me to commit to a direction for my research. In the end, I found that writing my proposal did a lot to focus my research and allowed me to approach it practically.
This stage involved a lot of writing, re-writing, and sharing my proposal with others for editing. I highly recommend that you use honest, serious scholars as your editors. They aren’t afraid to tell you how it really is.
That’s all there is to my saga of writing for publication at this point, but I hope to have more to share soon. If you have any experience (or frustrations) publishing your research, please share below!
Oh, and I found this blog post from the ACRL Blog helpful in my own explorations of publishing. Check it out!