19 July 2007


On 10 July, Stephen Abram and I did a one-hour webinar for the SirsiDynix Institute. The podcast is available at http://www.sirsidynixinstitute.com/archive.php. You can also download the slides.

There were some unanswered questions at the end of the event. Abram posted his answers on his blog, Stephen’s Lighthouse (http://stephenslighthouse.sirsidynix.com/archives/2007/07/the_sdi_session.html). Here are mine. I have deleted some that will make no sense to someone who hasn’t heard the podcast.)

2. What are the roles of library oriented listservs in writing for the profession?

First, remember that “listserv” is a trademarked program—use “electronic list” instead.

I consider the lists still to be viable formats. Stephen thinks they are antiques, superceded by blogs and wikis, etc. However, I get a lot of information from them I subscribe to about 15 of them, including sla-dsol—the one sponsored by the Solo Librarians Division of the Special Libraries Association. But I subscribe to over 70 blogs, so…

What’s written on the lists is definitely a part of the literature and part of sharing and passing on information within the profession.

3. How do you get around vetting constraints? The Director of my library has asked that all writing that we do needs to be vetted by her. I would prefer not to have to take comments and edits from someone not directly involved with the article topic.

I’ve never faced this situation. I would find out if everyone in the parent organization is subject to the same constraints. If so, you’re stuck. If not, point this out to her and get the policy changed.

In the meantime, you could write on your own time and speak as an individual, not as a representative of the organization. She shouldn’t be able to muzzle you completely. You may not be able to write articles, but you can blog—from home. Just say that you are a librarian at xyz type of institution and put no details in that could identify you.

Personally, if I faced this situation, I’d be looking for another job. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder and I hate “censorship” in whatever format it appears.

4. (We did a section on “How” to write.) “How” to me means “how to find the time?” Can you share some of how you both manage this? (I’m a Mom of a 71/2 year old—difficult just to balance work--but would love to find time to start writing!

It’s a bit hard for me to answer, since I am childless (except for my 53-year-old—my husband—and 2 cats) and most of my writing happened after I quit my 40-hour-per-week job. But writing, like everything else, requires the following:

Commitment: if you really want to write, you’ll find the time.

Good time management techniques: don’t procrastinate, limit interruptions, etc. (Blatant plug warning! For more on time management, see my book, Time Management, Planning and Prioritization for Librarians, Scarecrow Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8108-4438-9—or available from me).

Patience: don’t start with a book; start with a blog posting, an article for the newsletter of your professional organization—or OPL. Something small. Once it gets easier, and your child gets bigger, you can try the tougher stuff.

5. My concern about all of the blog content is how it will be preserved for the future; so much of our exciting discourse these days published in blogs and I’m afraid it will all be lost.

Yup, that is probably what will happen—unfortunately. Some bloggers are collecting their posts into books, both self-published and commercial, but most of it will go away. I wish that weren’t true, but we have to face reality; no one is archiving the Web.

But don’t let that stop you from blogging. Before the information disappears, it will have informed, helped, or improved the profession.

6. What if your employer won’t let you use your real name for a personal blog?

You can use a pseudonym or be anonymous, but how can the employer control what you do on your own time? I’d ask the higher ups if this is “kosher” and try to get it changed.

7. Would you recommend a para professional to write when the opportunity presents itself?

Of course. Many (most?) paras have as much or more to give back to the profession. You are the ones down in the trenches doing the dirty work and probably have more direct customer contact than most of the professionals. Write, and write often.

(You are planning to go to library school someday and earn the “big” bucks, right?)

9. What are some of the best RSS Aggregators?

I don’t know about best, but I use Google Reader. It’s easy, free, and being improved on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there is no real customer support, but you can ask questions of other users on their forums—but I haven’t encountered any problems. You can always ask other librarians (on the lists) for their advice.

10. What are some of the pitfalls you’ve encountered in writing for scholarly publications?

I’ve only done this twice. Why? To put it bluntly, they’re a pain in the butt. The article will be sent out for peer review and that take a while. It may be rejected, sometimes without even saying why or giving you a chance to rewrite. There’s a terribly long time-lag from when you write the article to when it’s published—like a book, only even longer sometimes. You almost always have to transfer copyright to the publisher (which I refuse to do). And you often have to pay for reprints of your own article.

However, if you are a faculty member, you have to do it to get tenure and promotion. Note that many faculty stop writing after they are made professors—guess why?

11. When writing an article, how do you find the best periodical to publish in? Looking at the magazine publishing schedule and their topics per issue is useful, but how do you target the most appropriate periodical for publishing?

It should be relatively obvious where your article is appropriate. Get a list of library journals (Emerald and Haworth have a zillion of them) and pick one. I’d try for one that is widely read; that you would read.

Even better, however, would be to choose a periodical that your users (or better yet, those who fund your library) read. We spend too much time and energy talking to ourselves—we need to talk to them!

(I told Abram, president-elect of SLA, that I won’t be happy until I see ads or articles by and about special librarians in Time, Fortune, Business Week, Journal of the American Medical Association, American Bar Association Journal, and the like. Let’s see if he delivers….)

12. There are plenty of librarian blogs out there. I’ve noticed a fair bit of overlap (e.g., who doesn’t link to CommonCraft videos?) What are ways to market your blog and differentiate it from the others (if you’re not a “mover and a shaker” who is known in library circles)?

Overlap is not necessarily bad. Everyone doesn’t follow 70 blogs like I do, or 700 like Abram does. The more places a piece of information or debate appears, the better, I say. The object is to get the information out there. There’s a lot of overlap in books, too.

The best way to market your blog is by writing something people want to read. It will be found by other bloggers and passed on. You can also write to some of the more influential bloggers and tell them you have a blog—they’ll publicize it for you. That’s how I found out about a neat new blog from Nina Platt, Strategic Librarian—I read about it on Stephen’s Lighthouse.

You differentiate yourself by having something different to say. If you don’t have a ‘voice” or “point-of-view” that is different, you probably shouldn’t be blogging.

(What are CommonCraft videos? I guess I’m “out of the loop.”)

13. How do you overcome the attitudes of a “disinterested” patron audience? Is there a good way to market to the “disinterested” so that the role of the library and librarians, as well as new technologies, are highlighted?

The way to market to anyone is frequently, in different formats, at different time, in different voices. I once read that it takes seeing and “ad” eight times before the average person takes action. Your “disinterested” audience just may not need what you have—right now. But tell them anyway—eventually they will get the idea.

Send out electronic newsletters, print newsletter, and emails. Put marketing information in various places in your library. Put the same flyers in the cafeteria or break rooms, even in the rest rooms. Carry them with you. Create different marketing pieces for different audiences.

(Blatant plug alert 2! Check out my book, The Visible Librarian: Asserting Your Value With Marketing and Advocacy, ALA Editions, 2003, ISBN 0-8389-0848-9, for more marketing tips.)

14. I am the PR person for the library. I write press releases which sometimes is like writing for a black hole because I often write good news and the newspaper is interested in bad news. How can I make this work better? I also write our library newsletter.

Ask if you can have a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly column. Give up on the big newspaper in town and get published in the smaller, regional ones—if you have any. They are much more likely to pay attention to your press releases. (I sent press releases about a local Meals on Wheels group to the big daily paper, a county daily, and a regional weekly. The regional weekly printed the release almost untouched. The county daily sent a reporter and photographer and did a front page story. The big daily ignored me completely.)

Also, make the headline and first paragraph relevant to what’s going on in the community, not in the library. Write about something that the people need, not what the library has.

15. Is there a format to follow for proposals and queries to publishers?

Most publishers have a proposal form and guidelines somewhere on their website. Otherwise, call and ask for one. If you use their form you improve your chances of a positive response.

16. If you think you might need funding for a potential research article, which is better to do first: get the funding/grant or get the article proposal approved?

I’d get the funding, write up the research, then find a place to publish. You should be able to find a journal that’s interested, just maybe not the one you had in mind at first.

17. A colleague and I are planning on writing an article on Library Blog readership. What way would you suggest to approach blog writers for assistance in writing the survey for the study?

Pick out a couple of bloggers you respect and ask for their advice. Find out what questions they would like to know the answers to. Then pick out some more, run those questions by them, and ask if there are any more questions you should include. Repeat until you have a good-sized list. Then delete half the questions (a long survey will not be filled out).

I can’t give more advice without knowing what you’re trying to accomplish. Feel free to ask me off-line (via email).

18. Why do you recommend Lulu.com as a self-publisher over others? Is it from personal experience?

We didn’t mean to recommend it. It was just an example and, frankly, I just mentioned it so you’d know why you couldn’t find Walt Crawford’s latest book at the bookstore. (Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change, http://www.lulu.com/content/737992)

19. I was wondering about finding collaborators for articles, I’m a new solo librarian.

Pick out someone who you admire and think would add to the article, then ask. If he or she says “no,” ask someone else. Repeat until you’re successful.

20. Many academics write for general audiences in places like Harper’s, New Yorker, etc. Is there a place for librarians to do this? Or examples of librarian’s do this?

Hmmm. The only example of librarians in the “mainstream” media that comes to mind is the wonderful article in Inc. on Highsmith and its librarian (The Smartest Little Company in America (http://www.inc.com/magazine/19990101/707.html). But I don’t read Harper’s, New Yorker, etc.

1 comment:

waltc said...

Thanks for the mention--and a good post! My take on Lulu is that it's probably the best route *if* you're not ready to actually become a publisher (that is, store and sell copies, do fulfillment, etc., go to accrual accounting for taxes)--and not at all the best route if you do, since the per-copy production costs are much higher than they would be through good short-run jobbers.