Thursday, November 27, 2014

Publish or Perish, by Kaylin Tristano

Once upon a time a patron taught me a very important rule – if it’s not on the Internet, it must be by midnight. In other words, if you’re searching for something that doesn’t seem to exist, it becomes your responsibility to create it. The same is true for sharing knowledge in a professional context, whether by publishing in academic journals, writing for a blog, or presenting at conferences.
When you’re new to a role, a job, or even an entire discipline, you naturally have a lot of questions and all the answers are out there as long as you know where to look – professional publications, textbooks, conference sessions, social media, colleagues, etc. But as you gain experience, your questions get more complicated, the answers are harder to find, and you begin to notice that you’re on level ground with the people who used to have all the answers.
This is when you start creating your own solutions to the problems you’re encountering, and it’s also an optimal time to start thinking about publishing or otherwise sharing these experiences.
The first time I realized I had valuable things to share with my peers was at an academic library conference. I went to a session on utilizing iPads in the library – my school had been circulating iPads to faculty for some time and I hoped to learn new and better ways to facilitate learning on the tablets. The presentation was instead geared toward audience members looking to institute an iPad program - I was an advanced student listening in on a beginner’s lesson.
Finding yourself with more talking points than the presenter (or knowing the frustration that sets in after an intense and fruitless Google search) can signal a responsibility to start producing your own answers. But putting yourself out there for the first time, either in writing or quite literally by getting up in front of a crowd at a professional conference, can be a daunting or downright terrifying idea. The fear of public speaking, of potential embarrassment, of giving a 50 minute presentation on an idea that’s obvious to everyone else, may stop some from pursuing publication and sharing the valuable experiences they’ve gained on the job.
Many in academia – including librarians – are pushed to “publish or perish”, but librarians typically identify as information curators rather than creators. Besides,  the courage and motivation to share can be difficult to find. You may shy away from writing for publication out of the concern that your work is not groundbreaking enough to be worthy of an audience, because you’re not one of the ‘rock star librarians’ who regularly make the conference rounds and enjoy name recognition, or because what you want to say doesn’t have mass appeal, or even because you’re skittish about publicly disagreeing with a big name librarian.
 But all you really need to do in order to publish or present or share your ideas is say, “I had a thought and I believe some of my peers would benefit from hearing it.” It’s not a matter of revolutionizing the profession or synthesizing entirely new ideas – just do what librarians do best and make the answers you’ve found accessible. Gather, organize, create, and put it out there for everyone who might have the same questions you did before you created your own answers.
Share those answers.
And there’s no reason you can’t dip your toes slowly into the water before taking the plunge. If you have something you want to share and you’re not sure where to start, think small and let the idea snowball:
  • Talk about your topic with your colleagues or on Twitter;
  • Write a few blog posts for others in the field who accept submissions [editor’s note: Like this blog!];
  • Start your own blog if the spirit moves you;
  • Turn your idea into a poster session for a professional conference, then stand back and let your work speak for itself (bonus: fielding questions about a poster is a great ice breaker to help you work up to the idea of presenting a session);
  • Join a committee or professional organization and be active in it – having friendly faces and connections always makes sharing your ideas easier;
  • Partner with a colleague to present a session together – share both the work and the spotlight.

Just get your ideas out there so they’re not stuck in your head, benefiting no one but yourself. If nothing else, it’s your responsibility as a citizen of the Internet.

Kaylin Tristano is a writer and solo librarian/technology guru for a small career college in Akron, Ohio. She is the webmaster for ALAO and has written and presented on a variety of topics from library instruction to using Twitter as a networking tool. Her student worker provides the following testimonial: “Kaylin is not as funny as she thinks she is.”

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