Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Librarian as Academic Author – Reflections on the Academic Writing and Publishing Seminar

Guest post by Heather Chawke, UCD iSchool @HJC1000

As an early career entrant to the field of library and information science with a passion for academic libraries, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the ‘Librarian as Academic Author: Further Developing Your Scholarly Writing” seminar in Maynooth University Library on 9th November.  This event was in collaboration with New Review of Academic Librarianship and Taylor & Francis

The speakers throughout the day brought an impressive scope and breadth of experience with them.  They shared practical examples, with each speaker bringing distinctive perspectives.  There was an interesting mix of presentations, focusing on academic writing from the writers’ and publishers’ perspectives.  The group discussions on the practicalities of successful writing and the top tips which emerged from these discussions were also illuminating.

Key themes consistently arose across the sessions: that of the academic librarian as collaborator; the supportive network that exists across librarianship; the need to continue working closely with this network to support and promote each other’s work and the impressive ability of librarians to understand, digest and skilfully write about other disciplines, both collaboratively and individually.  The extent of collegiality and the support network that exists amongst librarianship is both unique and refreshing.  Having not experienced such a dynamic in my previous career, I feel this is a really valuable aspect of the librarian fellowship.

Professional writing: lessons learned from 30 + years as an author and 12 years as a peer reviewed journal editor
Dr Graham Walton’s keynote  provided an overview of his impressive career, highlighting lessons learned from his experience as an author and then subsequently his experiences as Editor-in-Chief of the New Review of Academic Librarianship (NRAL).  The importance of agreeing responsibilities when collaborating, choosing the specific journal to publish in carefully - though not being limited to journals within the LIS sector -  and the necessity for the writing to have a clear, coherent focus and title for discoverability were all key messages.  Dr Walton referenced the principles of project management where multiple authors were involved – it is apparent that there is much to consider and agree when collaborating.
The concept of academic writing as career development, allowing the writer to explore new directions is an interesting prospect.  Dr Walton suggested that the allure of academic writing is not about moving up the career ladder but is about exploring blue skies and impenetrable theories.  With the intensity and time required to produce polished, well-researched writing and the ongoing focus on impact metrics this suggestion is both alluring and surprising.  However, when discussing his editor role in the NRAL, Dr Walton provided further context on this, explaining that the NRAL does not have an impact factor; it is committed to supporting practitioner-based research producing relevant, high quality research. Finally, Dr Walton highlighted the importance of human interaction, of building relationships and of enjoying the diversity that people from different backgrounds and perspectives can bring.
Link to Presentation 

Writing outside the Library discipline: Librarians and Faculty as writing partners
The necessity to develop writing skills as a craft resonated across a number of the presentations.  Dr Barrett’s suggestion of joining writers groups or attending writers’ retreats for the ensuing benefits of sociability and keeping up momentum were met with wide enthusiasm.  The luxury of research days outside of usual daily commitments, enabling the writer to focus specifically on the work in hand, seemed to be widely illusive.  Dr Barrett provided sage advice regarding common interests which may prove fruitful for collaborative research between faculty members and librarians, such as information literacy, and teaching and learning. 
Dr Barrett’s proposal that the Masters library and Information students final assessment should result in publication – instead of a thesis is a thrilling concept as the fate of most thesis is that they are buried within the library school.  As I will be embarking on a thesis from early next year, to think of one’s research leading to a publication at the start of your career would bring so much to the qualification.  Her latest book will involve Master students theses; she is clearly passionate about this.
 Link to Presentation 

Building an academic article around the literature
 John Cox  delivered a concise yet comprehensive overview of writing high quality review articles.  He stressed the importance of the literature review as an educational tool, essentially providing a polished overview of the subject in question as well as providing the reader with signposts regarding further relevant sources.  Key points from John Cox’s presentation included the importance of remaining engaged when researching and reading and of remaining critical, as well as synthesising ones notes around themes, thereby aiding the flow of writing by providing a more structured approach.  By taking such an approach, a minimum of two weeks to read, re-read, improve and finalise the piece prior to the deadline should be feasible.  This allows the writing and thought process to fully develop.  The importance of promoting your own work via Twitter and other media conduits were also highlighted.
Link to Presentation 

Pablo the Penguin gets Published: Building a peer-reviewed article from a Library Innovation
David Bennett’s  presentation illustrated how a peer-reviewed article can arise from innovation such as Pablo Penguin who was introduced to the University of Portsmouth Library to promote student engagement with the library.  The research this case study was grounded in literature and therefore the innovation was affirmed.
Link to Presentation 

From Pop-Up Library Initiative to Peer Reviewed Publication: Some thoughts and tips
Stephen Bull, a Library Engagement Advisor within the University of Birmingham, outlined how the data collected from the development of a pop-up library to increase student engagement had been converted into an article which was subsequently published in the NRAL.  This experience highlighted that it is possible to consider how aspects of daily work can be exploited for publishing potential.  In Stephen’s top tips he stressed that writing should be enjoyable, to meet regularly, establishing mini-goals and to be prepared to edit.  Stephen felt that the experience that he gained from this process particularly around the peer-review process was invaluable, enabling him to advise students to a greater extent.
Link to Presentation 

The afternoon sessions focused on providing an insight into the publishing process, including presentations from the editorial perspective, from Taylor & Francis regarding the promotion of your work, and the benefits of deploying altmetrics to capture research attention.

From Pitch to Publication: What the editor/peer reviewers seek in an academic article
Helen Fallon outlined her experience as part of the editorial board for the NRAL, providing an insight into the requirements of an academic journal, the process involved in submitting an article and the peer-review process.  The importance of planning the process, structuring your article and understanding the guidelines for the journal were all highlighted.  When discussing the peer review criteria, Helen highlighted the importance of the title reflecting the content to enhance visibility.  From a writer’s perspective we were encouraged to engage with the peer-review process with a view to improving your article, but also not to be afraid of not implementing suggested changes if you do not agree with them and opening a dialogue with the editor on this.  Above all else we should not despair with rejection but harness the feedback to create a superior version. 
Helen’s tips to develop as an academic author strongly echoed the group discussions, emphasising the need to write from your experience, to talk and collaborate and use Twitter to support the conversation.  The calls for papers on the academic writing blog are also a key resource for sourcing opportunities to get published.
Link to Presentation 

Promoting your Publishing
Laura Montgomery (laura.montgomery@tandf.co.uk) from Taylor & Francis provided us with the publisher’s perspective, stressing that given that there are approximately 2.5 million articles published annually across 28,000 journals, it is vital to promote your work for discoverability, impact and engagement.  Altmetrics was briefly mentioned to support this process.  Laura again emphasised that clarity of the title, abstract and content is crucial.  The linking of the published article, website or blog and other promotional assets across Twitter and other media conduits, in conjunction with identifying your work by using the ORCHID ID, greatly serves to support this process.   Laura encourages us to see social media profiles as our professional ‘shop window’ and a means to engage with others.  Laura highlighted the potential of making use of the publishers’ initiatives such as the first fifty free article copies, and resources to support your promotion efforts.  Taylor & Francis offer multimedia support in creating video abstracts as well as comic-book style articles though both are substantially in demand! 
Inevitably as a researcher, there is great attention given to measuring personal impact.  With the current focus on research data management, institutional repositories are encouraging researchers to deposit their research; if depositing an article means that you lose publisher benefits, such as those offered by Taylor & Francis, it surely becomes significantly less attractive for researchers to do so.  How can this therefore be reconciled with the need and desire for researcher recognition?  Perhaps this is a question for another day! 
Link to Presentation 

An Altmetric analysis of “Librarian as Communicator”
Engaging as ever, Jane Burns (@jmburns99) provided an update on altmetrics, explaining the advantages of deploying altmetrics, how the process works as well as introducing the new altmetrics element which will also provide scoring for books and chapters.  Jane views self-promotion as the last leg of the publication process, contending that it is a responsibility to share one’s research.  The key benefits of altmetrics are clearly in its collection of real-time research outputs in non-traditional sources, yet complementing traditional metrics.  Being an early career writer, the prospect of being part of the conversation more imminently than traditional sources is inevitably very attractive.  The emphasis on linking with others and supporting each other resonates strongly in Jane’s presentation.
Link to Presentation 

Why should Academic Librarians publish in Higher Education Journals?
Finally Saranne Magennis (sp.magennis@mu.ie)  invited us to consider reasons why academic librarians should publish in higher education journals, and conversely what might hold you back from doing so.  The unique skills of librarians and ability to transverse across disciplines makes writing and publishing all the more promising.  The attendees agreed that librarians should publish with a view to sharing knowledge and experience, for the passion and personal fulfilment and to develop skills in writing outside of your field.  All agreed that the fear of rejection was the primary reason that may hinder librarians from writing, though this was partly quashed by the affirmation from Dr Walton that ultimately editors want to publish and therefore encourage writers to write; the human element again comes to the fore.

The day finished on a high, with the launch of Helen Fallon and Graham Walton’s book, Librarian as Communicator: Case Studies and International Perspectives.  The seminar was a constructive and enlightening experience.  A few final thoughts:
·         There is power in the fact that librarians’ interests are so broad.
·         While self-promotion is key, so also is promoting the work of others – it is mutually beneficial and in keeping with the collegial philosophy of librarianship.
·         Coming together to share experience and increase visibility is a really positive approach – let’s do it again soon!

With heartfelt thanks to Helen Fallon, Graham Walton and all the presenters.

Link to pics from the day

Reflection on being a volunteer in Sierra Leone

This post was written for International Volunteer Day on December 5th.

The Country
I arrived in Sierra Leone at the beginning of September 1989 on a two-year assignment with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).   Sierra Leone is about the same size as Ireland, with a similar size population.  Freetown, where I was based, was established around the end of the 18th century as a place where freed slaves from Britain and British colonies, were sent after slavery was abolished.  My initial impression was of a place where nothing worked.   In my first months I had to adapt to walking everywhere.  Public transport amounted to the occasional rust-eaten minibus or shared overcrowded taxi, which often broke down.  There was a scarcity of petrol, gas, rice and even stamps were rationed, an important consideration when quite a lot of my evenings were spent writing letters by candlelight.  There was no electricity in the village where I lived or in the University where I worked.  I was so busy coping with the day-to-day reality of my new situation that I didn’t have time to analyse it.  Later, I understood that all these circumstances contributed to what is known in development terms as a “failed state.” War was possibly inevitable in what was the 2nd poorest country in the world.  Ironically, Sierra Leone is very rich in diamonds and other natural resources.  The mismanagement of these resources, combined with other complex historical, political and economic factors has meant that the people of Sierra Leone have gained little or nothing from the country’s rich natural resources.

Isatu at the village store, Leicester

The Project
I was employed to design and deliver non-graduate certificate and diploma courses to students in the Institute of Library Studies at the University of Sierra Leone.  This University is outside Freetown.  Established as Fourah Bay College (FBC) by the English Church Missionary Society, it is the oldest third-level college in sub-Saharan Africa.  During colonial time it was linked to Durham University. 

Challenges I encounter included the lack of modern textbooks on librarianship, a culture which did not put a significant value on libraries, great variation in the academic standards of the students, a political system that opposed democracy and free speech and the ongoing difficulty of operating in a very poor country.  Students frequently had to walk the three miles to and from the city to college.  The coffee breaks I took for granted in what was then National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE), now Dublin City University,   were replaced with  handfuls of groundnuts(peanuts) purchased from a woman who arrived each day with a brightly coloured enamel bowl laden with groundnuts, on her head.  Because children often attend school erratically in Sierra Leone (due to school fees, the needs of subsistence farming and other constraints) there was a great variation in student age from early twenties to late forties.  The majority of students -about 40 over the two years - were male.  In Sierra Leone more value is placed on the education of male children than females.  Economic considerations influence this to a significant extent.  When a girl marries -this is a society which puts a strong emphasis on marriage and family -  any money she earns will go to her husband’s family.  Thus a poor family will generally favour educating a male child, who will remain attached to the household and support his parents into old age.  Aminatta Forna has written a vivid and lyrical memoir of growing up in Sierra Leone "The Devil that Danced on the Water"  and I would recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about life in Sierra Leone.
A book in Sierra Leone costs the equivalent of a civil servant’s monthly salary. Most people will never own a book.  In addition Sierra Leone has a very strong oral culture.  Many of my students came from homes where their parents could not read or write. 
Shortly after my return to Ireland I wrote an article  about the teaching aspect of my assignment for "An Leabharlann: the Irish Library"

The road home from work each day

War and its aftermath
I left Sierra Leone in the summer of 1991,  having completed my two year contract. Fighting had broken out in the east of the country. There was a six o’clock curfew in Freetown.   Most people, including myself, expected the skirmish to end fairly quickly.  It turned into a ten year civil war, which left an estimated 200,000 people dead and an already fragile economy in ruins. Ishmael Beah, a former child solider has written a harrowing memoir "A Long Way Gone" which gives an incredible insight into events of the time. 

In 2005,  I returned to Sierra Leone on a one-month contract with the Agency for Personal Service Overseas (APSO) Specialist Service Overseas (SSO) programme, which has now ceased.  This was a project to set up a Library at the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) outside Freetown.  I revisited the University of Sierra Leone and was interested to find that the library studies programmes had been expanded to include undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. After the visit I wrote a reflective piece for CILIP Update

Visiting my old neighbour Mammy Sesay who made a living from selling groundnuts

I returned from a job where I wrote on a blackboard with chalk and had no electricity either at work or at home for the most part of the two years, to a university (NIHED had become DCU), where databases on CD-rom, personal computers, book and journal budgets were the norm.  Now i'm in Maynooth University Library and find that I can  keep up to date with events in Sierra Leone via social media - it's good to see so many people/organisations on twitter. I believe social media and open access to research and publishing offer great opportunities to develop scholarship in Sierra Leone and other African countries. 

Life has moved on.  Twenty six years have passed since my VSO experience.  I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity to work in Sierra Leone and to meet so many great people and get an insight into a culture that is quite different to Irish culture although it shares many common values.

I think I’ve been able to integrate my Sierra Leonean experience into my life in a positive way through  writing and a reasonable level of involvement with the country.    These days I’ve mostly forgotten the poor food, lack of electricity, the constant walking and lack of creature comforts.  I tend to remember the vividly coloured African clothes, the visit to the gold mines,  the devils (men wearing masks and raffia costumes) who danced through the village raising swirls of dust during various festivals and the more exotic aspects of my time in Sierra Leone.

Helen Fallon
December 2017 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Top Tips for Successful Writing from Librarian as Academic Author Seminar

Heather Chawke compiled a helpful list of tips  from the group discussion at the seminar Librarian as Academic Author at Maynooth University Library on 9th November 2017.

Each table discussed their top tips for someone new to writing for publication and subsequently shared them for wider discussion.  The top tips were identified as follows:
1)      Choose the topic carefully; write about what you are interested in and what is relevant to you. Where possible combine academic writing with interesting aspects of your day job.
2)      Identify a gap in the literature or angle that interests you; be passionate about your writing. 
3)      Have a clear focus and purpose, and make sure that this is reflected in the title.
4)      Make your writing accessible and easy to read, avoiding acronyms.
5)      Time management is vital.  Set mini goals for yourself.  Ideally allow two weeks at the end of the process for reflection.  Engage in ‘snack writing’, writing little and often.
6)      Take time to outline your structure.
7)      Practice for perfection. Write, write and re-write – hone your skills.  Get others to read what you’ve written.
8)      Understand the environment and use the literature review to reflect this understanding.
9)      Collaboration and partnership are extremely important…but set boundaries, be assertive and proactive.
10)   Be flexible in the writing process and anticipate that you may need to change, edit and delete content.
11)   Think about what kind of publication you want to write for, who you are writing for, what they require from you.
12)   Read prospective journals for hints on style, content and structure.
13)   Talk to those who have already been published, gain from their experience.
14)   Target the publication and understand the requirements.  Read and visualise the end product.
15)   Mentor collegiality and networking relationships are helpful for developing content and conversation.  Talk to lecturers, academics, other librarians.
16)   Use social media to your advantage, to engage with the audience.
17)   Don’t take revisions from editors personally.
18)   Be prepared for knock backs.
19)   Engage in pre-peer review with a friendly writing group/ person.
20)   Find a critical friend.