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Start Small — Think Big

Nov 01, 2006

It can be a daunting task to try to publish when you’re new to any profession and I think this is especially true for newly-minted librarians. Typically, LIS programs don’t emphasize research and writing as much as other fields. The simplest advice that I can pass along to you is to start small and think big.

Your first published article doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering research study in a refereed publication. Another common misconception is that you need a finished product in hand before you contact an editor. In actuality, most of my publications were the result of submitting a brief abstract or contacting the editor directly with only an idea. I would go even further to say that there are many editors who would actually prefer that you contact them early in the writing process. This allows them to make comments and ensure your article and style are appropriate for their publications.

One article somehow magically leads to the next.

I have consistently seen the publishing “domino effect” take place with myself and a number of my colleagues. One article somehow magically leads to the next. Perhaps your library or institution has a regular newsletter. A brief report could lead to an article in a state/regional library association publication, eventually leading to national and refereed titles. Yes, there are a few core refereed titles that are quite competitive, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are many editors constantly trolling librarian waters for new talent and ideas.

Once you have your foot in the door, it’s essential that you follow through with the publication’s established guidelines. Think of this as the “mechanics” of the process. Be mindful of their writing style, your draft deadlines, and appropriate citation methods. Nothing will annoy an editor more than if you miss deadlines and create extra work during an already tight publication schedule. However, you can also use the above considerations to your advantage. I have received invitations to write simply based on the fact that I was easy to work with and turned everything in on time.

After you think you have a finished product, always pass it along to a trusted colleague for proofreading before you submit it. Regardless of the article type, it’s always possible to become too close to the material and miss typographical mistakes and other errors. Your proofreader could be one of your peers or a mentor with significant writing experience. You might also want to take this process a step further and collaborate with one or more people in creating an article. It splits up the workload and allows for different perspectives on your topic.

Utimately, the key is just to start.

Ultimately, the key is to just start. I have witnessed several colleagues with great ideas that never reached fruition because they were afraid to take that first step. I think you’ll find that, once you have that initial article under your belt, you’ll gain confidence and create networking opportunities that will prove invaluable in the future. The library science publishing environment is wide open. Write about what you know or what you have a passion for and watch your small ideas evolve into something big.