29 Jan 2014

Librarians as authors – report from a seminar held in the ‘new’ NUI Maynooth Library

Guest post by Aoife Lawton, Systems Librarian, HSE

This workshop was organised by Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian at NUI Maynooth. Helen is a great advocate for promoting writing amongst librarians in Ireland. It was held on Monday January 27th on the first floor of the new John Paul II Library in Maynooth.

It took me 2 trains to get to Maynooth, a relatively quick journey and passing by the green fields on the train down reminded me of how refreshing it is to escape the urban landscape of Dublin city, if only for a day. A short walk from the train station along the canal took me to the campus. The Library itself is a few minutes from the entrance and is hugely impressive. Inside it is hardly recognisable as a library in the traditional sense, but more about that later.

Copyright: Alan Monahan @ NUIM Library
The seminar was entitled “Developing Academic Writing among Librarians” and had a strong line up, including presentations from three editors of journals, founders of two blogs (this one and Academic Writing Librarians) and a researcher hoping to publish from a PhD thesis.

Professor Wendi Arant-Kaspar co-editor of the Journal of Academic Librarianship and based at Texas A&M University delivered the keynote address. In the United States tenure is a strong motivation or indeed condition for librarians to publish. In some cases, they are expected to publish 5 articles with at least one as a single author piece to acquire tenure. It struck me that in Ireland we have no such comparable tenure track nor indeed do Librarians in Europe. A discussion took place a bit later on about that. The Journal has an acceptance rate of 25% and receives on average 200 submissions per year. The impact factor is 0.885. All submissions are peer-reviewed with the exception of perspectives. The types of submissions they are looking for are a mixture of theory and practice. They tend to pick topical issues for themed issues such as e.g. Open Access or Business models. A perspective piece usually needs to be about something innovative and is largely descriptive. Wendi shared some of her tips for budding writers including: blog first, publish later; read around your topic first and see who has already published on your topic; ask the editor if an item is suitable for inclusion, the topic must be timely and important and must meet the scope of the journal. If you are unsure about your writing style, read it out loud or get a trusted friend or colleague to proof read it. Usually ideas that are innovative and contribute to the profession and the literature will get published. Another suggestion from Wendi was for librarians to initiate a writing group among peers or colleagues – to meet once a week for an hour and share research.

Copyright: Alan Monahan @ NUIM Library
Marjory Sliney, former president of the Library Association of Ireland and long time editor of An Leabharlann shared her insights into writing and librarians' uptake of writing in Ireland. She talked about how the journal An Leabharlann started and evolved. She played a key role in expanding the scope of the journal and broadening the inclusion of literature to include the voices of special and academic librarians in Ireland. Starting out a lot of the literature had been relevant to public libraries exclusively. This was an important development for the profession as a whole and An Leabharlann is an exclusive journal in that it is the only Irish journal devoted to Irish librarianship. It is not an Open Access journal, due to the current financial constraints of the Association. It is a member benefit. Her top tip was to read back issues of An Leabharlann to understand the scope of the journal. The journal accepts articles from 1,500 to 4000 words; book reviews of 450 words and conference reports of 650/700 words. If you are planning a large article then she did recommend getting in touch with her as it could be broken up into 2 parts. Marjory suggested that book reviews are a good place to start with writing as well as conference reports. She made an appeal for librarians to contribute to An Leabharlann and was particularly interested in hearing from librarians who hadn’t published in the journal before and from those based outside of Dublin.

Michelle Dalton, co-founder of this blog presented on Developing Irish Online Publishing Through Blogging and her experience of setting up and managing Libfcus, a key blog for librarians in Ireland. She described blogging as “conversational scholarship” which to me, seems to sum it up quite accurately. Libfocus is growing with a following of 1500 and 300 posts in just 2 years. Very impressive Michelle! (editor's note: Thanks Aoife, you are too kind!). Her tips for authors were twofold: 1) get started 2) make it a habit. Both of these tips are the key to writing. One of the advantages of blogging according to Michelle is that it may be treated like a testbed or sandbox. It affords the opportunity to test out your thoughts, like a perpetual draft. She shared some links to other noteworthy blogs in our profession: In the Library with the Leadpipe, Informed and Impact of Social Sciences blog. Another message from Michelle to librarians was to encourage us to think about writing outside of library journals which is crucial for visibility and advocacy for our profession. Other presenters and the audience, myself included agreed on this noteworthy point.

Helen Fallon, founder of the Academic Writing Librarians blog talked about how and why this blog was set up and how writing in our profession was an important endeavour. The audience for the blog does not hail solely from Ireland but as she put it “has gone global” and hence when you do write on a blog, it is of course, on the world wide web and therefore “out there” for all to see. An interesting feature of the blog is the ability to translate it into other languages which has been used by some visitors. There are some excellent resources on the blog including tips from journal editors and published authors and resources for academic writing. Helen sends out calls for papers via the blog so it is a very useful one to follow/favourite. One tip Helen had was for librarians to make their presentations available on Slideshare which would increase their audience and lead to collaborations or perhaps comments.

Mary Antonesa a PhD candidate and ‎Senior Librarian for Teaching, Learning and Research Development at NUI Maynooth spoke about her experience of doing a PhD part-time for almost 8 years and getting to the final hurdle. ‘Stickability’ was a core attribute for any writer. By this she talked about the hard slog of writing and rewriting and how it is an iterative process which needed commitment and dedication. She talked about the process of writing a thesis and how it differs from writing a journal article. She hopes to publish from her thesis but wonders about the transition to a new type of writing. She felt it important for librarians to share Irish experiences and how LIS concepts can contribute to other disciplines including education. She mentioned Sconul Focus as a good place to begin publishing for librarians.

Saranne Magennis, Editor of the Open Access All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE) Journal made an appeal to librarians to consider submitting articles to this journal. Articles of up to 5000 words are accepted with 3 issues published per year. Her tips for writers were: 1) Ask yourself who is your audience? AISHE has many difference audiences including academics, education developers, students, librarians, it is international and multidisciplinary. 2) Ask yourself what is the purpose of your article? It could be multipurpose – to educate, entertain, train, inform. Whatever the purpose is, it must be clear from the outset. This will make it easy to write, easy to read and crucially for her, easy to edit. 3) Think about genre. Is it a journal article or a report on practice – think about being reflective and descriptive in your writing. 4) Include examples of resources that might be useful for readers. 5) Clarity is all-important. As mentioned earlier read it out loud. 6) Finally she recommended finding your own voice. As a general point the journal publishes 1 in 3 papers received and has 3 copy deadlines in March, July and November. Academics she noted are interested in how to do things quickly and easily, they are *not interested in what librarians do*.

Following on from the speakers we had an open forum where some Q & A took place. There was a positive vibe around writing for librarians and a feeling that we needed to be writing more and getting our practice and particularly Irish practice out there, into the academic publishing sphere.

Copyright: Alan Monahan @ NUIM Library
Library tour: I signed up for the library tour, led by Mary Antonesa which was made the visit even more worthwhile. An extensive renovation project was carried out on NUI Maynooth Library which was completed in December 2012. The building feels very new, modern and Google-like. For me it was the convergence of the information world. The bringing together of “information” from the world of “information technology” and “information” from the world of “library and information science”. The IT department and the Library department work in harmony – an ideal and much sought after scenario - for any Library. From the self-issue laptop trolleys to the wall of glass, this Library is taking its patrons into the information age with gusto. The ground floor has an exhibition area, a Starbucks, a quiet hub incorporating the IT equipment (photocopiers etc.) and a vast array of white desks, chairs and computers. A large separate room has a “Google” feel to it. The chairs are multicoloured, reflecting the colours of the NUI Maynooth logo which are bright and modern. There is technology at every turn, sockets for students needing to connect or recharge and computers aplenty. This room has beanbags – the ultimate student luxury – in a corner for anyone needing chill out or reflective time. There is light and glass everywhere, the outside is brought inside and unites the space beautifully with its surroundings.

Mary explained that the entrance area of the library is sometimes partitioned by a spectacular accordion like glass wall, just one of the ideas of the architect. This enables the library to be used late into the night, up until 2am and it is not unusual for students to order pizza deliveries. There is no issue with mess, it seems this space commands respect. Two tables resembling supersized tablets at the entrance have touchscreen capability, enabling visitors to zoom into precious digitized content of the library, among many other features. The space is open to the community in Maynooth, making the notion of “town and gown” an Irish reality. Going through the security gates, there is an information desk staffed by librarians and another desk staffed by IT. There are fresh plants growing and Artwork on the far wall depicting the treasures of the college. There was more to the library than I have described here, but a notable point is that there wasn’t a book in sight, at least not on the ground floor that I could see. This is a library come of age. For anyone thinking of libraries as place, this one is most definitely worth a look.


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