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The SDI Session on Writing for the Profession

Here’s a link to the powerpoint slides for the session that Judith Siess and I did this month. A lot of people, judging by the questions, seemed to miss the announcements that the PPT’s will be available on the SDI website as well as in this blog. They’re there now. It should be in iTunes soon too.
There were quite a few questions that I think I can respond to here, as promised.
!. What was the result of the Sky vote?
Most people chose blue. Every answer was right since the sky can be almost any colour. I think that all the answers are right. My point was that it is a matter of your perspective and context. Therefore, your writing should not preclude your won personal perspectives and context. What is right for a special library environment may be poorly suited for public or school libraries. Just as saying the sky is blue is an incomplete answer and is almost always wrong at night, the more perspectives we get the more powerful our writing is – and our contribution to the discussion.
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2. What are the roles of library oriented listservs in writing for the profession?
I think it’s just another place to write. I’ve seen it used to gather information and good questioners assemble the responses and share them with the discussion list. All of us know these are just straw polls and not ‘real’ valid surveys but they still provide insight and opinion and can move our learning forward.
Also, e-mail submissions to listservs also get posted online, and could be considered a publication outlet.
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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…
Get political. You’re not doing yourself any favours by not building a great relationship with management. Even the world’s best authors and reporters get edited (and hate it too).
These folks can become references! It’s hard to work as a team but it’s a skill that can make us better. Even if the advice is awful, we learn how to deal with that too.
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4. ‘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! –Thank you.
Some people find it easier to take little gaps of time and use them and others must get away to a quiet place. It’s a matter of personal style. I can write in a noisy room, TV blaring, directly onto my laptop and my wife wrote over 30 books with our two children nipping at her heels. She did tend to write late night or make notes in playgrounds. I don’t need as much sleep as her. Both of us found that it’s just a matter of making time and setting prriorities. Sometimes the kids took the place of a writing deadline. That’s OK too.
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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.
I agree. Those who assemble key blog postings in books are useful. Protecting your archives and backing them up or using Google cache for a while is short term. It’s a real issue. Some libraries are addressing it but it’s a game of whack-a-mole!
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6. What if your employer won’t let you use your real name for a personal blog?
That’s regrettable. If your personal blog is unrelated to your employment then who gave them permission to intrude on your personal life? If you’re using it as a platform to criticize the employer then they likely have cause for concern. Is there a way to have a blog and work under a set of guidelines or philosophies? Can it be positioned as a pilot or test? That conversation needs to be had.
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7. Would you recommend a para professional to write when the opportunity presents itself?
I guess I don’t understand the question. I’d involve any other professional that’s needed – writing, editorial, ghost writers, researchers, or any other professional that works in your field or library – HR, finance, technicians, etc. I recommend that everyone contribute from their own perspective. (I have to admit that I hate the term paraprofessional -everyone is a pro in my eyes.)
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8. What’s the title of Walt Crawford’s book?
Balanced Libraries. Walt tells us that it’s selling successfuly on Lulu here.
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9. What are some of the best RSS Aggregators?
Check out our next SirsiDynix Institute on RSS in August! I blogged about it today.
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10. : What are some of the pitfalls you’ve encountered in writing for scholarly publications?
I haven’t written a great deal for scholarly publications. I’ve done maybe a dozen articles. What I find is that there is enormous pressure to get it in on time and it generally takes 12-18 months after that to reach print. I find that appalling and avoid it now since my work is often out of date by the time it reaches print and the reader’s blame the author not the horrendously, embarrasingly slow publishing cycle. I’m aware that some people’s jobs require them to publish in the right place or perish and that’s their environemnt but most of those environments have experienced folks to mentor others. Seek a mentor.
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11..When writing an article, how do you find the best periodical to publish in? Looking at the magazine publishing schedule & their topics per issue is useful, but how do you target the most appropriate periodical for publishing?
Get copies through ILL and read them. Ask their readers who may be in your workplace. There’s no right answer. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. There’s nothing wrong with asking several. There are different reasons – for instance prestige may trump circulation in some cases. Are you targeting readers that are like you or more like your users? You know what you read but ask your users what they read.
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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 the others (if you’re not a “mover and a shaker” who is known in library circles)?
Be interesting and make sure folks know about it. More subscribers come from links and references to your blog than ads and marketing. Being a regular poster and providing value to the people you want to attract is a basic rule. It sounds simple but it’s not! Also, give yourself time to be discovered and known. It’s not likely to happen overnight! Word of mouth is the best method, I think. Ask friends who blog to link to you. Let people know you’re there.
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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?
If you’re audience is disinterested then find out what interests them then craft your writing to bring them in. That sounds obvious but it is important to know what they want to hear verus wat we want to tell them People hate being told thigs but when you wrap it up in their interests… (For example – don’t tell them abouot research services if you can wrap it up in their hobby or field and connect it to their success.) Develop equity with them. Magazines survey their readers constantly to determine what interests them and they also do polls and interviews and have advisory boards. It’s often about the ‘hook”. Is your title engaging? Are you telling your audience stuff to draw them in? Are there pictures and good layout to make it more accessible? Is the tone and language right? Is your font pretty? Design isn’t trivial. These are all things to review and adapt to engage the audience in your messages.
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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. Thanks.
It’s a start. To my mind, a great press release tells a story. Remember back to our literature training. Stories have conflict, denouement and resolution. Are we telling a story that is engaging. What is the pain we salved? What is hte conflict we amelioriated? Are we ready to tell stories that have a little excitement to them. Good news stories can be bland. Newshounds need a ‘hook’, something to make your story engaging. Are you providing everything they need – story ideas, connections to real users or politicos or celebrities (local or otherwise), pictures (hi-res, etc.)? The press is just as time constrained as we are. If you offer something pre-digested and easy, it has a better chance. Are you in their space to be found – like LinkedIn? Keep up the good work. It’s hard to get stories to stick and when you do, you’re my hero. Lastly, develop relationships with the key reporters at local and commnuiuty newspapers. When was the last coffee you had with them? Are you showing interest in their challenges first? Have you had a press event or tour for them to change their perception of the library? Who did the tour? (trustee, users, kid, librarian?)
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15. Is there a format to follow for proposals and queries to publishers?
Some publishers (book or periodical) have guidelines on their websites. The basic books on getting published usually have an outline too. Many libraries have good collections on getting published. Most should since this is on the top user goals on sites like 43Things.
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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? Thanks.
Get the money first unless you can afford to commit your own funds. Of course, most of the work is in the planning and not the doing so you’re well along the way by the time you’re writing grant proposals. Sorry – Catch 22.
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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?
Are you sure a survey is the best place to start? Would interviews be better? I would talk to Michael Stephens (TameTheWeb) and ask him about his survey and his recent dissertation on this topic. Walt Crawford did some analyses on library blogs too. I am sure you’ve done a lit search on this topic but a few interviews might help. Looking at the blog trackers like Blogfluence and Bloglines etc. might give you some data to review and inform your questions. As with any survey, what are you trying to gain insights about? What will the answers look like? I think most bloggers respond well to e-mail and phone interviews. They’d like questions in advance to think about. They’d appreciate seeing the results so they can improve their blogs.
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18. Why do you recommend Lulu.com as a self-publisher over others? Is it from personal experience?
Sorry. By mentioning a source, it was not a recommendation. I just mentioned it as an example of one of the self-publishing sites. There are plenty of articles and reviews of thjese sites by searching the literature. I know two folks who’ve used it and their books looked wonderful.
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19. I was wondering about finding collaborators for articles, I’m a new solo librarian.
I have co-authored and/or collaborated with friends, fellow association members, past schoolmates, work colleagues, non-librarians (subject or tech experts, etc.) and complete strangers (at the start). I have found that all it takes is a love of a certain topic, commitment and being asked or asking! It’s not for better or for worse, richer or poorer. If it’s not workinng out, chalk it up to experience and go your separate ways. I’ve rarely seen this happen though. I’ve made lifelong friends by writing with someone I approached out of the blue. Sometimes someone I asked to review an article added so much they became a co-author.
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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?
I have seen a number of these. I can’t recall a librarian one but someone may put one in the comments. ( I do remember the screeds in the New Yorker about card catalogues and lost hard copy newspapers by Nicholson Baker that became books). You’re setting the bar high but more power to you. The cover story in these top flight periodicals can pay in the five figures so they’re often looking for experience and fame. Joining the associations of professional magazine writers might be a good place to start. Many bookstores and libraries have the basic texts (indeed many of them) on getting published. Good luck!
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21. Hi there! I was wondering if I can get a certificate for my professional development file that I attended today’s seminar.
We are quite happy to provide letter from SirsiDynix confirming your attendance. Just send an e-mail to [email protected]
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Judy may add additional perspectives on her blog too. [UPDATE: Here’s a link to Judy’s answers.]
Thank you so much for your questions. If you have more, just use the comments.
Cheers,
Stephen

Posted on: July 11, 2007, 3:47 pm Category: Uncategorized