Earlier this month, one of my fellow #blogeverydayofjune pals posted about an article I wrote in this month’s inCite. The article was essentially about what research is and how new graduates can get involved and get published. I was rather gobsmacked by one of the comments, in which the commenter revealed she’d copped flak from colleagues (including being told she was ‘pretentious’) for thinking that the project she was writing up for a journal was worthwhile publishing about.
First, let’s deal with the cultural issue at hand: this is, at least in part, a case of tall poppy syndrome. I don’t understand why people feel the need to undermine other people’s confidence in this way. I just don’t get it. Here’s a message for the profession: if you’ve got new grads in your organisation who are keen and professionally active and focused on contributing to their profession, *value* it, don’t undermine it.
Now, onto the broader issue – which is something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a long time. Publishing is important, and not just for academics.
This profession has been harping on for a long time about Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP). I’m not going to get into the EBLIP debate here – some of us think it’s a great concept, others of us think it’s overkill, others of us think it’s not very useful at all. Suffice to say that I think anything that encourages us to take a considered, research focused approach to practice is A Good Thing, and that I think there are ways to operate within a lightweight EBLIP model that means EBLIP and innovation can exist in harmony.
When I talk about the need for practitioners to publish, I guess I’m talking about EBLIP in its most nebulous form. I know there is a lot more to EBLIP than contributing to the evidence base (which is what you do when you publish), but this one aspect of EBLIP impacts on other practitioners. (As an aside, I think it’s also one aspect of EBLIP that you can pursue without getting completely invested in the EBLIP models and frameworks, which I know some have reservations about.) Publishing is about responsible practice. It’s about contributing back to the professional literature so that your experience is documented for the benefit of the practitioners who will work in this space in the future.
Consider the last project you worked on. What if you went to the professional literature and there was simply nothing there to inform the direction you should take? How much more groundwork would you have had to do? How many extra mistakes would you have made on the project journey? If we don’t build the evidence base, then finding the evidence we need to make informed decisions is made exponentially more difficult.
We all (hopefully) undertake user needs analysis to inform decision making around service and product delivery. We all undertake environmental scans and literature searches to guide us along the way. We collect and analyse the evidence, and we need to close the evidence loop by contributing back to the evidence base from which we have drawn.
When I completed my professional qualification at QUT, there was a strong focus on EBLIP and on publishing, and on the need to improve our professional literature. Today, the course still seeks to give students an understanding of the importance of publishing. For example, in the semester just passed, students in one of my units wrote an article for an open access journal, submitted it for peer review, reviewed each others’ articles, and then resubmitted a revised article. I’m now in the process of marking those final submissions, and then we’ll be publishing the first issue of Web Content Management for Library and Information Science. It’s a great way for students to learn about open access and peer review processes, and to become familiar with publication workflows. I hope it’s also been the kind of experience that will encourage students to publish as practitioners. Throughout the process, students have been reflecting on their learning experience and critiquing their work, which has been a valuable experience for them.
Which leads me to… the importance of reflective practice, and the fact that publishing supports it.
Not only is publishing important for the profession; it’s an important tool for you as a practitioner. If we write something up for publication, we are probably more likely to undertake meaningful evaluation. It’s also a reflective process, that allows us to think about and critique our own performance, to look for areas in which we need to improve as practitioners, and to make plans to see that improvement happen. For me, the defining characteristic of professionalism is that we, as professionals, are committed to lifelong learning and continuing professional development. Reflective practice has an important role to play in the lifelong learning process, and by extension, is (or should be) a characteristic of ‘the professional’.
I know we’re all busy and the thought of writing for publication can be daunting because of time constraints (and also because we often undervalue ourselves and the contribution we can make to the profession – don’t get me started on the feminisation of this profession and the impact I think that has on our self-image!). Publishing needn’t be so daunting. You don’t have to publish in ERA ranked scholarly publications. Trade publications, blogs, news publications… All of these are places that you can report and reflect on your experiences, for both the profession’s benefit, and your own.
Publishing has nothing to do with pretension, or with making a name for yourself (though that is certainly a great by-product of publishing). It’s about being responsible, and contributing to your profession. We need robust professional literature to underpin our practice, and the only way we can have that is if practitioners invest time, energy and intellect in publishing.
Update: Gotta love serendipity. In the latest issue of EBLIP, editor Denise Koufogiannakis wrote an editorial on reflection that echoes some of what I’ve talked about here. Go read it!