Friday, June 22, 2012

Article Note: On Writing Groups for Academic Librarians

Citation for the article:

Campbell, Kathy,, "Developing a Writing Group for Librarians: the Benefits of Successful Collaboration." Library Management 33.1/2 (2012): 14-21

The article is mostly for academic librarians on the tenure line; they are the ones who have to do the scholarship and writing to work within the publish or perish environment. I will be up front and say that I do not believe in tenure for academic librarians. Some of what the authors write illustrate my reasoning:

"At the same time, this period of shrinking resources has made it more difficult for librarians who have faculty status to perform their academic duties while fulfilling requirements of tenure and promotion. Because research productivity is often counted as a major factor in evaluations and promotion, librarians have to find a way to pursue their research while performing job duties and professional service" (15). 

I believe that the pursuit of tenure and writing articles for the sake of getting that tenure interferes with the actual job of being a librarian. No, I am not saying that librarians should not write nor reflect on their practice. That is a different thing. Cranking out articles for the sake of getting something in a journal so you can add a line to your CV should not be the measure of how good we are as librarians. Personally, I want to be able to do my work as a librarian and do it well. Writing another "how we've done it well" is not really something I find meaningful. I read plenty of those already (including the ones I do not blog about here). Now, before anyone gets all riled up and wants to launch their defense of tenure because they feel it has been wonderful to them, keep in mind that the point I am making is that tenure line is not for me. If it worked for you, and it makes you happy, more power to you. Some of my colleagues and I simply prefer to do our work without added burdens or time clocks. So, that is the disclosure note. Let's get on with it.

The article itself is a call for librarians in the tenure situation to set up writing groups in their libraries so they can collaborate in writing as well as offer support and encouragement. I think it is a very good idea, and I think it should be applicable to other librarians as well who are not on tenure lines. I know that when I was a composition teacher in high school, many moons ago, I gained much benefit from the Faculty Writing Group a few writing colleagues and I formed. We would write and share what we wrote in a constructive and nurturing environment. Also, in our case, we embraced the philosophy that in order to teach writing we had to write ourselves. We believed that it would help us understand what our students experienced when they were writing. It was in those days when I started to really keep a journal in a somewhat consistent fashion. If blogging had been available back then, I probably would have been blogging back then. I certainly can agree with the idea that a good writing group can foster collaboration and support.

I think it can work academic libraries without tenure in a few ways. Maybe blogging or writing in some way can serve as a reflective tool. If the library has a blog and/or there are bloggers among your librarians and staff, a writing group could provide them with support and encourage collaboration. It may also help with developing and maintaining a library's blog. Those are just a some small ways I would see it working when not just applied to the tenure line folks. Forming these groups can be a formal or informal process. Do what works for you and don't force things.

The article is very good in providing specific advice and steps in forming writing groups. If this is something that interests you, it is worth a look.

Some notes from the article:

  • The authors cite Palmer and Matz (2006) on seven conditions necessary for successful writing: 
    • "Quick introduction to publication expectations.
    • Supportive department heads.
    • Flexible scheduling.
    • Supportive administrators.
    • Supportive working environment.
    • Supportive finances" (15-16). 
  • "For example, collaborations are less likely to succeed in a corporate environment that values and encourages competition among its units. Collaboration for collaboration's sake will not work either; there has to be an end result that will prove beneficial to the library and its clientele" (17). This may be why I tend to be skeptical when administrators announce they want things like team work or collaboration; they just want it because they are neat buzzwords, or they think it sounds good. But there is nothing more past putting a bunch of people together that may or not be compatible. The authors cite some works on collaboration that may be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more on this. 
 The article includes a very specific list of recommendations, and that is worth reading over. Some suggestions include: identifying compatible people, regular meetings, and even having a little fun in the process. I do notice that supportive management is crucial to this kind of endeavor, at least in the tenure situation where something like this probably needs to be more formal. Your mileage may vary when it comes to levels of management support.

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