WHAT'S SO DAMN IMPORTANT ABOUT PUBLISHING AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
The following speech was prepared for the Leadership through Publication panel by Charles Lowry, Dean of the University of Maryland Libraries. Dean Lowry was unable to attend the ALA Annual Conference due to a cancelled flight.
PANEL PRESENTATION, AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE
NEW ORLEANS JUNE 24, 2006
CHARLES B. LOWRY, PH.D.
DEAN OF LIBRARIES, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND
You will hear several stories today that try to answer the question "what's so damn important about publishing and why should you care?" In the interest of full disclosure, by the time I was a library school student I had already published two articles in scholarly history journals. But, as I entered librarianship I faced the same challenges as my fellow students at Chapel Hill, how to assimilate into the profession and how to figure out what that meant for advancing any record of scholarly productivity. I can tell you it was not at all like writing history. That was over thirty years ago, and I presently look back from the vantage point of an academic library dean and full professor teaching in the University of Maryland's MLS program. Like others, my story is idiosyncratic, but I think not without some viable lessons.
That first lesson came in my first job as Social Science Reference Bibliographer at UNC Charlotte. Because it was a faculty appointment it required me to advance some scholarly contribution, as well as service and the work of my position. Thus, promotion was tied to publication among other kinds of scholarly contribution. In 67% of US academic libraries you will have faculty status. In another 10% you will have academic status and both will probably require a contribution.
The second lesson-look for professional involvement that can help you respond to these requirements. The opportunity arose first for me when I became active in ALA and was appointed to the Reference and Subscription Book Review Committee, which required me to publish well researched and arguably scholarly review essays on reference books. Happily, this combined both professional service and scholarship. Indeed, I have found that ALA committee work can turn into a viable and valuable product. One of my most heavily cited articles--"The Status of Faculty Status for Academic Librarians, a Twenty Year Perspective," which appeared in College and Research Libraries in 1993, was the product of work with colleagues while I was a member of the ACRL Academic Status Committee.
The third lesson-look to the work you do as a source of opportunity for publication. About 1976 the director at UNCC asked me to figure out a way to help the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to distribute some windfall book acquisition funds. At the time there was a substantial amount of published literature on formula distribution of funds, but none of it impressed me much. Often it was mathematically impenetrable or methodologically suspect and always it was difficult to explain-not promising characteristics in view of the fact that I had to take it to the dean of a college and director of the library. I devised my own formula with some success and that got me thinking about an article, which lead to the fourth lesson-be patient and allow your research to mature. I recall saying at the time to a colleague (to whom I am now married) that I was going to write an article and it would make me famous. Neither fame nor writing came with any speed. Through three successive jobs as a library director-Elon College, University of South Alabama and University of Texas at Arlington-the formula was recast, revised and improved. In 1993, the article describing it received the K.G. Sauer Award for best article in C&RL. You will note that this was seventeen years after the work was first begun. A footnote on lesson three-virtually everything I have ever published was a byproduct of my work as a librarian, but that won't be the case with everyone.
The fifth lesson-understand that the time for such work will probably come out of your hide. I really got an important perspective on this lesson from Ed Holley's academic library seminar at UNC. When asked by a graduate student how it was possible to publish and do all the other things that work as an academic librarian required-he replied "it wasn't, if all you wanted to be was a 9-5 librarian" and he meant it to be derisory. I tell this story in my own seminar and it has proved to be my personal experience, learned early and often repeated in the evenings and on weekends when the time may be found for reflective research and creative writing that cannot be done in the busy workday of a librarian.
Lesson six-look for opportunity and if possible make it involve some risk. In 1986, I joined Don Riggs to help found the LAMA journal Library Administration and Management, of which I became the second editor. A new journal faces many requirements-most importantly, the content must have utility and must satisfy the fiscal value that is invested. Having met these challenges once did not make it any easier fifteen years later when I joined colleagues Gloriana St. Clair and Sue Martin in founding a new scholarly journal from the Johns Hopkins Press-portal: Libraries and the Academy of which I am currently the Executive Editor. Both of these editorial experiences have been richly rewarding and among the contributions that may be my most lasting when all is said and done. And from my experience as a journal editor I draw the last two lessons.
Lesson seven- scholarship should not be defined narrowly for a professional and practiced discipline such as academic librarianship. Accordingly, scholarship should be thought of as having four separate but overlapping functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching." I can only describe these briefly in my time today. Scholarship of discovery, is the so-called "pure and applied research," pursues new knowledge and is what has been most honored as scholarship in the academy. Scholarship of integration synthesizes and interprets knowledge to provide perspective. Scholarship of application solves problems for a larger community using knowledge from one's particular field of expertise. Scholarship of teaching and learning contributes to knowledge about how people learn.
Finally lesson eight- above all, librarianship is a practiced discipline. Librarianship, the discipline we practice, arises from the professional training and the resultant work we do in specific institutional settings. At its base, librarianship is responsible for supplying the lifeblood of the rest of the academy-access to information for the advancement of knowledge, invention and teaching. Since good librarianship is vital to the academic enterprise, it follows that advancing the field of librarianship is vital to maintaining our ability to do so. As I have tried to show with my own experience, it is as important for you to appreciate that what constitutes scholarship often arises from the context and experience of the work librarians do as individuals and we owe it to the profession, that is the practice of our discipline, to make a contribution.
That is what's so damn important about publishing and why you should care.