Career Strategies for Librarians
The Battle of Getting an Article Published … Notes from the Front
One of the more daunting tasks of the entire tenure process is the task of getting published. While
there are many excellent guides on the actual craft of scholarly writing, this is not one of them. This
article addresses a more nitty-gritty question: once you have written your article, how do you go about
actually getting it into print? I do not present myself as an expert in publishing. I am an academic
librarian in a tenure track position at a large urban library. With luck and some great mentoring, I have
managed to publish book chapters and refereed journal articles, and am currently in the process of
collaborating on a book. What follows is an outline of what has worked for me in finding and creating
Rule One: Learn to Schmooze
Publishing is like dating. The more people that you know, the better your chances are for making a
connection. Your first task as an aspiring scholarly writer is to make some professional connections. If
you are a shy person, intimidated by introducing yourself to strangers, you can schmooze online. I have
found many good publication opportunities and potential collaborators through online discussion lists. I
highly recommend the New Librarian list (http://www.lahacal.org/newlib/). It is a wonderful source of
professional information. You should also subscribe to the list for your subject specialty, as well as your
state or regional ALA or ACRL chapter lists. Increasingly, the list acts as the virtual bulletin board for
professional information, including calls for papers and proposals for presentations. The majority of
articles that I have published are the result of answering a “call for papers” from one of the various lists
to which I subscribe.
Schmooze in person. Join professional organizations and go to local, state, and national conferences.
Attend presentations by people whose interests match your own. Ask intelligent questions and
introduce yourself to the presenter after the session. Perhaps the best, and arguably most underutilized
path for professional development, is involvement with local library associations such as your state or
regional ACRL chapter. Volunteering for committees at the local level is a terrific way to meet other
librarians actively engaged in research and publication.
Rule Two: Present at Conferences
Presentations are the basis for excellent articles. Broadway producers used to routinely have out-of-
town tryouts before taking a show to the big time. Presenting your research and ideas at professional
conferences give you a similar means of refining your material and getting good critical feedback. With
conferences, start local and go national. Frequently, the competition is less fierce for the opportunity to
present at a local venue as opposed to a national conference. Presenting at conferences is also an
invaluable way of getting your name “Out There” in the academic community. Through presentations,
you gain weight and credibility as a professional. It also helps you network. Other professionals
become aware of who you are and what your research interests are and, thus, they may think of you
when gathering a list of possible collaborators.
Rule Three: Test the Waters
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got about scholarly writing is to test the waters before you
devote an inordinate amount of time and work to a project. When you settle down to do research and
writing, you are making a serious commitment for your personal time and resources. It is extraordinarily
helpful to have a clear idea of your target audience and a potential home for your finished work. For
example, a colleague and I thought that other librarians might be interested in reading about a
collaborative project that our library was engaged in with another New Jersey state university library and
our local community college. We discussed this writing project with one of our library’s tenured faculty,
looking to her for help and advice. She knew of a journal that specialized in urban library issues and
suggested that we contact the editor. My colleague and I wrote an inquiry letter based on the advice of
our mentor. The editor wrote back to us and expressed an interest in our idea. After about a year of hard
work and many revisions, our article was published. My colleague and I found many advantages to
approaching the writing process this way. Specifically:
1.) We did not have to send the article out cold.
2.) Since the editor knew in advance that we were submitting an article, he could tentatively consider it for
a specific issue and give us a timeframe.
3.) As we were writing the article we knew what “voice” to give it rather that trying to retrofit the tone of the
work after acceptance.
In general, an inquiry letter contains the following elements:
Start with a very brief description of your topic.
State briefly why this topic is important to librarianship.
State why this topic is of interest to this particular journal
Let the editor know that you understand the scholarly publishing procedure. “I understand that an
expression of interest in this topic is not a guarantee of publication and that all articles are required to
undergo a standard review process.” This phrase (or some variation) is one that my mentor suggested
that I think sounds very professional.
Close with your full name, title, and complete contact information. You may also want to include a link to
your CV so the editor can get a feel for who you are and what you have done thus far.
Helpful hint: Double and triple check your spelling and punctuation. Don’t rely on Spell Check.
Personally, I think that it is really helpful to do your homework and consider possible target publications
before you begin writing. In addition to asking for advice from a colleague or a mentor, you can also
search the library science indexes for suitable outlets for the kind of research in which you are engaged.
Rule Four: Write as Much as Possible
Get your name about there and write whenever and for whomever that you can. The more that you write,
the more confident that you become in your ability to write, plus you will build some name recognition.
Volunteer to be the editor for a local library organization newsletter. Answer calls for volunteers for
columns at all levels of professional literature. Volunteer to write book reviews. Writing reviews also
keeps you current with the cutting edge library literature. All that volunteer work also helps to build a body
of work that you can point to when send out your inquiry letters.
For me, it works well to have a few projects going at once. I am convinced that the worlds of ideas in
general, and the various fields of scholarly literature in specific, have their own rhythm and flow. In short,
there are times of feast and times of famine. If you float a few proposals out at once for a few different
ideas, it is my experience that at least one will eventually come to fruition. If all your inquiry letters get
positive feedback, then you will be in the enviable position of having to balance your offers and
timeframes. To use an old saw: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That basket’s editor may have
just quit or may be a year behind in its publication schedule.
Rule Five: Be Prepared
Be ready to promote yourself to prospective editors. Keep your CV updated. Make sure that you
include all the presentations you have done, all the offices that you hold in professional organizations,
and a summary of the reviews and columns you have written. You may also want to have an author
“blurb” ready. A blurb is a very short biography, or abstract about yourself, which highlights your
professional accomplishments. A sample author blurb goes something like this:
Vibiana Bowman is the bibliographer for Art, Education, Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion at the Paul
Robeson Library, Rutgers, Camden Campus, as well as the library's Web Administrator. Her areas of
published research include Bibliographic Instruction, Library Community Outreach Programs, Web
Accessibility, and Educational Web Design. Vibiana is active in the Library Instruction Round Table of the
American Library Association and is the Past-President of the New Jersey Library Association College
and University Section/ACRL-New Jersey Chapter.
Please remember that I do not hold this up as a paragon of “blurbs” but as a useful starting point for you
to construct your own (hopefully more interesting) brief bio.
The point to having your bio and CV ready on demand is to impress prospective publishers with your
professionalism and your fast turn-around time in answering emails, letters, phone calls, etc. The
implication is that you know what you are doing and you will nimbly meet the deadline dates as they are
Rule Six: Ask for Help
Charity begins at home. Ask the tenured colleagues at your library for help and advice. Remember –
most librarians choose this profession because it is a “helping” profession and librarians tend to be a
helpful lot by nature. If for some reason, you have no colleagues in-house that you can approach, use
the lists and the professional organizations that you joined. Again, the New Librarian list is especially
good in this regard. The experienced librarians in the group are generous with good advice and
Rule Seven: Persevere
Grow a thick skin and don’t give up! Rejection letters, no matter how diplomatically worded, are
deflating, but don’t let them be defeating. Most of the greats, in all fields of endeavor, had to endure
rounds of rejection. There is an apocryphal story about dance-legend Fred Astaire. Supposedly, after
viewing Astaire’s screen test, a Paramount executive wrote this reaction: “Can’t sing. Can’t act.
Balding. Can dance a little.”
Persevere! You too will tap dance your way in the hallowed halls of academic publishing. Good luck!
 Bowman, Vibiana and Donna Wertheimer, "Stacks in the City: A Case Study of an Urban Library
Cooperative," Urban Library Journal 12 (2002): 4-18.
 Fred Astaire Dance International, The History of Fred Astaire. Available on-line. (Last accessed
September 26, 2003.) <http://www.fadi.com/history_fred_astaire.htm>
About the Author:
Vibiana Bowman is a Reference Librarian and the Web Administrator at the Paul Robeson Library,
Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. Her areas of research include Bibliographic Instruction,
Community Outreach, Web Accessibility, Educational Web Design, and Information Ethics. She has
published in various refereed journals including: Library Hi-Tech, Internet Reference Service Quarterly,
and Urban Library Journal. She has also been a presenter at local, state, and national conferences. She
is active is various national and state professional organizations. She is the Association of College and
Research Libraries Chapters Council Vice Chair/Chair Elect; Chair of the Teaching, Learning, and
Technology Committee of American Library Association’s Library Instruction Round Table; and is the
immediate Past-President of the New Jersey Library Association College and University Section/NJ
ACRL Chapter.Visit her home page at http://vib.us.
Article published Jan 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.