Forced Writing: On the Tenure-track

Most of us became archivists because we love history, organizing, libraries, and “old stuff.” Though we had to write during library school, many of us did not plan on writing more than finding aids. However, many academic librarians and archivists are expected to publish as one aspect of receiving tenure. It is stressful when your job is contingent on fulfilling this obligation.

If writing isn’t a passion, forced publishing is definitely a challenge. At my institution, obtaining tenure has requirements related to librarianship, publishing/creative works, and service. When I started, I was one year out of finishing my PhD. Obtaining that degree made me much better prepared for the publishing requirement and for that I am grateful. Library schools may emphasize writing, but it’s more of a requirement for that degree than to pursue publishing.

It is stressful for many tenure-track archivists to publish. As noted previously, I’ve had many discussions with people who wonder if they have anything to say (see here and here). There is a time requirement to go up for tenure, therefore a time requirement to publish articles or book chapters. On the one hand, it forces you to be proactive in deciding what to write about, as Eira Tansey wrote. On the other hand, it can be an incredible amount of pressure.

I’m not well-versed in tenure requirements across all academic institutions, but I will generalize that many require publishing peer-review articles. Having one or more articles evaluated by professional peers is much more rigorous, therefore has more weight, than publishing newsletter articles, blog posts, or other informal writings. Writing a book has merit as well, but as we have fewer book publishing options than other academic disciplines, that is harder to accomplish (plus it takes a lot longer).

Having gone through the tenure process and as a supervisor to library faculty, here’s what I can offer:

  • Pick a journal first. Find one that aligns with your interests and passions. Read a few of the recent articles, browse past issues to see topics, etc. Contact the editor to ask if your idea would be of interest. And read the information for authors. While we all may aspire to write for The American Archivist, it’s highly competitive and you might be better off starting with another journal.
  • Don’t want to write about archives practices? Depending on your institution’s requirements, consider publishing in non-archives journals. Try library or other academic disciplinary journals. Do archival research on a topic of interest. (Blatant self-promotion, I used the archival research I did for my dissertation to publish in Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History)
  • Start with an idea. You don’t have to have an exact argument to start writing. Once you research and write out your thoughts, it will evolve and become focused. Interested in digital forensics? privacy and confidentiality? outreach? Have you read an article or book that you strongly disagree with or you think could be improved or reacted to? Read a few books and articles to see what’s been said, what you agree/disagree with, then write.
  • Find colleagues with similar interests to see about co-authorship.
  • Start with a library school paper or presentation and expand it.
  • Write about something that interests you. It’s hard to be disciplined about writing when you have little or no interest in the subject.
  • Write about a project you completed, an initiative you started, or your experience with any aspect of archives. While theory is important, many archivists are interested in others’ practices that they can implement or adapt.
  • Write, write, write.
  • Start earlier rather than later. It can take 1-2 years to publish an article, taking into account the writing, peer-review, editing, and final publication. There’s no guarantee of acceptance, and you may have to submit, resubmit, or rewrite more than one article or for more than one journal. (Yes, an article I wrote with colleagues was rejected)
  • Create goals, timelines, outlines, number of pages to write a day/week, place to write, music to listen to, number of diet cokes to drink, and so forth. When you accomplish your set goals (say, weekly), reward yourself.
  • Make writing a priority and be disciplined. Carve out time daily/weekly (whatever works for you) to keep momentum and progress.
  • Write, write, write.
  • Take it a little at a time. Thinking about the entire article can be overwhelming, so focus on a section. Before you know it, you’ll have the whole article written.
  • Find support, whether at your institution, other colleagues, a writing group, or friends. Talking to people about your ideas or having others read your writing can go a long way to stay motivated.
  • Write, write, write.
  • Allow yourself to gripe and complain. Then let it go and keep writing.
  • Don’t try to make an article perfect. Be coherent, concise, grammatically correct (or at least mostly), and cite your sources. But remember that editors and reviewers will always have feedback, suggestions, and grammatical corrections.
  • Write one article at a time.
  • Don’t be overambitious. For example, if you are interested in doing a survey but don’t have experience in qualitative/quantitative analysis, it could be difficult to take on such a project.
  • Write, write, write.

 

 

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