[On the Job Training]: The First Publishing Experience (Or, Using Graduate School Work for a Higher Purpose)

This month, we’re thrilled to have five archivists talk about how they published in journals for the first time. While the majority were able to use papers from their graduate school coursework, Jarrett rounds out the article with a different path: reviews. If you’re interested in publishing and haven’t read Cheryl Oestreicher’s blog, Publishing in the Archives Profession, it’s a wonderful resource that I highly recommend.

Each archivist’s path to a published article is different. There are two who won awards (one from SAA, one from SNCA), one who published more traditionally, one who published in a trade journal, and of course, one who started publishing by reviews.

The Traditional Route: Hillel Arnold
A Sign of Contradiction: The Record Keeping Practices of the New York City Catholic Worker, American Catholic Studies 121:2 (Summer 2010)

I consider myself very lucky to have published during grad school, for a number of reasons. Primarily, I was fortunate to land in a program that required and valued substantial writing assignments. I was also very lucky to have an excellent advisor and mentor in my program’s director Peter Wosh, who gave me invaluable guidance on shaping my research, as well as suggestions on journals where it might be appropriate.

I went into grad school with the goal of having one publication by the time I finished, so I was looking for opportunities to turn class papers into a publishable article, and my Masters thesis seemed like the perfect opportunity. If you’re interested in publishing (which, it should be noted, is not absolutely necessary in archives) the best advice I can give you is to approach your academic assignments with an eye to repurposing that content in some way. In other words, start thinking about what and where to publish sooner rather than later, and use the expertise of established scholars around you to help navigate the process.

If you do, the process can be relatively painless. From start to finish, the whole thing took about ten months, including five months where I waited to hear back as to whether my article was accepted for publication, so you’ll need to be patient! The journal I published in did send back reviewer’s comments and ask me to address a couple of key points they raised, but those revisions really made the piece stronger, so I was ultimately thankful for the additional review.

The Trade Journal: Karl-Rainer Blumenthal
Net Neutrality and the FCC: An Information Policy PrimerBulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology 41:1 (October/November 2014)

I had tried my hand at responding to CFP’s and entering competitions here and there, but in the end it was a well-timed research paper and an enthusiastic professor that made all of the difference.

I enrolled in a course on using and stewarding U.S. government information resources in the spring of 2014. This was the same time at which net neutrality significantly reemerged as a subject of intense and public debate. Net neutrality had long been a personal and sometimes a professional interest of mine, so it was also a natural topic to choose for a term-ending research project. There was a lot that I’d hoped to learn and to express through the process, but I had no real ambition of publishing; more of a desire to come to terms with and do justice to a topic of great personal investment from a fresh, professional perspective. I poured myself into the research and ultimately produced a paper that fit the format of the assignment–mostly a ~2,500-word “article,” but with addenda that demonstrated my use of and the topic’s special importance to government information resources. When all was said and done, I was pleased with the product and satisfied that I had scratched that long-held research itch, but I essentially put the project aside.

That summer, my professor from the course, Dr. Kristene Unsworth, was editing a special section on information policy for the Association of Information Science and Technology’s trade publication. She suggested that with a few formal edits, the article component of my project could in fact make a useful feature for the upcoming issue. I was flattered, so of course I jumped right in and massaged the piece to better align with the publication’s style and audience. Because it’s not a peer reviewed journal, this involved little more than a few back-and-forth email exchanges with the editor. The longest part of the whole process was waiting to see the article published in the fall!

It was nice to add a line to my CV while still in school, but the best part of the experience was getting to pursue a passion and get the unexpected affirmation that it was indeed research important and well enough executed to share with my soon-to-be colleagues in the field. If there’s a lesson to be drawn by current students, then, I guess that’s it: take advantage of research mandates in your coursework to pursue something that you hold yourself to a high standard to complete, take a look around you, and see if there are professors, peers, and professional associations who would likewise benefit from all of your hard work!

The SAA Pease Award: Lora Davis

Providing Virtual Services to All: A Mixed-Method Analysis of the Website Accessibility of Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) Member Repositories, The American Archivist 75:1 (Spring/Summer 2012)

I was asked to write about my path to publishing a graduate school paper, but you’ll shortly see that that path (much like my path into archives work) was fairly non-traditional.  My article “Providing Virtual Services to All: A Mixed-Method Analysis of the Website Accessibility of Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) Member Repositories” was the 2011 recipient of the Society of American Archivist’s Theodore Calvin Pease Award, and, as such, was published in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The American Archivist.  In other words, my path to publishing was largely an unanticipated lucky accident.  I enrolled in the course “Seminar in Modern Archives Administration” while pursuing my MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, selected a research topic that was interesting to me and would engage my curiosity throughout the semester, received excellent guidance and mentorship from my University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Amy Cooper Cary, and wound up in The American Archivist.

Having completed a Master’s degree in history prior to beginning my MLIS, I had much respect and reverence for those that published as I witnessed countless peers and professors submit, revise, and resubmit drafts to journals in the hopes that they’d finally be deemed ready for primetime.  So, to me, the most intimidating aspect about my path to publishing was its rapid pace.  I submitted a final paper for course credit on May 2, at the urging of my advisor and teacher Amy Cooper Cary that paper was tidied up and sent off to the Awards selection committee on May 26, Amy notified me that I had won the Award in mid-July, I accepted the Award at the SAA Annual Meeting in Chicago in August, I began working in earnest with then-editor of The American Archivist Mary Jo Pugh on November 3, and the piece was off to the copy editor for final tweaks on November 12.  So, in the nearly full year that passed between my school paper being submitted and the paper copy of The American Archivist arriving at my door, I only really “touched” the article for about 10 days – a frighteningly short period of time to ensure you hadn’t written something in a class paper that was about to embarrass you in your profession’s premier journal!

That said, the opportunity to publish my student work has been a true boon to my archives career.  It served to expand both my network of professional mentors and my own confidence just as I was entering the professional workforce for the first time.  As I look forward to moving from my first post-MLIS archives gig at Colgate University to my next archives gig as the Digital Archivist at Johns Hopkins University this January, I hope to again have the opportunity to contribute to the field through publishing.  This time, of course, I’ll likely have to be much more involved in seeking out publication opportunities!

The Regional Award: Tracy Jackson
I Want To See It: A Usability Study of Digital Content Integrated into Finding Aids, Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists 9:2 (Spring 2012)

After finishing my master’s paper, I just wanted to put it away and forget about it. It had been a ton of work in a very small amount of time (after some accidental delays), and I was tired of looking at it. But I was also trying to find a job, having just graduated with my MSLS and needing to pay the rent, and was looking for anything I could do to enhance my skill set and my resume. Plus, I was actually very proud of my master’s paper and all the sleep-deprived hard work that had gone into it. I spoke about what to do with a couple of my archival mentors, supervisors at my graduate school jobs and former professors. They were very encouraging about trying to publish my paper, suggesting I revise and try some of the professional publications. I’ll admit I was intimidated by the prospect and didn’t think it would be worth the trouble – was my paper really going to be of interest to anyone else?

As a member of my regional professional association, the Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA), I was on the SNCA listserv and received an email call for submissions for the Gene J. Williams Student Paper Award. Hey now, I thought, I wouldn’t even need to revise for this one! The award is specifically for papers on archival topics written for a graduate-level course, and the winning paper would be published in the Journal for the Society of North Carolina Archivists (JSNCA). This felt perfect for me: I felt comfortable submitting to my local organization when the national ones felt intimidating, and I knew that North Carolina has a number of good archives programs so while the competition would be smaller, it would still be strong. Within a few days, I submitted my paper and forgot about it.

A month later, I received word that I had won the award, and I was delighted. It turned out I had to revise after all, as the paper was way too long to publish in its entirety, but the publication committee was very patient and accommodating in helping me. It also turned out I knew someone on the publication committee and could speak with them about it face-to-face. These are some of the benefits of being a part of a regional organization and investigating your local avenues for publication: proximity and familiarity makes it easier to do the work, and your involvement strengthens your ties to your local network, which is essential to your long-term career. Another two months later, and I had my first real full-time archivist job. I’m convinced that having an award and an upcoming publication on my resume strengthened my application for that job, and I’m grateful for it. Four years and another great job later, I’m happy to recommend that you investigate all your options for publication, especially the regional ones!

The Book Review: Jarrett Drake
Review of Import of the Archive: U.S. Colonial Rule of the Philippines and the Making of American Archival History, by Jarrett Drake, The American Archivist 77:2 (Fall/Winter 2014)

In graduate school, a professor told me that she decided to choose her discipline based on the people she wanted to argue with for the rest of her career. Publishing in the archival field, I would argue, is not much different given that the act of publication situates itself firmly in the context of professional and scholarly communication. While it’s important to distinguish between those two, the professional and the scholarly, the path towards publishing either is strikingly similar: the writer must first determine their unique contribution to the conversation and then determine an appropriate venue in which to share her contribution.

To determine my unique contributions to a given conversation, I first research, read, and consider the range of archival literature published on a given topic. This first step allows me to assess accurately the pulse of a conversation and highlight any gaps or absences. The words of journalist Amy Goodman ring relevant: “Go where the silence is and say something.” I often take weeks or months just reading and annotating articles and books that pertain to the conversation I want to enter. This process of assessing the conversation is similar to jumping rope, double dutch style. As a kid, it amazed me how seamlessly other kids could enter the terrifying prospects of two deadly pieces of twisted twine twirling at breakneck speeds. It further amazed me how seamlessly they left and allowed others to enter. Scholarly communication bears resemblance to double dutch. One must study the twirl, the twirlers, and jump in when and where you feel comfortable.

After I assess the state of a conversation, I search for an appropriate venue in which to hop in double dutch style. If I do the first step rigorously, the venue becomes quite apparent. Because I’ve published previously, I look broadly; professional journals for a national organization, such as The American Archivist or Archivaria; niche open-access journals, such as Code4Lib or D-Lib Magazine; professional journals for regional organizations, such as Archival Issues or the Journal of Western Archives, or the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies.

But, after assessing the flow of the double dutch game, maybe you don’t see a natural spot to jump in. That’s ok. I didn’t try to jump into my first double dutch game with larger publications. Instead, I needed to jump in with a game moving at a slightly slower speed and with less lethal prospects. If you never published before, maybe your first double dutch game is waiting for you via an academic or professional society that offers a prize for outstanding essays by graduate students? The money these prizes bring is often negligible (Navient bills are higher) but the real prize is the automatic publication they bring. Another lower stakes double dutch game can be a targeted research forum, such as SAA or iPRES. Are you still stuck? That’s alright. Try offering to write a book review for a publication. My very first publication came from a book review in The American Archivist. Unbeknownst to me, reviewers receive complimentary copies of the book, so I received a gift and a chance to publish with just one simple email to the reviews editor.

Jarrett Email for Reviews

The email that led to my first professional publication. Note that I ended up reviewing Cheryl Beredo’s excellent work Import of the Archive: U.S. Colonial Rule of the Philippines and the Making of American Archival History.

While there are multiple approaches to jump into games of double dutch, the hardest game to enter is your first one. The goal isn’t to jump into one game and be awarded best jumper of all time, but to gain enough confidence to enter another game, and then another, and then another. A sign of a constructive contribution to a conversation might well be its ability to encourage others to jump into the game. It’s that final piece, the encouragement of others to participate, that makes professional and scholarly communication truly rewarding and edifying. I look forward to seeing you jump into the game!

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3 thoughts on “[On the Job Training]: The First Publishing Experience (Or, Using Graduate School Work for a Higher Purpose)

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Developing a Research Agenda | Publishing in the Archives Profession

  2. Pingback: “Within us” | NixoNARA

  3. Pingback: Reviewing Articles and Journals for Publishing in the Archives Field | SNAP roundtable

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