Monday, August 25, 2014

Writing from Your Practice

Writing from Your Practice: A Short Reflection by Helen Fallon, Library, Maynooth University.

Perhaps as librarians we tend to take our practice for granted, rather than seeing our everyday work as a rich resource for writing.  Maybe we don’t take time to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it and what the implications are for ourselves and for our library/organisation both now and into the future.  Sometimes we may value what the literature says on a topic more than our own experience.

You think (reflect on) your practice by writing about it. This gives you insights into and can help clarify things. You may think “this is where I’m at with this now, how can I move it forward?”

Writing is a form of creative dialogue with yourself which also helps establish connections with others – communities of practice.  We can learn from the experience of others, just as they can learn from our experience.

Most experiences can be turned into writing.  Remember there are no new stories, just new angles. So how can we make what we do the actual basis of our writing? Here are a few ideas based on my experiences which I hope are helpful.

Try this short writing exercise.
Write for fifteen minutes in sentence, not bullets answering the following questions
What was the most interested library-related activity I was (am) involved in during the last two years?
What happened?
What was my role in it?
What were the outcomes?
What’s the relevance for yourself, for others. 
How could this activity/project be developed further? 
What advice would you give others considering embarking on a similar project?  What would you do differently, if you were to do this again?
After 15 minutes count the words.  You may be surprised at how much you can actually write in a short space of time.  Of course this writing will be unpolished but all writing is rewriting, so don’t censor yourself. Instead consider if you develop this piece into a 1,000 word draft.

I’ve written a number of practice-based articles which I give a brief outline of below in order to demonstrate how this can be done.

My first practice-based article on my experience of teaching librarianship in Sierra Leone was written in a blue notebook in bed over six months.  I wrote it because I was afraid I would forget aspects of that experience and the people who shared my life from 1989 to 1991. Eventually I shaped it into a 5,000 word piece and published it it in An Leabharlann: The Irish Library. It was great to have an Irish library journal, which I was already familiar with, to approach.  It felt less daunting that trying to work out which of the many library journals out there, I should target.  A few years later, I published another practice-based article in An Leabharlann.  If you are interested in writing an article or a book review for An Leabharlann contact the editor Marjory Sliney.

SCONUL Focus is another really good publishing outlet for practice-based articles, most of which are from academic libraries in the U.K. and Ireland.  In 2003, I lead a Libra survey which formed part of the Library quality review.  Part of the survey involved writing up the methodology.  I added introductory and concluding paragraphs and adapted the text for this new audience (previous audience had been externs to quality review and university community) and it was published in SCONUL Focus.  Later I published articles with them on information literacy and our 2010 quality review.  Both were based on practice.

Fifteen years after I wrote I first practice-based article on my experience in Sierra Leone, I reread it, and in the light of how I had changed and how Sierra Leone had changed I did a reflective piece“ Look Back and Wonder” and published it in CILIP Update, the journal of the U.K. Library Association.

So those are some of my experiences writing articles based on my work experience in Ireland and elsewhere.  The articles didn’t require research and were mostly between1,000 and 2,000 words.

A few Tips
Identify a journal before writing the article, rather than writing the article and trying to find a journal that it is suitable for
Consult the editor of the journal with your idea
Consider the wealth of data your library generates.  What could be used in articles?
Think of photographs as a form of data
Do an evaluation of every training session you deliver that is more than an hour long and try to have a space for open comments e.g. Any other comments?  Keep the evaluation anonymous but tell the people completing it that you may publish the results/their comments
Read practice-based articles
Carry a notebook or a device for recording ideas
Jot down anything you think interesting in your daily experience
Use the expertise in your organisation
Think about how an idea you have for an article might be aligned to the library’s goals/strategic plan/marketing strategy etc. and discuss with your manager
Talk – particularly to people outside your Library, what are the concerns of academics and students in relation to the Library?

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