Week 8

— Jen

Thanks so much for this reading, Adrianna and Brie and Nelson! I really enjoyed spending time with it.

Bailey’s note that “graduate students are expected to enter the job market with at least one published peer-reviewed article” made me pause and think about an incident that happened to me when I finished my MLIS and started working as a librarian. I think that different students have different experiences at different institutions, but I had attended graduate school for library science at a very research-focused institution; I wasn’t really aware of that at the time (and honestly, I regret it a little). The need to publish peer-reviewed articles was drilled into us so heavily; I graduated in a panic about how I could start publishing.

I started replying to CFPs. Sure enough, I was invited to submit full articles — two peer-reviewed submissions, as well as two chapters for a non-peer-reviewed book. The immediate problem was that I no longer had any academic affiliations — I was running the library of a small research institute — and so I had no way to access the literature I needed to cite. My quick solution was to audit a university class so that, for one semester, I could access the university’s databases. I cannot believe that the “logical” solution was to add more to my plate, so that I could do the things I’d already committed to.

The longer-term problem, however, was that no one at my fancy graduate school had taught us, while instilling us with anxiety about publishing, that some publishing opportunities are not good. I’m still proud of one of the articles I wrote during that period; it was really positively shaped and supported by the editors and peer reviewers. However, a second article from that time is one that I’m generally embarrassed to mention; it became clear that the editor didn’t have peer reviewers available and just had her own graduate student review it (thanks to non-anonymized tracked changes). That student really couldn’t give any useful feedback. I wanted (and needed) peer review for that article; I didn’t really get it, and I think the final product is sub-par.

I had proposed a chapter for a trade publication on libraries, and the editor invited me to write two chapters instead of one. I wrote them; she replied that they weren’t at all what she wanted and asked me to re-write them, which I did. She then rejected them entirely. There was a really clear lack of communication about what she ultimately wanted, but also, I later realized that this editor had a reputation. She was notorious for flooding the market with sub-par “how to” guides for librarians; she was also notorious for issuing CFPs for books that ultimately didn’t get published. How many other people worked hard to produce content for her, for projects that didn’t materialize? And, do I actually trust that she didn’t take my (or others’) rejected content and use it in other ways? No one told us in graduate school that this could happen.

What I was thinking about while reading Bailey’s note on the heightened anxiety around urgency of peer-review publishing and similar tasks, is how this anxiety causes us to put ourselves in harmful situations. If I hadn’t had a clearer sense of myself and known that I was ultimately a decent writer, my early experiences with publishing in my field would’ve likely left me unwilling to try it again. There aren’t really support groups for scholars who have to deal with terrible editors.

As a possible prompt for thinking more about this in class, some of the things I think about a lot as someone who continues to write but is also in an editorial role:

  • What are the small things that editors can do to make the publishing process more transparent and supportive?
  • What are parts of the publishing process that are traditionally understood as urgent but could, in fact, be slowed down?
  • What changes to the publishing process would make it more inclusive?

1 thought on “Week 8

  1. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    Great questions, Jen—and another example of hidden curriculum. The academic publishing environment is so opaque, and yet absolutely essential to the economies of higher education (economies of knowledge, prestige, as well as money). And yet, it’s incredibly difficult to get a handle on how it all works, what the potential drawbacks are, etc.

    I also found myself thinking of pace in publishing, but in both directions—what seems urgent but could slow down, as you ask, but also the flip side, what could be simplified so that the process moves more swiftly? Sometimes the speed of trust is faster, not slower. When a chapter takes 5+ years to reach readership, the entire landscape has changed, and those words no longer resonate as they would have closer to the time of writing. I’d love to talk more about the ways that a “right” pace can be either fast or slow. This is something that others have challenged me on—I often want to urge people to pause, to slow down—but sometimes swiftness is a better/more just/kinder way to proceed.

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