It is both a blessing and a curse of public library librarians that we are busy. Whatever our title or job description, most of us wear many hats and juggle multiple and diverse responsibilities. For many, we consider ourselves lucky when we find time to go to a conference, read a list exchange, or even visit pages such as this. Unlike our academic counterparts, most of us have no direct mandate to share our experiences, to present, or to publish.
I am very ambivalent about this. By no means do I want to add a publish or perish component to my already lengthy responsibilities. But I do find that the limited voice of the practicing public librarian in professional literature to be a problem. While there are many exciting things happening in academia at this point, and the academic librarian’s experience is valuable, the academic and the public library are not the same. When it comes to specificity, our differences are heightened.
As a former academic and a teacher of research methods, I am aware of how academics can investigate the public library and contribute, but there is something lacking when we read research that is not steeped in the insider information of those with direct experience. I would like to see more primary research and the experience of the public librarian more present.
I recognize time is a huge factor. Without the mandate, even those with the desire to publish can find writing pushed to the wayside as other tasks seem more pressing. For many locations, publication can be considered part of professional development. It can also be considered community service and it certainly serves as a means to advertise your library. Perhaps if thought of in these ways, time might be more easily made for the task.
A larger problem that I have encountered is that many public librarians I have spoken with feel unworthy of the task. Because they manage small, rural libraries, because they do not have experience, because they lack a degree or because their job title is not administrative, some very talented and knowledgeable librarians think they have nothing to offer. This is simply untrue.
I am a published librarian. More than this, I am an editor and a peer reviewer for two library publications and I can share with you in no uncertain terms, you can do this. Write. Submit. There are many who can benefit from your experience. The public librarian voice needs and deserves to be heard.
What is the worst that can happen? You get an email or letter that says, ‘We’re sorry we can’t accept your work.’ This is far less stressful than dealing with the problem patron. As the Nike slogan goes, “Just do it!”