Publish Or Perish.

Press room on press car (LOC)

Image from LOC on Flickr

Publish Or Perish. Ever heard that phrase before? It echos through the halls of the university and hearts of grad students around the world, prompting many-a-late night in the library and archives (which is a good thing!) researching, writing, writing, writing. And to what end? Potential recognition for publishing in a journal, a new line on your resume, or respect as a “leader” in the field? How and where does this sort of academic rigor fit into the common experience of the library, museum or archives student? Does it?

It would seem that for a majority, writing and publishing a journal or book might not matter at all. In fact, this could be one area that challenges the idea of “Big Tent Librarianship” that our own Britt Foster wrote about weeks ago, since it is most often the academic librarians that are expected and required to “publish or perish.” Well, in the spirit of all things hackery, I’d like to propose that that is hogwash, and that as students in this field it is our responsibility to foster a culture of writing and sharing for the purpose of opening discussions across the field, regardless of institutional affiliation or professional track.

Ok. Great. Really inspiring little paragraph there. Here comes the honesty – the work of writing and publishing is not easy. And I really dislike the whole structure of it. In fact, the reason I took up blogging here and on my own blog was to avoid the whole publishing thing entirely. Peer review really rustles my feathers, and the potential for rejection is nothing short of the worst. My personal thoughts on journals are that they are an old, outdated, closed model for keeping information and data in the hands of the field “leaders.” (That doesn’t sound anti-authoritarian at all, right?) 😉

HOWEVER – I recognize that sometimes utilizing a model that might need a facelift can become the change that it needs. The good news is that others are having similar recognitions, and doing something about it. For example, my fellow HLS editor Julia is also an editor for B-Sides, an open access peer reviewed journal that showcases student and alumni work at UIowa. The open access journal, and the idea of open data (a growing concept in Scholarly Communications) generally, could become a real watershed moment in the old publish or perish conversation.

Finally, I have a recommendation. The Library Student Journal is where we should all begin. Not only are they focused on publishing works by students specifically, but they also are evolving the model by supporting open access to the articles and by publishing continually instead of bi-montly or quarterly as many other journals do. Or, publish your research papers and projects on your own site/blog. The point is that as students, we are in the position that we can try new things, share our research in new ways, and ultimately have an integral part in developing the corpus that will inform future students and the profession. And listen, your Information Organization final paper might not be amazing, but you might have one great insight that could affect a peer or colleague to something even greater.

Lets make a deal – I’ll overcome my disdain for the journal/publishing process and submit something if you will. Any takers?

24 replies

  1. Great post, Micah! I love the idea of promoting new publishing models and promoting previously-unheard voices (which is what Angela Murillo and Rachel Smalter Hall set out to do when they founded our lovely journal). I agree, peer review can be frustrating, but I know when I peer review or read reviews to send to authors I always try to turn it into something that’s positive (i.e. constructive criticism rather than rude or even potentially hurtful comments) and use it as a way to teach authors why such and such an edit would improve the paper. We don’t have to be as strict we accept so many formats (websites, slideshows, papers, etc) so it forces us to consider what makes a good website, slideshow, etc. and frame our discussions that way.
    LSJ is another great one (I’m on the editorial review board over there too!)–Claire Gross (editor) is awesome, and she creates the same positive journal environment that we strive for at B Sides.


    • These are all great examples/reasons why peer review is a beneficial process. Of course, as we all know, it is open to human error and bad intention, but so is any system we create. I’m glad, too, that we are thinking about alternative formats to the scholarly articles. Scholars create a lot of “unpublishable” material (gray literature) that now can be shared on the web very easily and effectively, and we need to continue to support this while adding on superstructural elements of the social web, like Twitter and hashtag curation.


  2. The whole “publish or perish” mindset is definitely one of the reasons I left my path to academia — and while new publishing models are being created, it seems that it will still take a while before they are accepted as “real scholarship” by the academic community as whole. Isn’t the validity of academic blogging still a subject of debate among many circles?

    I also wanted to share another online journal-type site that I just discovered. While it’s about anthropology, I could easily see the model being adapted for LIS. anthropologies


  3. I agree with you, Micah. Journals seem outdated and it is time for them to change. Anything that keeps information closed has no place today. I would love to see more people using open access journals and publications – those are some great examples you mentioned, thanks.

    I have been considering pursuing a PhD and I really like the idea of blogging my dissertation. I’m not really sure how it would look or what type of compromises I would have to make. However, I know that I do not want to use the traditional model. Plus, I think it would be an interesting “meta” experiment to see how it works, what type of feedback I get, etc.

    Did you see the article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed a few weeks ago? It discusses social media’s role in this and has some important questions for libraries. LINK


  4. Great post Micah. I’m with Rose when it comes to why I feel I’ve avoided the Academic path. But at the same time I know there are areas of librarianship that are not as researched as others (special and corporate libraries for example) that I would like to explore in a less official manner than the typical journal path.

    I love the idea that LSJ publishes continuously. I would imagine it would be a great resource for students who are having trouble finding articles that are timely and relevant as I recently did for a class.

    Thanks for bringing this topic up!


  5. When I was pursuing my MA, we were encouraged to take the research papers we wrote for classes and turn those into publishable articles. Unfortunately the kinds of assignments I’m being given in my MLS program do not lend themselves to this transition. Are you turning school projects into articles or doing completely separate research and writing for publication?


    • Hi Molly (?),

      I totally agree with you here. In my MA program each course I took had a massive final paper that was always intended to be aimed at publication in a journal. I don’t feel that I have ever been given that opportunity in the MLIS either, but then again, I didn’t try to make that opportunity for myself in this degree. I could have done a Individual Study with a professor for course credit and produced a paper over a semester. The type of work that we do in library school tends to be collaborative and group-project based, and you’re right that those types of assignments don’t lend themselves easily to publication.

      The way I’ve approached this – take it into your own hands and adapt your group work to a publishable product. The issue there is that it would probably be on your own time. And also, you may not always have the best representation of your work, if for instance your group was subpar.

      A good example – I always try to write my papers/projects thinking about them fitting into the context of contemporary research or topics of discussion. The blogosphere is a great place to start to “self-publish” and it has proven very beneficial for me. I wrote a paper for a course last fall on Transliteracy, posted it on my blog, and days later it was reposted on Libraries and Transliteracy, a blog I follow and enjoy very much. So, not “official” publishing, but it proves that I have something important to say, I said it and put it out there, and someone else saw value in it also and shared it.

      I think one thing to consider while we’re hacking the MLIS is if or how we are being trained to write/research, and if not, why, and should we be? I know for many people the MLIS is a professional degree and might be resistant to being forced into academic writing. This is something we’ll have to contend with and continue to discuss as we become deans, professors and working librarians.


      • Micah, I love this simple, elegant idea of tailoring school work to still-evolving issues/areas of interest and also competencies in the library field. That is what hacking lib school is all about, should be what all schooling is about. More on the blog about this plz.


      • Perhaps my expectations are skewed because my previous experience was in an English department, but I have been frustrated by the scale and substance of my library school assignments. I want to be wrestling with big issues and writing essays that are relevant outside of the bubble of the course. The HackLibSchool crowd is motivating me to start doing this on my own time, but I wish that schools were encouraging more research and writing.


        • Molly – That’s exactly the point of this HLS experiment. Frustration should lead us to action. Please do wrestle with big issues, and I’d encourage you to voice your concerns to your administration. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  6. Publication peer review is certainly not going anywhere, shouldn’t be going anywhere, and is not the root of our problems, but it certainly needs enhancement and radical update in our digital age.

    First things first though: as library students (and future librarians) we need to know that the peer review process and the “publish or perish” ethic are understandable imperatives based on the current reward system as represented by the tenure process. What we can do best in the cause to raise awareness and create change within these systems is threefold: (1) Continue to share our data and research on the unsustainable and untenable nature of scholarly publishing (i.e. the harsh realities of journal pricing, etc.); (2) Experiment with and create new metric systems for the enhancement of peer review in both promotion and publishing (i.e. alternative bibliometric tools, open/web-based peer review applications, etc.); and (3) Support scholars in the production and launching of alternative publishing models (open access journals, digital humanities projects, conceptual ebook formats, etc.).

    In some ways, I agree with the author of this post, we (library students) do not need to be focusing on publishing our own work. In my opinion, the field of librarianship is already filled with enough bad research and writing, often the result of librarians in tenure-track positions who are either forced or have bought into the traditional reward system. As students, we shouldn’t be adding to the this over-abundance simply to add lines to our resumes, but when there is a need to share for what we have learned or what we have to say. In other words, we need to be better peer-reviewers of our own literature before we can propose to revolutionize those of other scholars.

    Indeed, if there is one thing academic librarians know, it’s that we don’t need more journals, we need better journals, and that the road to a better future of scholarly publishing will not be paved with platitudes but with actively helping and engaging scholars. Collaboratively, we can create innovative, digital, open, and web-based articles, books, and publications, while at the same time making sure we all get rewarded for our efforts so that we can perpetuate this new praxis into the future.

    Thanks to the Hack Library School crew for opening up the discourse. Let’s keep it going!


    • Hi Josh,

      Well said and I agree with the gist of your post. One thing I want to clarify though is that I entirely do feel that we as LIS students SHOULD be publishing our work. The goal for us though would be to enhance the aspects of our curriculum that are weak, and to work toward better methods and goals for publications than pumping out articles to keep tenure. In my mind, this very blog fits into that model as well as a “journal” like LIbrary Student Journal. We could quickly and easily sway this conversation into a whole academia/tenure bash-fest, but that would be unproductive too.

      The point I was trying to make is that WE need to take responsibility for developing our curriculum. If you are still using Donald O. Case’s Looking for Information (2002) and it is not effective in meeting the needs of the LIS student in 2011, let’s rewrite it.


  7. When I was a MLIS student (I graduated last spring), I submitted a few papers I’d written for library school to Library Student Journal. In the end only 1 got accepted, but I found the whole experience very valuable. I even ended up editing and reviewing a few papers that others had submitted to LSJ. The process of acceptance-editing-published was very interesting and gave me new insights into the publishing industry (even with all it’s faults and archaic ways). I hate the idea of publishing just to pad a resume, but I think anything that shows you have writing and communication skills and that you are passionate about the profession will help once you graduate.

    If you are a library student I highly recommend you consider sending your library school papers to Library Student Journal. I guarantee you’ll learn something and isn’t that what library school is all about?


  8. I read a really interesting blog entry just moments before reading this one about the importance of just writing. In whatever form it may take. (

    One of the reasons I started my own blog was to write publicly and be somewhat accountable for what I put out there – but without having to deal with the immense pressure and competitive nature of formal publishing.

    I do think journals are a good thing and that more formal, peer-reviewed processes are important (so much of library literature is too informal! We need those well-thought out, formal research articles – and more of them!) but I think the most important thing is to write, in some form. Especially as a student and/or new professional. We have great ideas and fresh perspectives so let’s get them heard!

    [This has totally inspired me to write more. And submit things I wrote in school. Thanks!!]


  9. Just randomly came across another recent, and very closely related post on the Remixing the Humanities blog. This article goes a bit more in depth than I did about some of the challenges and changes that are facing University Press’ and Scholarly Publishing, and is totally worth a read if you are interested in this area.

    I’d venture to say that it is high time that some LIS students start aiming toward working in publishing.


    • Hi Micah: I’ve just had a chance to return the favor and read your wonderful blog entry here. Your original post has generated a robust set of responses, and even though we come at these issues from very different disciplinary perspectives (e.g. I hold a PhD in Film Studies, have been a faculty member at a number of different school, and have always existed under the ‘perish or publish’ dictum), I think one of the underlying issues here revolves around the nature of scholarly publication at a moment of transition.

      I think Josh’s response from 3-16-11 hits many of the crucial issues, especially the need for peer review to adapt and take advantage of digital affordances and the need for higher ed to support new innovative publishing paradigms. Both those areas are in their infancy right now, but some great experiments are already underway and initial returns are very encouraging.

      I don’t know if you are aware of the group (and full disclosure: I am on the board of editors there), but we at MediaCommons are very focused on these two issues and would love to have library students be a part of our discussions over there. My blog post was directly related to a report just issued by scholarly presses about their current difficulties in sustaining themselves in the digital era. It is actually generating responses from the library side of the field over at the Mediacommons blogsite.

      And just to throw my two cents into your mix here: scholarship is more robust than the publishing of paper-bound books, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our current practices have been developed over centuries, and even though the web and mobile offers a new way of doing business, we can’t just kick legacy book systems to the curb. Issues of editorial support, archiving, indexing, and peer review have been part of the project of journal and book publishing. Those tasks contribute to how we find and share and maintain our knowledge base and is one of the reasons these legacy systems are not going to expire overnight. Moreover, as a person who has dealt with putting together tenure and promotion dossiers, publication is one of the better ways to judge one’s contributions to a field, and while rejection sucks (every time it happens) the need to get one’s work vetted by qualified gatekeepers is a valuable function in academia and the more I work in the profession the more I respect how peer review usually gets it right. And another aspect of peer review that is under-discussed. Lots of time a rejection comes with great feedback on how to improve the article, and frequently that feedback helps revise a paper and get it published the second time around. Perseverance is a good trait to have if you pursue scholarly publishing.

      Anyhow, keep in touch. I am very interested in these issues.


  10. I have a writing background, so I’m used to the “you must publish” push. So, I have – I had an article published in the Florida Libraries journal, and it was pretty cool. I feel like I contributed to something. (And believe me, I’m USED to rejections…it still sucks, no matter how many times you get that terrible letter/email/call). That said, I like the idea of the Library Student Journal, and especially of open access. Some of the best library writing i’ve read has come from journals, so it’s lovely when these articles are available free of charge. I’m going to miss my FSU log in once it’s gone!


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