Dear Annoyed Librarian,
I have a professional dilemma, and I'm seeking your advice.
Currently, I have two job offers: one from Dungheap College--a third-tier liberal arts college--and another from Dungheap State University--a third-tier state university. Dungheap State pays a bit more than Dungheap College, and the librarians there are unionized and so don't have to work very hard, but I'm a little worried about the tenure requirement, because it would mean publishing a lot of library literature, and that just seems daunting considering the high professional standards of librarians. What should I do?
Perplexed in Dungheap
You certainly seem to be skewered on the horns of a dilemma, and that's always painful, especially if you're not wearing the proper protective undergarments.
Both of those august institutions sound like fine places to work, so I can see where you'd feel uneasy about having to make a decision. But if you really want to work for Dungheap State, you'll have to learn how to write publishable library literature. Fortunately, this isn't as difficult as it sounds.
A good way to begin is to try reading some library literature. You'll probably find that most of it is virtually unreadable. Consider unreadability your first goal! Many causes contribute to unreadability, including unclear writing, inherently boring subject matter, poorly constructed "social scientific" survey instruments, and a tendency to use too many exclamation points. Consider all of these tools of unreadable writing as your friends! Much social scientific research spends lots of time and money trying to prove conclusively the truth of something that is obvious to any reasonably bright twelve year old. You won't have much time or money, so you may have to settle for proving inconclusively the possible truth of something that any reasonably bright twelve year old would realize is extremely unimportant.
The basic library article has a very simple format:
1) Choose a topic, preferable one that involves a project in your library that you could write about without having to leave the building or do any serious thinking. The best and easiest topics are "case studies." Especially exciting topics include: that chat reference pilot you've been working on, how you rearranged your bookstacks to make room for more computers, any poster displays you've put up in your library, how you "assessed" virtually anything you do in your library. All of these are terribly exciting, because you can just assume that all librarians will be extremely interested in what goes on in your library, because they know what an exciting and dynamic place your library must be.
2) Compose a survey! This is crucial. I really cannot stress the importance of this enough. The survey should ask tough questions like, "Do you like our library? If yes, check this box." Surveys really don't have to be much more complicated than that in the library world.
3) Distribute the survey. A lot of potential librarian authors forget this very important step, and thus don't have any results to write up for the exciting peer-reviewed library literature article. This step is even more crucial than step 2! Also, be sure to distribute this survey widely. Whatever you're measuring, you'll want to distribute AT LEAST a dozen surveys to properly find out how people feel about it.
4) Get the surveys back. This step is not as crucial as the previous two steps, because if you don't get the surveys back, you can always just speculate on what they would probably say if you did get them back.
Editor's note: To be truthful, neither steps 3 nor 4 are that important. The Annoyed Librarian once published a peer-reviewed library literature article analyzing the results of an online survey about a pilot service in her library; however, she forgot to publicize the survey. Solution: she took the survey herself 247 times in all sorts of different moods and states of intoxication (to insure fairness and balance), and then analyzed the results. Result: Another line on the vita! (The sad thing is, you won't really be able to tell if I'm kidding you).
5) Analyze the results. This is pretty easy to do, especially if you can get a student worker or someone less exalted than you (if that's possible) to enter the information in a spreadsheet. Sample analysis from a real library article I once read: 200 people used our pilot service. We surveyed 12 of them. 8 of the 12 responded. 6 of them liked the service. Thus, 75% of respondents thought the service worthwhile. (I am not pooping on you. This really was the analysis. If I can track it down again, it will be in my proposed "Library Lit that Sucks" series; so if you remember this article, send it on to me, and I'll make fun of the librarians who wrote it so you won't have to.)
6) Write a short introduction to your "data" explaining why anyone would care at all about your pathetic research. Ignore the fact that your sample size is insufficient to generate any conclusions. That never stopped a librarian! Sample explanation: This article is worth publishing because we need tenure. Our survey results are important because we surveyed people in our library. Thus, you can find out about how people like our library. This will be very useful to you should you ever actually work in our library and want to survey something.
If you really don't have time for any of the above, you might consider an "informal" survey, which would mean you'd ask a few people and then analyze the results. Try not to make it too personal. Avoid sentences such as, "My Uncle Cletus really liked that chat ref thing I explained to him."
Also, you could always try a "focus group." That way you don't need many respondents; you just need a couple of people to agree to be in a room with you for an hour. And you really need to focus, so expand your questionaire along the following lines: Do you like our library? Are you sure? Are you really sure? How much do you like our library? Would you like our library more if the librarians were witty and attractive? What do you think about my bottom? Is it too big? Do I have Librarian's Bottom?
There, that should get you started. As you can see, writing library literature is as easy as something that's very easy. Once you publish a few of these articles, the thrill of having your name in print may be such that you can never stop. (I get so thrilled with seeing the Annoyed Librarian in print that I pee my pants with excitement every time I read an Annoyed Librarian Cover Letter.) Your work will be as influential as other library literature, and you'll become a leader in the profession because of it! Don't get depressed over the almost certain fact that more people just read this Annoyed Librarian letter than will ever read your library literature, and that's not saying much!
The Annoyed Librarian