Publishing by Fire

We are very pleased to have a guest contribution this week from Matt Schultz of the awesomely named Educopia Institute, who was kind enough to write this post at my request. Matt is a founding member of the FONA (Friends of NewArchivist) and we really appreciate his support from day one, and his willingness to share his insight. Thanks Matt! ~ ed.

Seeing your writing in a publication for the first time is elating. I think anyone reading this who has gotten their voice into print can recall that feeling.

As a 30-something just coming out of my Masters program from the University of Michigan’s School of Information, and re-inventing my career in automotive manufacturing to go to work in the field of cultural memory, I have a lot of catching up to do in the area of getting published. This is in comparison to several of the slightly younger folks I encountered during my program, who by their mid-to-late 20s were already working on their second Masters degree and had several articles under their belts (many of these folks were really bright HCI-ers who were ambitious in their computing and usability research). Diving into LIS, ARM and PI education, most of us were doing the grad thing for the first time, moving on from our BAs in the humanities. I think most of us did not write so much as listen, take copious notes, and work our little butts off in various internships to get as much practical experience as we could muster. I know I didn’t have the time nor credentials to get published.

The road for me to getting published came along much more serendipitiously, and only after I dipped my toes a little further into the real world of digital preservation and archiving.

The MetaArchive Cooperative hired me shortly after my graduation as an outside consultant. I was to put on several hats and not only guide them through the arduous process of a trusted repositories audit, but also perform some light planning, and help out with administrative work. Things went so well, that I soon found myself pulled suddenly into the thick of a final editing process for their long germinating work titled A Guide to Distributed Digital Preservation. Not only was I given the benefit of the doubt to help sharpen the matured and well-articulated chapters written by various Cooperative members, I was charged with completely overhauling a couple of the technical chapters. My voice was actually getting into the publication.

The final work was a collaboration of 11 authors who were spread across the Cooperative’s membership, the central staff, and myself. The editing process was intense. Once we had rough final versions in from each of the chapter authors, the Program Manager, myself, and a librarian from GA Tech set hard to work bringing the volume together into final form. To streamline what was a highly disparate work, with multiple voices, we had to develop a unified nomenclature of terminology and phraseology that could be reinforced across all of the chapters. On a practical level we ended up implementing at least three different document versioning conventions over the course of 2-3 months, to reinforce orderliness and proper identification of exchanged edits, as all three of us as final editors were not co-located.

When it came time for me to overhaul the more technical chapters, I had to research heavily on the fly, a range of documentation on the MetaArchive’s technical organization and design (a process already somewhat informed from my TRAC auditing), as well as documentation on the underlying LOCKSS software. Interviews with the MetaArchive’s central technical staff, with whom I share authorship in my chapters, were essential as well. This required me to be able to dip into their pressured time schedules quickly, get clarification on terms, and return to the manuscript to transform difficult jargon into language that an unfamiliar audience could grasp. Talk about a crash course. Research. Write. Clarify. Refine.

We wrapped up final editing right before the Christmas holiday of this past year. By January, the whole collaborative process had gone so well, I found myself with a job offer and the awesome title of Collaborative Services Librarian. I am no expert as of yet in collaboration, but I have had my trial by fire through this incredible publication. From what I have gleaned of the state of publishing in my field of academia, both on a profession level as well as in research, any effort toward publication, even as a single author, is a collaborative one.

Since this first experience I have gone on to write two pending articles for iPres 2010, both of which are giving me the opportunity to put my voice forward a little earlier in the process, and go through the process of having my language and presentation heavily edited. It is an awesome process. Humbling and educational.

For other new archivists and cultural memory workers out there looking to get themselves published, my encouragement would be to look for ways of promoting your current work through your most immediate network of actively publishing peers. I cannot really speak to how easy or difficult this might be. I was blessed, and continue to be blessed, by an employer that believes in championing the expertise and ambition of their staff. Also, I would encourage new archivists and cultural memory workers to offer your services as an editor on a publication or the outcomes from a research process underway by your co-workers or peers. If it goes well, don’t be shy in requesting being credited or acknowledged on any such article or work. It’s all a stepping stone. In the meantime, practice the process of researching, writing, clarifying, and refining. Do your own thing, bring it forward to those who might have some capacity for promoting your effort and style. Who knows where it might go.

My employer and I are already scheming a potential new publication that should further benefit the field of distributed digital preservation. Which is really what it is all about – making a meaningful contribution.

Good luck all you NewArchivists in getting published!

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