On Writing, or “Beer + Edits”
Some of us write because publishing is a requirement for career advancement as legal information professionals. Some of us write because we want to document an event in law librarianship, report on a conference or workshop attended. Some of us write to share information on a legal research topic that fascinates us. Some of us write to fill a gap in the literature. Some of us are neophyte writers and some of us have been at it for quite some time. I fit the latter description, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on the process.
Honing Your Writing Skills
Very early in my career, Dan Wade, senior foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarian at Yale and mentor to many, told me that I should “read”. A simple advice and one that has been hard to do because carving time out to read at work is difficult, but I’m passing the advice on to y’all. Read. Read everything.
Reading will help you learn and become more knowledgeable, become familiar with what topics interest you, what good writing is, who the best authors on law librarianship and legal information are, and who you might want to emulate or ask to mentor or coach you as you develop your scholarship, hone your writing skills, your writing “voice”.
Read the literature on law librarianship. Read current scholarship on legal information. Read legal news sources. Read law blogs.
And listen. Listen to law-, technology-, and library-related podcasts. Attend conferences and see what speakers (and topics) fascinate. What makes a great speaker and topic also makes a great writer.
If you volunteer to edit a newsletter or be a book review editor, you will have lots of opportunity to read the submissions of other law librarians and interact with the current scholarship on law librarianship issues. You will also develop a sense of what you would like to see as a reader, and what topics you might wish to write about.
And then, write, write, write. I follow a lot of writers on Twitter, and that is their main advice. They are also avid readers.
If you’re new to writing, start by publishing short pieces in newsletters or blogs. You can write book reviews. Even though you’re writing individually, it’s actually a collaboration, or could be. Interact with the editors. Ask them for writing advice.
You can share drafts of your work with writers you admire and ask for their feedback. You can post your work on SSRN.
And the bibliography is not quite dead, especially if accompanied by an essay or if annotated, so that is always a publishing option. W. S. Hein publishes legal research guides and bibliographies.
Set aside a time during your work day to write. Negotiate the time for scholarship if needed. I attended an AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers session in which the writer-presenters highlighted making time for your scholarship as key.
Working with one or more co-authors can be a fun and rewarding experience. It helps if the co-author(s) have traits you don’t have such as being good at meeting deadlines, editing, finding great images, etc. Sometimes collaborating does not work out or does not lead to a successful publication, but the experience is always worthwhile.
A great example of a successful collaborative writing venture is “Beer & Edits: A Writers’ Network.” I’ve been seeing “Beer + Edits” meet-up notices at American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) conferences for a while now, but never checked it out.
From a recent posting by Stacia Stein, current chair of the AALL PEGA-SIS Beer and Edits Committee, to the AALL Members Open Forum, I found out that, since 2013, B&E has provided an in-person matchmaking service at the AALL annual meeting. This enabled writers to obtain feedback on their draft papers and articles from friends and colleagues interested in supporting librarians’ scholarship. And, as of 2018-2019, B&E will facilitate year-round virtual matchmaking for writers and volunteer readers/editors.
I wondered who thought of the B&E writing support initiative in the first place and contacted one of the founders, Jordan Jefferson at Yale Law Library, who emailed me as follows:
Back in 2012 Andrea Alexander and I were writing an article together long distance. We planned to meet up at the annual meeting that year to edit. While meeting over breakfast and mimosas we started talking about how we saw a gap in scholarly engagement at the annual meeting. I think we literally said something like, “wouldn’t it be great if authors could come together, meet other people interested in similar topics, drink a beer and edit?” We went to the (then) GenX/Y Caucus [which became PEGA-SIS – the Professional Engagement, Growth and Advancement Special Interest Section in 2014 – Lyo] to promote the idea. We had no money and no official approval from AALL. Our first event was held at a bar across the street from the Conference Hotel in Boston (food and drinks were provided by deep pocketed and interested librarians).
Here’s the wording advertising our second event: “Beer & Edits is designed to bring law librarians together in a casual setting to discuss ideas for scholarship, get and give feedback, and mingle with other people in the field. Beer & Edits provides an opportunity to find writing partners, meet others interested in similar topics, exchange work for editing, and brainstorm, all while enjoying a beverage!”
From there we moved to a more structured format (still without AALL sponsorship) which included matching librarians with similar scholarly interests. When GenX/Y became PEGA, Beer and Edits was absorbed and formalized turning it into what you see today.
B+E was started as an entirely grassroots effort by two members who wanted to fill a gap. In the 8 years since the event’s inception SISs have created a number of endeavors focused on aiding scholarship.
One of these endeavors is the AALL Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS)’ brand new Scholarship Committee which will be a useful resource for librarians and legal information professionals engaged in or planning writing projects.
Picking Writing Topics
And, when you’re ready to write, select a topic you’re interested in and are passionate about. Sometimes the journey from article or book idea to research and subsequent publication can take years, so pick something you will enjoy working on, doing presentations on, researching, and writing about.
Pick something that fills a gap, conveys information you wish to share, or about which you have a point to make. Consider the context of your piece, and try to customize what you write to that publication or institution. Modify the length of the piece to fit the publication type, your topic, your audience.
Turn your lectures, webinars, conference, and other presentations into journal articles, book chapters, essays in collections. You can share your knowledge, your scholarship in different formats. Not all information has to be written. You can create tutorials and videos.
Consider collaborating. Do you want a co-author? Co-authors?
And, if your aim is to be a law librarian scholar, consider what you wish your legacy to be. Mine is to be remembered for promoting filling gaps in international law scholarship and international legal information resources.
Here are some more tips for selecting a topic upon which to write:
- Pick a topic that is on a research agenda for the profession of law librarianship.
- Look historically – what was done in the past and how does it inform the present and future of law librarians and libraries?
- Look intersectionally? Race, gender, religion, ethnicity, LGBTQIA? Visible and invisible disability? Nationality? Refugee and asylum status?
- Look comparatively? Across states, provinces, Länder, nations, regions?
- Look interdisciplinarily – can the law library profession learn from other fields?
- Look empirically – is there need for data or new data?
- Look locally – is there something your institution is doing that is working and unique? Are there local challenges that you are meeting successfully?
- What new or different voices need to be added to legal information scholarship?
- Select a topic of current interest to the audience for which you are writing. For example, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries / L’Association canadienne des bibliothèques de droit (CALL/ACBD) recently formed a “Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization Committee”. That might inform future articles in the Canadian Law Library Review that you choose to write. Ditto with mandatory courses on aboriginal law/indigenous legal issues in Canadian law schools.
- Consider writing on a substantive law topic for a library, technology, or law publication. How would the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation or Copyright Directive affect different users, audiences?
- What are some novel issues, new developments, new problems, new challenges for libraries and librarians?
- What are possible impacts of local, national or international government bodies/agencies’ actions on law librarianship, the legal information profession?
Support for Librarian Scholarship
CALL/ACBD has a Committee to Promote Research which provides grants for research or writing projects, along with a Data Bank of research in progress and completed, a List of Issues Facing Law Librarians Which Require Research and Tips for Planning, Conducting, and Sharing Research.
AALL has a LexisNexis-sponsored Research Fund to support the Association’s Research Agenda on “the major topic areas of provision of legal information services, law library collections, legal research, the profession of law librarianship, and law library administration”.
Most law library associations have newsletters or official journals. CALL/ACBD has the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). AALL has the Law Library Journal (free access to full PDF issues of the LLJ) and the AALL Spectrum. AALL SISes and Chapters have newsletters and blogs. The Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section (LHRB-SIS) publishes Unbound: A Review of Legal History & Rare Books. The RIPS Law Librarian Blog has useful articles on legal research and teaching. The Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIP-SIS) has the On Firmer Ground: Knowledge, Innovation, Intelligence blog. The Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Special Interest Section (FCIL-SIS) has a vibrant, active blog, The DipLawMatic Dialogues Blog, as well as the FCIL Newsletter for international legal information scholarship.
BIALL has Legal Information Management. ALLA has the Australian Law Librarian. The AjBD (German law librarians association) has the Recht, Bibliothek, Dokumentation — RBD. Mitteilungen der Arbeitsgemeinschaft für juristisches Bibliotheks- und Dokumentationswesen (AjBD). IALL has the International Journal of Legal Information. Editors are always looking for good legal information content for their association publications, including from non-members.
You can write in legal information- and technology-related publications. You can submit your articles to law reviews and journals. And there are standalone law librarian print and e-journals such as Legal Reference Services Quarterly and Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing.
CALL/ACBD has several awards for outstanding articles or books and excellence in publishing. There are the CLLR Featured Article and Student Article awards, the Gisèle Laprise Prize for “an outstanding contribution to an understanding an appreciation of the civil and common law systems in Canada”, the Michael Silverstein Prize “recognizing an outstanding contribution to enhancing understanding, analysis and appreciation of primary law and legal taxonomy. The contribution may be in the form of an article, book, course, research, activities/advocacy or a body of work”, as well as the Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing.
AALL has the annual AALL/LexisNexis Call for Papers competition that helps promote the scholarship of AALL members and of library and law school students:
Papers, which may be submitted by active or retired AALL members, or by students in library, information management or law school, may address any subject relevant to law librarianship. Through the competition, the Committee seeks (1) to promote scholarship of interest to the profession of law librarianship; (2) to provide a creative outlet for law librarians and a forum for their scholarly activities; and (3) to recognize the scholarly efforts of established members, of new members, and of students who are considering a career as law librarians.
The AALL Legal History & Rare Books Special Interest Section (LHRB-SIS) has the Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition. The Government Law Libraries Special Interest Section (GLL-SIS) has the Dr. Joel Fishman Professional Publication Award. The Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Special Interest Section (FCIL-SIS) has the Reynolds & Flores Publication Award.
Scholarship Wants To Be Free?
Most librarian publishing opportunities and ventures as far as I can tell are not rewarded with monetary compensation. You do get royalties for writing a book. GlobaLex pays royalties to its legal research guide authors/contributors. Sabrina I. Pacifici is monetizing her curated LLRX: Law & Technology Resources for Legal Professionals Web journal and beSpacific blog (“Accurate, Focused Research on Law, Technology and Knowledge Discovery Since 2002”) with “Donate” buttons, so readers can support and help her continue publishing. And there are the scholarship cash prizes mentioned in the paragraph above. Maybe there are freelance writing for pay opportunities?
Publicizing Your Work
There is no shame in letting the world know you’ve been published. It’s okay to toot your own horn. Congratulations, you did the thing! You can tweet it out, post about it on listservs, or use other social media. If you don’t want to publicize your work directly, you can inform your member associations’ public relations committees about your new publication and they can do the PR for you. You can also try have your work published in one of the publications monitored by KnowItAALL, a newish AALL professional news content blaster, or submit information about your article, book chapter, or other scholarly achievement directly to it. KnowItAALL is a daily e-newsletter which “highlights legal information, industry trends, law, technology, library, and career development topics” so you can subscribe to it if you want to see what other law librarians and legal information professionals have published.
Write, Write, Write
There are so many opportunities to publish, hone your writing skills, and share information to add to the literature of law librarianship, and fill in gaps. And so many changes to the legal information landscape, and to the profession. So many fascinating issues. Now is a great time to be a scholarly law librarian. So, write, write, write!
 I write this Slaw column mostly to help anyone interested in foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarianship and international legal information, so I will sprinkle some FCIL-related writing info herein.
 Emails from Jordan A. Jefferson, co-founder (with Andrea Alexander) of Beer + Edits, to author (Sept. 14, 2018, 13:22 & 13:45 EST)(on file with author).
 My cat, Misha, who is always trying to be my co-author.
From Susan Nevelow Mart:
Hi Lyo: Don’t forget law librarianship’s only blind peer-reviewed journal, Legal Information Review, published by Hein, which accepts multiple formats of writing on any topic, including FCIL! The link for submissions is at : http://www.wiselawlibrary.org/LIR/. And anyone who has a work-in-progress and would like a peer review by their law librarian colleagues should consider submitting a draft to the Boulder Conference on Legal Information: Scholarship and Teaching, held for the last ten years just before our annual meeting. The website is at: https://lawlibrary.colorado.edu/boulder-conferences-legal-information-scholarship-and-teaching. A call for papers goes out each year in January.
Hi Lyo, great article!
I just wanted to add a shameless plug for the Research & Scholarship Committee of the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section (ALL-SIS), which provides support to librarian researchers through annual grants that can be used for nearly anything related to a research project. This includes things like travel expenses, registering for a writing workshop (such as the Boulder Conference), purchasing materials or equipment, and/or hiring research assistants. Applications are typically due in late January/early February.
Last year’s grant application form and more information are available here: https://www.aallnet.org/allsis/about-us/officers-committees/committee-web-pages/research-scholarship-committee/
Thanks to Susan and Andrew for the infos!