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Writing Digital Decisions - a blog post by Amy Icke

Writing my SLA publication began back in June 2013 when serendipitously Geoff Dubber got in touch with Linda Kelley, Chair of SLA London, about our local SLA meeting which I was leading. I had been invited to talk about the research I was carrying out as part of my MA in Library and Information Studies on using e-resources in secondary school libraries. When Geoff asked if I wanted to write a Guideline on the topic, I was enthusiastic but was, from the outset, aware that this was a significant project to juggle with full-time work. I am delighted to have completed work on the Guideline and am grateful to the SLA and colleagues for all the support they've given me along the way.

With the Guideline published, it felt an appropriate time to reflect on the process and to consider the challenges and opportunity writing for publication presents.

  •           Keeping momentum

From start to finish, I have been working on this piece of research for four years and whilst I have really enjoyed it, it has been difficult to keep momentum, alongside balancing the demands of work and starting a new job. Timely emails from the SLA, support from colleagues and new found enthusiasm when working with case study contributors all helped to keep the project on track. It sounds obvious but breaking up the task into smaller manageable chunks and asking for feedback along the way also helped with motivation and focus. Unsurprisingly, the Guideline is written remotely and there's very little opportunity for face to face interaction, although chats on the phone and clear feedback by email were all helpful and kept the project moving forward.

  • Being all things to all people

I was aware that the basis for this Guideline was my MA dissertation and writing for academic study is a world away from writing a practical guideline designed to help the day to day work of fellow librarians. Establishing my own voice in the publication and gauging the tone was something I initially found difficult. Fortunately, Geoff brings many years of experience to the writing process and offered guidance to ensure the publication meets the needs and expectations of our intended authorship.

  • Taking a step back

As is the case with any piece of work of this kind you can certainly get too attached and fail at times to see the wood for the trees. It might be the case that you fail to explain terminology correctly or to give sufficient context to an example simply because to you it feels obvious. Having people who aren't familiar with the project read your work and cast an eye over the text is invaluable.

  • Keeping the conversation open and ongoing feedback

In many ways related to the above point, I appreciated feedback from a whole range of readers, including those not involved in librarianship. My head teacher, a former colleague working in IT, my previous line manager, the editorial team at the SLA and of course my long suffering parents all contributed to the final draft. Recognising their skills, interest and expertise added a richness to the text and I hope created a Guideline with breadth and variety as we all know that working in a school requires a whole team of people to be on board and support our work.

  • Transferring your vision to other contributors (for me, case study contributors)

I think when you embark on a project like this, informed by your own day to day work and primary research, you have a clear vision of the structure of the Guideline and how it fits together. It was my responsibility to communicate this effectively to my case study contributors and for them to have a good overview of how the publication would look and feel without burdening them with information overload. In the first instance I sent them a one side plan and contents page and then, responding to their request for more information, I sent them a draft so they were able to see how the publication would fit together. In the initial planning stages I had considered devising a proforma for the contributors so they had a consistent structure but on reflection I recognised that each one was different in their scope and it was better to give the authors as much autonomy as possible in the writing process.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the Guideline and very much hope it is of use to fellow librarians. There is some truly amazing and inspiring work going on in schools (one only has to read articles in the School Librarian or threads on SLN or posts on Heart of the School) and I would encourage anyone toying with the idea of publication to jump in and have a go. It has been a very rewarding process, I've learnt a huge amount along the way and I've hopefully produced something that is useful to others! My sincere thanks to the SLA for suggesting and supporting this Guideline and to all my colleagues and friends who have made it possible.

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