Interview with Julia Skinner, instructor for Social Media for Libraries and The Librarian as Scholar: Taking Part in Scholarly Communication

Julia Skinner is a doctoral student at Florida State University’s School of Library & Information Studies. Her research interests include social media, library history, and services for sexual assault survivors. She is the instructor for two classes coming up with Library Juice Academy in August: Social Media for Libraries, and The Librarian as Scholar: Taking Part in Scholarly Communication. She agreed to do an interview here in order to give people a better sense of what will be covered in these classes and how they might benefit from them, and a little bit more about her and her varied interests.

Hi Julia! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

I think I’d like to start by asking you to talk a bit about your background in terms of your qualifications and interest in teaching these two classes.

Both of these are areas I’m really passionate about. I’m interested in social media both as a user and a researcher. My social media presence (@BookishJulia) is a hybrid of personal and professional, which is an approach I really like for my own work. I have also done some social media managing work, and am in the process of drafting a social media policy and editing it as I receive feedback. That process is really important, and it’s something I can’t wait to share with students. With that policy, you have the groundwork laid for what your institution’s social media presence will look like, and it helps hold people accountable for what they can post and how often, as well as how they interact with others in that space. I also do research on social media as it is used during political protests and during natural disasters. I’m really interested in how social media can be a force for good that connects us to other people and that can be harnessed to share resources, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s such a great tool for libraries looking to connect with patrons.

For scholarly communication, I have experience in a variety of areas. I was co-editor of a student-run journal (B-Sides) during my MLS, I have published a number of articles in academic journals, have interned at another journal (JELIS), and have served as a reviewer for a handful of journals as well. I am excited to teach this class because feel like the writing and publishing process can be intimidating for people who aren’t in academia, or who are new to it. A lot of students don’t get training in scholarly communications in their programs, so they aren’t really sure how to approach that process when they want or need to begin publishing their work. I would love to see more practitioners share their research and ideas in the literature, because there is so much incredible work taking place in our field, but not all of it is getting the attention it deserves.

Cool. Regarding scholarly communication, it seems like knowing more about it could be useful both as a scholar and as a librarian in an academic setting. I think that that class will be most attractive to people who are interested in both sides of it.

Before we go further, I think I’d like to ask you to describe both of the classes – say what they cover and what you expect participants to take away from it at the end or be able to do.

I agree! I think learning about scholarly communication is something that is valuable for just about anyone. I designed both classes to give students activities and knowledge that they can immediately take out in the world and start using.

For the scholarly communication course, we’ll be covering the manuscript submission process, the review and revision process, and writing conference abstracts. Since the course is short, we will be using existing manuscripts (either one the student is already working on or one that I provide them) so we can spend more time discussing the submission and review process. Hopefully by the end of the course, they will understand what each step entails, will have a list of journals to submit their work to (along with feedback to polish it up before it goes out the door), and will have a conference abstract prepared. I also want them to feel more comfortable with the overall process to the extent that when they get back journal reviews they don’t feel intimidated or disheartened, so that all of us in LIS can learn from their work.

For the social media course, we’ll be covering how to use social media effectively, and we’ll also be writing a social media policy and thinking about how to implement the policy once it’s written. I encourage a lot of interaction in the other course too, but since this one is about technology that is inherently social, I want everyone to be sharing what they’re thinking and learning from each other. Some of the folks in the class are probably very comfortable with these technologies already, but that way those who are less familiar can get used to being social and engaged in an online space. I want the people who take this course to walk away with an understanding of what social media is and why it’s important, and what an effective social media presence would look like for them and their organizations. I also want to underscore the importance of having agreed-upon guidelines to drive their social media presence, and have them walk away with a set of guidelines that they think will work for their situation, that include the feedback of everyone else in the class. The last week of class will be one where we think about implementing a policy and evaluating its effectiveness, which I hope will give them some ideas for how to broach the subject with peers and supervisors, and create a lasting and evolving social media presence.

Sounds very good. Let’s talk a little bit about the scholarly communication course. I want to make sure it’s clear that this course is about the process of writing, revising, submitting, etc., and not about the research process, which is a related but different set of skills that can vary according to what kind of paper it is we’re talking about. We have another class on research methods for internal research within a library, but we don’t have a class on research methods as it might be applied to research done for publication. For the purpose of your class, we are going to assume that participants have that covered in some other way, or that they are writing a kind of paper where it is not an issue. Does that sound correct to you, and do you have anything to add to that?

You’re absolutely right. This course deals with publishing your work after it’s completed. Research design is a completely different thing with its own set of considerations. I am assuming that when participants come into the class, that they have already had some exposure to research for publication, even if they don’t feel like they’re experts at it. If someone doesn’t have that experience, I think they would still get a lot out of the class that they could apply after they learned about methods and started doing their own work, but having some knowledge of research methods (or some experience conducting research) will make it easier.

Yeah. Though with more humanities-based research that element isn’t there so much. And of course, for librarians who aren’t trying to get some research published but who just want to learn more about the process to enrich their professional knowledge as academic librarians, I think they also wouldn’t have so much need to learn research design. But we do have a class that gets into it, with a focus on studying users or processes at your own institution.

Staying with the scholarly communication course for a bit, I’d like to ask you about your own experience writing for publication and going through the process. Have you been surprised by any aspects of it?

I have had one thing that has especially surprised me. One of the things that always sticks out to me is the things editors and reviewers focus on that I’ve done well or need to improve, because usually they are different than what I would target as the strongest and weakest points of a paper. I always end up learning a lot from the different perspectives that they bring to my work, and I think it highlights the importance of the review process because you get to understand your writing from so many angles.

That’s cool. So it sounds like going through the process can be very educational, and one thing this course can do is to provide encouragement and give people a good start.

For sure! I think the process is a lot of fun, and once you have a sense of what to expect it makes it easier to be a part of.

I’d like to turn to the social media class. There are a lot of classes on social media out there. It seems like something that is different about this one is the emphasis on establishing guidelines and then evaluating their effectiveness. I like that – it seems very practical and nicely directed toward insitutional settings. I think at this point we can assume that everybody who has the responsibility of managing social media for a library has a personal social media presence. I am wondering what besides having guidelines is going to be different for an institutional social media presence, as opposed to a personal one?

Well, one thing that might be different is how widely you want to share your posts. I know on my Facebook account, I have limited my posts so they are only visible to friends.However, with your institutional account, you want your posts to be publicly available. One thing I bring up in the class is the overlap between personal and institutional approaches, which I think is especially useful since so many people (like me) have hybrid personal-professional accounts, and their experiences with those accounts can give them some ideas of what has and hasn’t been working to increase engagement and visibility.

I also share different content in different spaces, which is something that might be appropriate for an institution’s social media presence, but the type of content being shared is very different. On all my accounts, I share things of interest to personal and professional contexts, but I’m basically doing it to curate my own presence in an online space. For an institution, the only goal may not be to curate an image, but may also be to increase awareness or bring in more patrons, so the type of posting being done will be different.

Makes sense. Another thing I’m wondering about is how in an institutional setting there may be other people involved, at least in the sense that guidelines are going to have to be approved, and evaluation of how it is going may not be done only by you. Does that bring in different kinds of issues that you plan to get into?

Yes–one thing I stress is that it’s a collaborative process, and that the policy we draft during the class can be a helpful jumping off point for everyone who’s involved in making that decision. Having something specific in writing gives people a chance to point to things they like and things they want to change, so the final document ends up being something everyone agrees on.

You also have the potential to include multiple people in managing the accounts as well. I urge everyone to clearly outline who does what (e.g. posting), and who replaces or fills in for those people when they aren’t available.

Good. Something that your class makes me think about is how by this point, it is commonplace for library institutions to have a social media presence, and it also seems like in most cases their presence is not doing much for them. Would you agree with that? And if so, do you think that it is clear what they should be doing differently? I am wondering what the state of knowledge is about social media for institutions, especially library institutions. I am thinking that a lot of people right now feel competent to jump in, but maybe there is a lot they should know about making their institutional social media presence actually work. What do you think about that?

I would definitely agree. I’ve learned a lot about social media and libraries by looking at examples of what libraries are doing, and there are huge differences in engagement, frequency of posting, types of posts, etc. It’s not always clear, but even if it’s not I think there’s a lot of value in trying different approaches until you find something that sticks. In the class, I will be encouraging students to think about their own institution and use that knowledge to guide what they’re doing. What works in one place won’t work in another, and your target audience might be using different platforms or respond to different types of posts than the target audience of another library.

I would agree that a lot of people feel competent to jump in, particularly since creating an account is so easy. One thing that’s a potential concern is spreading yourself too thin–you can easily create accounts, but will you have the time to continuously fill them with quality content? I think having at least some guidelines in place, if not a full-fledged policy, will help put everyone on the same page and help clarify what will be posted and how interactions will look before there’s the opportunity for confusion.

One thing about social media is that it’s a place where mistakes can be amplified quickly since content can be re-shared and because users have the ability to interact directly with you in a public setting. Hopefully this wouldn’t happen, but an example would be if someone posted a complaint about the library and the social media manager ignored it or got defensive rather than apologizing and offering solutions. That person might go onto their account and complain to all their followers about the library, which then has a negative impact on many more people’s perception of the library. I don’t think managing social media needs to be intimidating, but I do think it’s a matter of being clear about what you want from social media, experimenting until you find effective ways to get that, and being engaged with users.

Sounds good. Sounds like the class will involve a lot of good discussion and sharing of experiences.

I hope it will!

I’d like to finish up by asking you about some of your other interests, which I know are varied. First, you’re working on a Ph.D. Do you have a dissertation topic? How is that going?

I’m just about to start my third year of my program, so I’m finished with my coursework, but am preparing for my prelim exam (my qualifying exam) before I start on my dissertation. With any luck, I’ll get that out of the way later this year or early next year, and then I’ll start doing that research. My dissertation topic is going to be one librarian who worked in the Harlem Public Library in the 1930s. She did a lot of cool stuff to make the library a community center, and from what I understand there are a lot of records on her work still around. Depending on what I find, I would also like to bring in some LIS theory to help me frame the stories of her and her patrons. This time period is interesting because it’s a time of uncertainty and change, which is something that is a thread through all of my research areas, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in a library.

Well that sounds very cool. Can I link out to your CV from here? Given the breadth of your interests, I have to ask as a final question – If you could teach anything for Library Juice Academy, what would it be?

Thank you! You most certainly can link to my CV. Actually, the two courses I’m teaching are pretty ideal–they’re both areas I have experience in and am passionate about, so I love the idea of getting to share what I know and learn alongside students as we go through the material. If I were going to teach a course in addition to them, it might be fun to do a research methods course that focuses on approaches that might not be covered in other methods courses, particularly since I’m doing research using a few different methods in a few different areas.

Sounds great! Thanks very much for this interview, and best of luck with your classes next month.

Thank you! I’m looking forward to them!

3 thoughts on “Interview with Julia Skinner, instructor for Social Media for Libraries and The Librarian as Scholar: Taking Part in Scholarly Communication

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