A conversation with Raymond Pun and Meggan Houlihan
Raymond Pun is the first year student success librarian at Fresno State where he coordinates the first year information literacy program on campus and partners with student affairs and teaching faculty to support student success. His twitter handle is @raypun101
Meggan Houlihan is the Arts Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction and Student Programs at New York University Abu Dhabi. In this role, Meggan collaborates with Arts faculty to equip students with information literacy skills and develop collections. She also collaborates with liaison librarians and the Writing program to develop a tiered-learning program at NYUAD.
You’ve just finished editing a volume on The First-Year Experience, what inspired you to start this project?
Ray: Thanks for interviewing us! We are excited to share how we got this project started and how others might think about creating edited volumes on timely subjects in the field. I thought about this project back in 2015 when I was part of the ACRL New Publications Advisory Board, and I saw and reviewed many book proposals with other committee members. There was a discussion about focusing on the first-year experience (FYE) and how a “cookbook” style might be helpful for librarians. The ACRL has published several cookbooks on themes such as assessment, instruction, and embedded librarianship, so an FYE sounded appropriate. I knew Meggan from my time working as a reference librarian in NYU Shanghai, and we’ve remained connected through this project ever since! I also felt that FYE was an important and timely project, which would inspire a lot of folks to contribute to it.
Meggan: As Ray mentioned, we used to frequently collaborate on instruction and outreach programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, and after Ray’s departure, we were looking for new ways to collaborate. Since we were both in First-Year Librarian positions, this book seemed like the perfect opportunity to collaborate!
Drawing on your experiences as an editor and reviewer, what is some advice you’d like to share with folks interested in proposing a book for publication?
Ray: To get ideas for a book project, I’d say to look at conference proceedings or abstracts to get an idea on the current trends and themes that people are working on, and pick something that aligns with your own interests and knowledge. I’d look at the proposals very carefully and inquire what the publishers are interested in. I also recommend working with someone who can give you advice or guidance, as I’ve heard it can be difficult for first timers to work on a book by themselves.
What is involved in the process of editing a book?
Meggan: Here’s a rough outline of our process, but please note, your process may vary. Come up with an innovative idea, and then decide whether you want to embark on a solo or group adventure. I wouldn’t have wanted to work on this project without Ray. Editing a book is time-consuming, so it was nice to have a partner in crime.
“Editing a book is time-consuming, so it was nice to have a partner in crime.”
Then seek out publishers who would be interested in your topic. Review their recent publications and any calls for proposals. We had a feeling that ACRL would be interested in our idea, so we drafted a proposal and sent it to them first. Thankfully, ACRL accepted our proposal with a number of suggestions. Make use of publisher suggestions. Your reviewers know what they’re talking about.
Once your proposal has been accepted, you will need to come up with a detailed timeline. Your timeline will account for everything that will need to be covered over the next few months to a year.
You also have to decide how you will gather contributions. Would you prefer to send out a call for proposals, or solicit specific individuals for chapters?
We opted to solicit recipes via a call for proposals, which we distributed through listservs, blogs, and social media, to ensure high-quality responses. Once all the proposals were reviewed and ranked, we accepted the best proposals and provided some initial feedback. After revisions, we once again provided feedback to all authors, and we even provided one more round of feedback to a number of authors. Once all the final drafts were reviewed, we worked with the editor on layout and design.
Similarly, if you solicit specific individuals for chapters, you will need to identify potential authors and agree on chapter topics. And, just like with our book, you will need to provide multiple rounds of feedback and work with your design team to make sure the layout is perfect.
Finally, you’ll need to take a bow and promote your work.
Ray: I’d also like to add that the promotion process can take some time. Getting the word out about your volume can be challenging. It isn’t just about social media but rather how you want others to know about it through different ways: webinars, blog writing, reviews, etc. These are also part of the project too. Don’t forget this important step.
What are some of the biggest challenges you ran into during the editing process that future editors should be ready for?
Meggan: First, don’t be afraid. When Ray first came to me with the idea of editing a book, I can honestly say I thought he was a little crazy. I never saw myself as an editor, but after much discussion, I knew Ray was onto something. I’m glad I didn’t let my fears get in the way of this project.
Second, be prepared for delays. When submitting your book proposal, I would suggest adding a little padding to your timeline to allow for flexibility. Life happens, and often times there will be a few people who need extensions for one reason or another. This way you have already allotted time.
Ray: I agree with Meggan! It was also a challenge towards the end to make sure that we were able to get every contributor’s information correct. During the editing process, many folks changed jobs so it was something to stay on top of. I think for anyone working on an edited volume, it’s best to communicate often with your collaborator (if you have one). Meggan and I spoke quite frequently via email and on Skype at least once every other week just to touch base. It’s all about divide and conquer, and making sure that you communicate with your collaborator, contributors, and the publisher.
What’s unique about editing a volume as opposed to scholarly articles?
Meggan: Personally, I think a unique aspect of editing a book was seeing everything come together at the end. Normally, I only work with one to two co-authors, so it’s pretty clear what the end product will be. But, Ray and I worked with over 50 authors from diverse locations and backgrounds so it was interesting to see the final product
Ray: I find editing a volume can be a great way to get a snapshot of what others are working on or the general direction in the field. These case studies can provide useful themes for others to consider. Editing volumes mostly comes down to communication and coordination. Of course, you should know something about the theme of the book you are editing so that the content remains consistent and fresh.
How do you balance research and publishing with your other duties as librarians?
Meggan: I try to engage in PD commitments that directly relate to or have an impact on my daily work practice. I would highly encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, it can be tricky to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It’s easy to work late and overcommit yourself, especially as a new librarian, but it’s important to pursue the best PD opportunities for you and your career. Remember, it’s okay to turn down research projects and committee appointments. You need to have a life outside of the library.
Ray: That’s a good question. In the California State University system, librarians are on tenure-track, which means they have to publish in scholarly journals, be active in the professional associations, and present in conferences along with their day-to-day duties. I take it a day at a time, and I always think and plan ahead. I usually keep track using a spreadsheet and break the project into different parts within various timeframes.
What’s next for you? What kind of projects are you both working on?
Ray: I’d like to create a longitudinal study of FYE and identify the variables that contribute to student success. It’s a very important area, and I am thinking of quantitative research to measure the correlation of the impact of library services and first-year students. I’d also like to look into transfer students and their experiences with library services. So many potential projects!
Meggan: I’m currently wrapping up a mixed-method study that is measuring the impact of our information literacy (IL) program on our diverse student body, while also creating IL benchmarks. After this project is complete, I’ll go back to working on projects related to international students and academic libraries.
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