Theory is People, Too!

In everything you do, look at it through the lens of humanity.

I’m an introvert with a serious people problem. I will ask a real, breathing person a simple question long before it even crosses my mind to ask a search engine. I mean, really, for a librarian, I’m incredibly people-centric. When I first thought about publishing a research paper, I went to a colleague who had published and asked questions before I tried to look it up on the internet.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret – researching and publishing is largely void of contact with people. After I found a journal (open access – WOOHOO!) that was interested in my draft, I began getting it ready for peer-review. Admittedly, I was petrified of what these peer reviewers would say. I had this weird vision of these scary, unearthly, godlike people ready to rip apart my logic and tell me I was wrong – about everything. (If you haven’t already figured it out, I have an overactive imagination). What was so great was when the journal did give me a publishing editor, he was another academic librarian with a humanities background – something I could immediately relate to. Then, it got even better – my assigned peer reviewer was a public librarian who worked with children and families (I was a public teen librarian for two years). After googling them both, I saw smiling faces of people who I felt a certain kinship to.

Putting faces to these names and knowing that these were real people calmed me down more than I’d ever imagined. Nameless peer-review gods are scary – people who have lives and pets and families are not nearly as scary. This particular journal even gave me the option to choose my second peer-reviewer, which I took advantage of and asked someone who I’d already worked with.

This is great, but let’s put this into perspective: this process took a year. A YEAR! I’ll also add that the entire paper was about theories behind teaching standards – something most people find quite dry. Most of that year was me, armed with a pen and highlighters and ripping my own paper apart over and over again. I had a colleague read one of my drafts and his mark ups were incredibly helpful, but ultimately, this process was me and the computer. I would get stuck in rabbit holes and my eyes would cross after hours of fighting with words and ideas. There were so many times I would want to throw something and I’d have to stop and remind myself to go find a person to talk to about it. It was these human moments that enabled survival through the process and enabled a successful publication.

This month, I gave my very first professional presentation on this paper. I was very nervous to stand in front of people and explain what I found, especially because it was so theoretical. It can be quite challenging to take a seemingly mundane topic and make it real and meaningful. After laying a foundation of the theory and examples, I launched into real-world examples of how these theories manifests themselves. This is when my audience “got it”. They understood what I was saying the whole time, but it wasn’t until that connection was made that lights behind eyes began to flicker on. I even got a few jaw drops.

While the Active Audiences workshop that I co-prepped with Rachel Stott and co-presented with Samantha Mat was WAY more fun, I’m glad that I talked about my research. I could see it’s importance but I had to make the human connection for these professionals for them to see why it mattered, which was tough.

So what’s the point?

All research and publishing has a human impact and a human aspect. Yes, we research because it’s interesting, but it’s also about being part of the conversation. Even though emails with publishers and those we see as more experienced than us can be incredibly intimidating, remembering that we are all humans – with thoughts, fears, emotions, victories, failures, and everything in between – helps create a positive view of comments, critiques, and questions. Standing up in front of audiences and telling them about theory can seem like watching paint dry, but then turning around and demonstrating the human side for them is where it becomes meaningful.

While it’s been said before, it’s worth repeating – talk to people. Explain your view. Ask for help. Open up a little. LISTEN. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn along the way.

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