Determining the publication venue and audience
Scholars need to publish their work in peer-reviewed outlets that are recognized and valued by university retention, tenure, and promotion (RTP) committees if they are to get and stay employed in academia. Generally, RTP criteria recognize only a narrow range of publications as “scholarly.” Though some scholarly societies and many universities (e.g., the American Historical Association, Indiana University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota, University of Arizona) have issued guidelines for the evaluation of nontraditional research outputs, in practice they rarely “count” as much or at all as research. Thus, academics who want to do publicly engaged work are often advised to wait until after they get tenure. Regardless of the scholar’s career stage, they may want to publish conventional academic works about their publicly engaged work to ensure that this work is legible to and valued by their colleagues.
Community partners, meanwhile, may prefer venues and forms of publication that are broadly accessible and appealing to nonspecialists. Thus publicly engaged projects may yield more and different kinds of publication than a conventional academic research initiative. They may often require more labor and more time on the scholar’s part as a result. Producing websites, exhibits, fliers, blog posts, newspaper articles, books for nonspecialists, and so on will often involve a wider range of collaborators. Librarians may be in a good position to identify potential collaborators and offer tools and expertise for developing non-scholarly media materials. These forms also entail different kinds of authorship, circulation, and preservation than do academic works (see more on this in Section 5).
Scholars need to publish early and often to succeed in building academic careers. However, if publicly engaged work is genuinely mutual and collaborative, it requires all the partners to prioritize their relationships. They must learn to trust each other in order for the work to achieve its larger aims. This takes time. Consequently, many graduate students and junior scholars are advised not to get involved in this kind of work until after they get tenure. Even the tenured may face pressure from their colleagues, department chair, or senior mentors to focus on conventional research and publish more frequently. Dave Tell, who works with the Emmett Till Memory Project, speaks to the centrality of trust and relationship building in the two videos below.
On relationship building with public partners: