Editorial: Have We Changed the World Yet? (Oh, Just Wait)

In brief: It’s our birthday! As In the Library with the Lead Pipe turns four, the editors reflect on its evolution into an award-winning publication. We also share our plans to expand Lead Pipe into a nonprofit organization that will further our mission to identify problems, offer constructive solutions, and create positive change in the world of libraries.

“Prometheus bringing fire” photo by Flickr user darijus  (CC BY -NC 2.0)

By  and 

We view In the Library with the Lead Pipe as a collaboration with you, our readers. That means soliciting feedback, as we did recently with our reader poll and our article about the results of that poll, and it means encouraging readers to join us as guest authors. Our goal is to be transparent and participatory so that each article we publish is worth the time you spend reading it and the time you spend considering its implications for your professional life. In this article we’d like to review our history and put it into context because we’re gearing up for the next stage of Lead Pipe’s development. We’d like to reflect on where we’ve been, reconsider the paths we’ve traveled, and then, looking forward, we’d like to invite you to help us grow Lead Pipe for the future.

How It Started

On October 7, 2008, six energetic, creative, and inspired young librarians launched a blog they called, with a twist of board game humor, In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The first article, titled simply “Introduction,” was only six sentences long. It was the briefest article ever posted on this site, and a life-altering moment for all of us.

The seed that would become Lead Pipe was planted months earlier during a spirited lunch conversation between Kim Leeder and Brett Bonfield, who wished to create a forum where forward-thinking, passionate professionals could share their ideas and constructive criticism of our field in order to effect positive change in libraries. Kim and Brett invited four standout individuals from public, academic, and special libraries around the country to join them in the project, adding Derik Badman, Ellie Collier, Hilary Davis, and Emily Ford to the project. The founding Lead Pipe Editorial Board was born.

Four months of rigorous brainstorming ensued: we shared a vision of creating an NPR or a New Yorker of library blogs, combining the intellectual rigor of an academic publication with the readability of a magazine and the storytelling power of public radio. Together we molded a mission statement that still serves as Lead Pipe’s heart and driving force:

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer.

Emphasizing peer review for each article is something that differentiated Lead Pipe originally from other blogs, and continues to help it stand out. Our policy has remained the same since we began: every article we publish (excluding our own reflective or group posts, such as this one) must be critiqued by at least one internal Lead Pipe editor and one external professional not affiliated with Lead Pipe. The requirement that each of our articles be critiqued by at least two professionals in the field has enabled us to sustain a level of quality in the writing and research we publish that would not otherwise be attainable.


Lead Pipe has seen some important changes over the years: most notably our vision of it. We began by calling ourselves a blog, but even at the very beginning we stretched beyond a blog’s typical activities and set very high standards for our work. Recently, realizing that very few (if any) blogs have ISSNs, undergo a peer review process, are indexed in research databases, and publish long-form articles, we have come to see Lead Pipe instead as a scholarly journal. While many readers may still consider Lead Pipe a blog based on our history and format, our Editorial Board is transitioning, through the language we use and our approach to publishing, into the journal realm.

Lead Pipe’s publication schedule and Editorial Board roster have seen changes as well. Initially, each Editorial Board member served as both author and editor, and in our first months a new article was posted every week. This ambitious schedule quickly proved unsustainable. We realized that a new article every six weeks was too much to write, and we received feedback from readers indicating that they were also having trouble keeping up with our pace. In early 2009, we cut the publication schedule in half and began our current practice of publishing one new article every other Wednesday. We also recruited our first guest authors, both to expand the diversity of voices and topics represented in Lead Pipe and to further distribute the workload.

Even after making these adjustments, we were still working hard. Not only did we each write thoughtful, carefully researched, long-format articles several times a year, but we conducted intense, detailed conversations on chat and email about individual article topics, potential guest authors, and the scope and goals of the publication. Our dual roles required a substantial commitment from every member of the Lead Pipe team: burnout and turnover were inevitable. It became clear that bringing fresh voices into Lead Pipe on an ongoing basis would be critical to its success. We have grown to embrace the idea that our  team members may serve as author-editors (which most of us still do), or as one or the other. Four author-editors have joined Lead Pipe since 2008 (Micah Vandegrift, Erin Dorney, Leigh Anne Vrabel, and Eric Frierson), four have “retired” (Derik Badman, Hilary Davis, Leigh Anne Vrabel, and Eric Frierson), and one founder has shifted into an editor-only role (Ellie Collier). While seeing brilliant and beloved colleagues leave Lead Pipe to pursue other projects is a bittersweet experience, adding new minds to the team is a joyful one.

Although it is a fulfilling experience, identifying and recruiting the right people to join our Editorial Board is also a great challenge. We enjoy (and are deeply protective of) a spectacularly positive and collaborative environment. Lead Pipe has always been a consensus-based organization built on deep mutual respect: every decision made by the group is made by the group as a whole (and each member of the Editorial Board has veto power over every decision). No article has ever been posted nor editor added to Lead Pipe without the support of everyone involved. As a result, we have generally sought potential new editors from among the ranks of these who have already worked with one of our current editors successfully (and enjoyably) on a guest article—or alternatively, we might invite a potential new editor to contribute as a guest author with the hopes that a more expansive relationship might follow.


In the Library with the Lead Pipe has been fortunate to gain a substantial following in our field. In addition to being indexed in EBSCO’s Library and Information Science & Technology Abstracts, we were recently recognized as Salem Press’s Best General Library Blog of 2012. In numbers, Lead Pipe looks like this:

  • 287, 367 lifetime visits to our website,
  • 5,740 RSS subscribers,
  • 2,818 Twitter followers,
  • 651 Likes on Facebook,
  • 78 on Google+,
  • and 1,533 comments on112 articles.

Of course, Lead Pipe‘s greatest asset is its readership. When we created the blog, we agreed early on that we wanted to engage readers and create a forum for conversation. To that end we crafted the following comment policy:

We appreciate and invite your comments and discussion about posts on In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Constructive criticism is one of our primary goals, and we applaud it in our readers. Comments that do not maintain a civil tone or that disregard the post’s topic will be deleted. We do not edit comments except by request of the poster.

As authors, the Lead Pipe team puts a great amount of time and energy into writing articles, and we have been delighted to find that readers frequently respond by sparking interesting discussion in the comments and taking ideas in new directions. One of our main tenets is that if an article offers a critique, then it must also offer constructive ideas and solutions. There is no place for whining or complaining in Lead Pipe, but there is plenty of room for critical thinking, brainstorming, and helpful discourse. In the beginning, none of us dared to hope that the comment threads would be as interesting or constructive as they have become. In Lead Pipe, reader participation and dialog is just as important and engaging as the articles we publish.

The Future (You’re Invited)

Lead Pipe is a living organism that continues to grow and change (self-proclaimed nerd editor Brett Bonfield refers here to Ranganathan’s fifth law, “The library is a growing organism”). Above all, we want the journal to live up to its slightly sinister yet playful name by always being willing to look at our field with fresh eyes and challenge the status quo in a thoughtful and constructive way. Cultivating and maintaining the attitude of a thoughtful revolutionary can be challenging over time, and we are constantly seeking new people with the right combination of passion, creativity, and collegiality to invite to our team.

These days, our Editorial Board conversations are increasingly ambitious. What else might Lead Pipe be able to do? we ask ourselves. It’s not just about the words we publish.

Lead Pipe is a labor of love. We feel like we’ve accomplished a lot, but we want to do more. We greatly enjoy thinking, researching, and writing about our field, identifying problems and proposing solutions, but there’s so much more to be done. Our field is in crisis: we see substantial challenges facing librarianship, challenges that mere words will never solve, and we want to be part of the solution. We want to act and support action in others. We have learned through our own collaboration that truly great things can happen when committed, passionate people get together, and it is our hope that we might share this energy with all the other like-minded librarians out there in the world. We want to release the ripple that is Lead Pipe out into the sea and watch it swell into a tidal wave of positive change. We want to be an organization by librarians and for librarians, one that remains anchored in the realities of the field but is also ambitious and optimistic enough to shoot for the moon.

To that end, we have begun the process of registering In the Library with the Lead Pipe as a nonprofit corporation. Our intention is to leverage our credibility and what name recognition we’ve acquired to raise money and channel it towards initiatives that will positively impact the world of librarianship. We want to do so thoughtfully and constructively, in the same way that we have built Lead Pipe over the last four years. Our organization will be deliberate and passionate, it will be built through collaboration and consensus, and it will make careful, considered decisions. Yet despite all this, it will not hesitate to attack those obstacles and assumptions that keep libraries from moving ahead. That is, and will always be, the mission and heart of Lead Pipe.

Turning Words into Action

The Lead Pipe community has been an incredibly fulfilling and constructive experience for everyone involved. Because we have individually and collectively gained so much from our participation, our wish now is to expand our community and share it with others in our field. As such, the Editorial Board has discussed and debated a range of ways to turn Lead Pipe’s talk into action. Should we plan conferences, offer mini-grants, support fellows, publish books? We could go in a million directions, and would like to go in all of them. Our initial plans, however, have solidified into three interrelated themes:

  1. Bringing together librarians, information professionals, and others who are committed to supporting individual libraries or library-focused organizations for intensive brainstorming and problem-solving sessions, both in-person and online.
  2. Providing scholarship, fellowship, or travel assistance for librarians, information professionals, or others who are working on behalf of libraries or library organizations, with an emphasis on participation in cross-disciplinary projects or conferences that extend the field of librarianship in new directions and/or contribute to increased diversity.
  3. Funding and advising library-related initiatives that have the potential to positively impact the progress or direction of the field through nonprofit, community-based, open source, or other approaches.

While our vision of Lead Pipe as an organization begins to sharpen and we simultaneously celebrate our fourth birthday, this felt like the right moment to share our plans with you. Not just as an announcement but as an invitation to join us, to provide feedback on our goals and direction, and to (eventually, if you are so moved) donate to our cause. As we begin to establish the infrastructure that will enable us to accept donations, we’d also like to hear what platforms you think we should explore: Amazon? Braintree? Dwolla? Flattr? Google? PayPal? Stripe? WePay? Something else entirely?

We have high hopes for Lead Pipe’s potential to create real change in libraries, but that will only happen if you’re with us. What do you think of our ideas for how we might accomplish our mission? What should we focus on in our fundraising? What should Lead Pipe’s nonprofit self look like? We invite your comments below to help us shape ourselves into a forward-looking organization. Tell us what you would do—and maybe together we can create a new future for libraries.

10 Responses

  1. Pingback : The best library blog/journal on the internets just got better | Ink and Vellum

  2. Thanks for all of the hard work you have all dedicated over the last four years. I, for one, always appreciate the thoughtful, creative, and constructive commentary offered here. This is a great example of what professional discourse should be. (And Way to go with the nonprofit thing!)

  3. I’m especially excited about Lead Pipe’s ability to foster more of #1 and most notably in the context of solving specific problems. The format of “the hackathon,” where individuals with similar skill sets but varied work/life experiences come together to solve a unique problem in a given space and time, has always struck me as an ideal format for our uber-networked world and one that is under-utilized.

    Consider: (1) Lead Pipers identify a specific problem/need within the library community. (2) LPers bring together volunteers and experts to hack away at the problem, either in person over a weekend or online, and produce a specific outcome/object. (3) Results of said project are published in LP and shared with the community.

    This is a great endeavor, LP, and you’ll have all the support you’ll need from us, your readers, I have no doubt.

    Also, check out Rally.org.

    1. The digital humanities community did something like this with the One Week One Tool project. I’ve fantasized ever since about making that happen in libraryland.

  4. At this point, I think consistency is more rare than innovation. So my request is that you all simply continue to pump out high-quality content at a consistent pace.

    Of course y’all will continue to mutate and evolve, but the think that sets the lead pipe apart from other sources of innovative library thoughts is that the lead pipe continues to deliver consistently good content.

    1. Thanks for this input. We hope to see us moving in an additional direction, not one that replaces what we already have going on here. We just want to have *more* impact and do it in more than one way.

  5. I have to echo Nicholas in pointing out that reliable excellence is central to what you do. To me, Lead Pipe is a crucial case study of what scholarly communication can look like outside the traditional journal model. Real scholarship doesn’t need to live behind paywalls and small communities.

    I think (most) librarians understand that. I even think that most scholars from other fields understand that Lead Pipe’s model works better than Elsevier’s. What’s hard is convincing them to follow suit. Really, you’re leading the way, and your continued success will make that conversation easier.

  6. Wow folks, now we’re really blushing. Thanks so much for all your kind words and encouragement. We’re so very glad you find Lead Pipe to be valuable, and we’ll continue to do our best to live up to your compliments.

    Please do feel free to offer your constructive criticism as well (after all, that’s what we’re all about!). Is going nonprofit and pursuing the sort of initiatives we’ve outlined a good idea? What do you think?