Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 11: October 2007

It’s here: Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples.

The 299-page 6×9 trade paperback (x+289 pages) features descriptions and sample posts for a wide range of blogs from 196 public libraries of all sizes, in the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

You can buy the paperback with a great cover and cream heavyweight “book paper” interior pages for $29.50 plus shipping from the Cites & Insights bookstore at ( If you haven’t already purchased Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change (and clearly most of you haven’t—no more than 125 personal copies have sold as of mid-September, based on holdings and actual sales), it’s the same price, same place.

If you prefer bright white heavyweight interior pages and don’t mind a cover that may not be quite as crisp or have quite the right colors, or if you want to save a few bucks on postage and handling, or just don’t want to open a Lulu account—the book is also available at, same price, as is Balanced Libraries. (Only, not Amazon’s international subsidiaries.) “Search Inside the Book” has been activated so you can see sample pages (as you can at At Amazon, the ISBN is 978-1434805591 (the ISBN for Balanced Libraries is 978-1434805256)—the Lulu versions don’t have ISBNs. You can also buy the versions with ISBNs from, technically the publisher of record for the ISBN. (For more about this and an update on my Lulu experience, see the final section of this essay.)

The book’s been out since August 25, 2007—and I’m delighted to say already shows three library holdings, two of which do not have blogs in the book.

Why This Book?

Here’s part of Chapter One:

The purpose of this book is to guide you to blogs that you might find useful when thinking about your own library’s case—blogs from nearby libraries, blogs from libraries with similar service populations, or blogs that specialize in topics or work in ways that you’ll find interesting.

Most of this book is examples: 252 blogs from 196 libraries, arranged geographically. It’s not a comprehensive survey (and I did exclude non-English blogs for reasons of practicality), but I did attempt complete coverage within a few basic criteria. I was impressed by the diversity and quality of what’s out there.

Public libraries vary enormously in service size, funding and staff resources. What works for a library serving half a million people with $120 per cap funding may seem wholly out of reach for a library serving 7,000 people with $20 per cap funding (or, for that matter, for a library serving 7,000 people with $120 per cap funding but the smaller staff likely in that library).

What’s here? Public library blogs that were listed in one of the two primary wiki lists of public library blogs as of May 2007 and that met a few basic criteria:

     In English

     Started before 2007 (since “young” blogs have a high failure rate and I’m interested in showing plausible successes)

     Have at least one post in two of the three “study months,” March, April and May 2007

     Appear to be a blog in most key respects, or to be a blog portion of a library home page (in some cases, the blog is the homepage)

That resulted in 209 blogs from 196 libraries. I went back to each library and added other blogs (43 in all, never more than five blogs from one library) that met the criteria but weren’t listed in the wikis.

If your library is considering a blog, this book should help you find blogs from comparable libraries as examples. If your library has a blog and is considering more (or revising the ones you have), this book should help you find interesting examples–the public library blogging community is remarkably diverse!

There are two fairly remarkable blogs at libraries serving fewer than 400 people. There are more teen blogs than you can shake a dazzling banner design at, along with genealogy blogs, a bunch of book review blogs, quite a few blogs for kidlit and children’s events…and lots more.

I was impressed and delighted by what I found doing the survey. I believe many public librarians will find inspiration and places to look in its pages–and will be able to find a few blogs to check out a lot more easily than plowing through 358 blog links (not including duplicates) in the wikis.

Who’s There?

Here’s the range of service area populations for the 196 libraries:

     Under 1,000 (under 400): two libraries

     1,000 to 2,400: five libraries

     2,500 to 4,600: eight libraries

     5,000 to 9,900: 17 libraries

     10,000 to 15,000: 16 libraries

     16,000 to 24,000: 20 libraries

     25,000 to 33,000: 20 libraries

     34,000 to 46,000: 17 libraries

     51,000 to 69,000: 17 libraries

     75,000 to 97,000: 11 libraries

     100,000 to 137,000: 19 libraries

     146,000 to 240,000: 21 libraries

     260,000 to 497,000: 10 libraries

     More than 670,000: 13 libraries

Libraries are included for these Zip and postal codes:

     01301, 01557, 01702, 01824, 02048, 02090, 02188, 02330, 02347, 02459, 02860, 02895, 03060, 03743, 03773, 03820, 03842, 03849, 04030, 05301, 06096, 06111, 06426, 06810, 06820, 06850, 06870, 06880, 07753, 07764, 07922, 08043, 08525, 08542, 08831, 08857, 08865, 08904

     10924, 11576, 11743, 11747, 11772, 11795, 12074, 14103, 14203, 14468, 14489, 14551, 14569, 14850, 15102, 15213, 16743, 18350, 19082, 19083, 19103, 19380, 19543, 19602

     20186, 20912, 21017, 22922, 27203, 27263, 27530, 29506

     31906, 32801, 33401, 33755, 35203, 38111, 39043

     40004, 40475, 40769, 41011, 43050, 43085, 44087, 45133, 45202, 45419, 46410, 46511, 46601, 46703, 46802, 46923, 47250, 48104, 48170, 48218, 48730, 48917, 49242, 49440, 49503

     50613, 50701, 53010, 53040, 53119, 53703, 54901, 54911, 54930, 54952, 54963, 54967, 55305, 55746, 55981, 56007, 56649, 58102

     60053, 60067, 60068, 60077, 60091, 60106, 60172, 60190, 60410, 60438, 60462, 60477, 60491, 60513, 60521, 60526, 60901, 61401, 65801, 66049, 66061, 66101, 66212, 66523, 66550, 66604, 66801, 67357, 67701

     70501, 74003, 74501, 75491, 76092, 77054, 78701

     80903, 87501, 89012

     90620, 91502, 92501, 92648, 93721, 93940, 94063, 94086, 94102, 94903, 95032, 95678, 97005, 98446, 98503, 99663, 99801

     K0K 2K0, K7L 1X8, L0S 1E0, L3Z 2A7, L4J 8C1, L4P 3P7, M4W 2G8, N1H 4J6, N1S 2K6, N2L 5E2, S6V 1B7, T1R 1B9, T8N 3Z9, V8W 3H2

     Outside North America: Australia: Casey-Cardinia, Eastern Regional, Sutherland Shire, Yarra Plenty; Ireland: Galway; New Zealand: Wellington

Varieties of Blog

So what varieties of blogs are in the book?

No, I don’t mean how many use WordPress or Blogger or whatever. I didn’t record that. It didn’t seem particularly relevant in this case.

I mean what the blog’s “about.” The most common category is “General”: multipurpose blogs not aimed at a particular age group that include library news and hours, events, new material, reviews, what have you. These include several cases where the library website is a blog or where the blog feeds directly into the library’s home page.

Ninetyseven of the blogs fall into the General category, including both of the blogs for libraries serving fewer than 1,000. Other categories.

     Books (new books & summaries): Eight blogs

     Books and more (primarily books but some related posts): Seven blogs

     Book clubs and discussion groups: Six blogs

     Book reviews (sometimes including book clubs, but primarily reviews): Twelve blogs

     Reviews of all sorts of material: Four blogs

     Movies and music: Four blogs

     New item lists with little or no annotation: Three blogs

     New materials, including lists and discussions: Five blogs

     Director’s blogs: Eleven blogs

     Library events: Ten blogs

     Genealogy: Four blogs

     Technology: Six blogs

     Children and KidLit: Eight blogs

     Teens: 36 blogs!

     Tweens: One blog

     Young adults (which could, of course, be teens): Six blogs

     Adult literacy: One blog

     Censorship and banned books: One blog

     Websites of interest: Two blogs

     Community, city, state posts: Two blogs

     Construction projects: Two blogs

     Digital collections: One blog

     Essays (that didn’t seem to fit any other category): Two blogs

     Friends of the Library: One blog

     Gaming: One blog

     Job advice: One blog

     Library staff: Three blogs

     Local history: One blog

     Nonprofits: One blog

     Parents: One blog

     Podcasts: One blog

     Readers’ Advisory: One blog

     Reference: Three blogs

Two paragraphs of Chapter Two, immediately following a detailed list of blogs by type:

The lists above should challenge some of your assumptions as to what smaller libraries can and can’t do. Book review blogs when your library serves fewer than 15,000? See 46923, 06096, 02090. Do directors of under-20,000-user libraries do their own blogs? Maybe even 10,000! See 05301, 06820, 10924, 60521—and, a little larger, the remarkable back-and-forth blog at 60901.

Surely only larger libraries could devote blogs to genealogy? 46511: Service area 3,100. A children’s book blog from a 9,100-person library: 45419. Teen blogs for libraries of under 20,000? Eight of them—go look at the list (and don’t forget the YA blog for a library serving 8,700 people).

What will work for your library and serve your community? That’s up to you to determine–but these examples may help.

The Metrics

Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples demonstrates again what appears to be true of any group of blogs: There is no such thing as an average blog–and they vary so much that the mean and median for any given measure tend to be quite different.

So it is with these 252 blogs. Here, then, the metrics I used (all based on posts during March, April and May 2007), with the mean (the average of all blogs), the median (the point at which half the blogs have a higher number and half have a lower), and the limit for “outliers”–usually the top quintile (20%) for a given measure. The book lists outliers for each measure. Within the descriptions that make up the bulk of the book (of which metrics are a tiny part), metrics always appear–and they’re boldfaced (or, in one special case, italicized) if they’re outliers.

     Frequency (number of posts): The mean is 23.7 posts, roughly two per week–but the median is 12.0 posts, just under one per week. The top 20% have 33 or more posts during the 92-day quarter. (If you’re wondering, 10 average at least one post a day.)

     Comments: The mean is 4.5 comments–but the median is zero, since only 118 of the blogs had any comments at all, and 25 of those had one comment each during the quarter. Quite a few don’t allow comments, generally for sensible reasons. (I eliminated obvious groups of spam comments from the counts–and no, I don’t consider teens dissing one another to be spam). The top 20% have five or more comments during the three-month period.

     Comments per post: You already know the median (zero). The mean is 0.3, with only 45 blogs exceeding that modest figure. I listed 41 blogs (16%) averaging at least half a comment per post; fourteen averaged at least one comment per post.

     Illustrations: Average 18.6 during the quarter, median 5.0; top 20% start at 24 illustrations.

     Illustrations per post: Average 0.7 per post, median 0.5 per post. Too many blogs have essentially 1.0 illustrations per post (book review blogs, etc.) to use a boundary at the 20% mark, but I list the 44 blogs (17%) with at least 1.1 illustrations per blog.

     Total length: The whole set of blogs totaled just over a million words for the three-month period. The average blog had 4,120 words, but the median was 1,968 words. The outliers in this case are slightly more than 20%; I used 5,000 words as a reasonable cutoff.

     Average length per post: The “average average” was 187.3 words–roughly two typical paragraphs. The median was 153.8 words. In this case, I noted two outlying groups–those with longish posts (I used 251 words per post as the cutoff, roughly the top 20%) and those with considerably shorter-than-average posts (I used 89 words per post as the cutoff).

     Longevity: I didn’t attempt to calculate a mean or median, and blogs had to be around for at least six months to qualify. I did not remove blogs that had no posts between June 1 and the completion of the study. Summer can be quiet at some libraries. Of the 252 blogs, 155 began during 2006 and another 38 began in the last half of 2005. I list the other 59, the 23% that had been around at least two years by the time of the study.

The mythical “average public library blog,” then, began in early 2006 and had 24 posts with five comments, 19 illustrations and a total of around 4,000 words or around 180 words per post.

Miscellaneous Notes

A few of you may recognize that the text above is almost entirely taken from a series of Walt at random posts. As I started to put this together, I realized that those posts said what needed to be said and that adding more would be overkill.

If you’re wondering about the cover picture (another wraparound, with the back free of typography), it’s of the Library at Ephesus. My wife took the photo. I cropped it. Color shifts and focus…well, that seems to depend on where you buy it

The original manuscript had a list of “particularly intriguing blogs.” I removed it from the book because the list was both too long and too short, and what I find intriguing isn’t necessarily what works best or what you should look for. I published that list in a Walt at random post; you can find it if you’re really interested, but I wouldn’t bother.

While the primary audiences for this book should be public libraries and library schools, some academic, special and school librarians may also find it worthwhile. I’m working on a similar project for academic library blogs, although I can’t say when (or whether) it will appear. The first cut on that project yields 211 blogs from 169 academic libraries (at a slightly smaller number of institutions), although one of the 211 blogs has apparently vanished since I gathered the group.

A Publish-on-Demand Update: Lulu and CreateSpace/Amazon

When I introduced Balanced Libraries in the April 2007 Cites & Insights, I also wrote informal notes on the “Lulu experience.” As I noted at the time, the notes weren’t finished. I hadn’t completed the publishing process for that book when I wrote the notes, much less seen how Lulu performed over the long haul. As I said then,

The best I can do is comment on how it’s gone so far, and add Walt at random posts or a followup after the book’s been out for a while (or as I publish the second one, assuming that happens).

Since both of those conditions have been met—the book’s been out more than five months and I’ve published “the second one”—these are followup notes. There’s a complication, namely CreateSpace, a more-or-less direct competitor for aspects of Lulu’s services—and, like Lulu, one that requires neither any startup fees nor an exclusive contract.

Completing the First Book

It takes Lulu a few days to produce an order, including the proof order for a new book. If you’re confident that the cover and body will come out OK, you can activate a Lulu book without getting a proof. I waited for a proof copy.

It was beautiful. The cover came out better than expected, the interior looked great, the binding was good, it was properly trimmed. I think I needed 15 minutes to inspect the proof copy before going online and opening it up for sale.

Since Then

Lulu does exactly it says it will do, with no unpleasant surprises. With one exception, the reports I’ve had from readers are that the books are properly produced and arrive as quickly as promised. Net proceeds for books sold in one calendar month have been posted to PayPal right around the 18th to 20th of the following month, which is within Lulu’s promised date range. The bookstore took no time to set up and customize.

When I was ready to publish Public Library Blogs, I found the book wizard significantly improved, making it easier to step through the process. After my experience with the first book, I almost decided to put the second one on sale without waiting for a proof copy—but because the cover used deeper colors, chose not to be quite that brave. The cover on the second book came out great as well.

The second book was added to my bookstore (Cites & Insights Books, automatically and in a logical manner, immediately below the first one. I’d guess I could customize the store even more if I chose to—Lulu seems to offer a lot of flexibility.

While my primary account page just shows overall sales for the past week and past month (and total sales), a breakdown of current-month sales by title is just one click away, and full details on sales of each title are nearby.

I’m a little confused as to whether book covers show up next to the books at my Lulu storefront—sometimes they do (I think), sometimes they don’t. They do show up on the detailed description page for each title and in search results. You can also preview several pages of each book (my choice of pages).


This summer, I heard about—or, rather, about changes in CreateSpace, part of Amazon. CreateSpace began as a publish-on-demand operation for CDs and DVDs with setup charges. This summer, it added books and dropped the setup charges.

The advantages of CreateSpace over Lulu are twofold and related:

     You get an ISBN with no setup charge. Until recently, getting an ISBN for a Lulu book would cost at least $95, although that’s been reduced to $50.

     Your publication shows up on Amazon (unless you don’t want it to). With Lulu, if you add an ISBN and sign up for their distribution program, your publication might show up on Amazon—and, conceivably, at other online bookstores or even physical bookstores that use Ingram as a distributor.

Disadvantages? Several even without looking at the two carefully—although one turns out to be a difference, not necessarily a disadvantage.

     CreateSpace offers fewer choices of paperback size and no hardbound options. CreateSpace doesn’t currently offer an ebook option. You can’t publish a color-interior book longer than 100 pages through CreateSpace—and you don’t have the option of saddlestitched (stapled) shorter items.

     For all but relatively short books, CreateSpace takes a slightly bigger share of revenue than Lulu does. (The fixed portion of production costs is slightly lower for CreateSpace—but CreateSpace takes 20% of the full retail price, where Lulu takes 20% of the difference between production cost and price.)

     Copies sold through Amazon yield significantly less revenue (Amazon takes 30% of the retail price)—but a lot more revenue than Amazon sales for a Lulu book (because Ingram only pays Lulu 50% of the retail price, and the full production cost comes out of that half).

     You must purchase a proof copy for a CreateSpace project before it goes on sale.

     CreateSpace uses bright white paper rather than cream bookstock—but, unlike Amazon/Ingram copies of Lulu books (which are on 50lb. bright white paper, a lighter-weight stock), it’s 60lb. paper, the same weight as Lulu. This is a difference, not necessarily a disadvantage: I’m still torn as to which I prefer. The book paper seems more pleasant and traditional; the bright white paper may be easier to read.

I decided to try both, at least for these two books.


As I went through the process for the CreateSpace/Amazon versions and as I saw the results, I saw some other significant differences:

     In both cases, the CreateSpace proof cover was inferior in print quality to the Lulu cover, although both were still acceptable.

     You must have PDF for both the interior and a wraparound cover (a 12x18" PDF with the cover centered in the overall PDF). Lulu can accept .DOC and .RTF formatted books (and offers templates for various sizes) and can accept front and back covers in various graphic formats if you’re not doing a wraparound cover.

     Lulu is much more helpful in the process, with considerably more detail for those unfamiliar with book design, what seems like a friendlier process and a marketplace for those who need more help in design or whatever.

     You can’t have an estore on CreateSpace combining several products. The CreateSpace estore is equivalent to the detailed title page on Lulu. Thus, there is no Cites & Insights Books page on CreateSpace—there are two “estores,” one for each title. (So far, no searches on CreateSpace seem to find my books—but they’re eminently findable in Amazon.)

     CreateSpace/Amazon pay royalties via direct deposit to a bank account (or, for a fee, by check), where Lulu normally pays via PayPal. Lulu says it pays for a month somewhere near the end of the next month (in my case, “just after halfway through” so far). CreateSpace says “at the end of the next month.”

     Both services produce handsome books (if you’ve designed a handsome book to begin with), fully comparable to the best trade paperbacks I’ve seen. Both services assume that you can design your own book, although Lulu will offer a little more help. Both services assume you’re going to do all the publicity—and both will sell you at-cost copies if you want to resell them on your own. Neither one prints a price on the cover, although you could always put one there yourself.

Both are way too expensive if you anticipate selling hundreds of copies, if you can afford the upfront costs of shortrun publishing, if you’re willing to do your own fulfillment and if your tax status is such that keeping an inventory is OK.

If you’re in the middle, “which one?” is a tricky question. Turns out even the paper stock isn’t always clearcut: Lulu uses 60lb. cream stock for 6x9" (trade) and 7.5"-square paperbacks, but uses bright white 60lb. stock for most other paperback sizes (50lb. white for 4.25x6.875" “mass-market” pocketbooks)—or, for some bindings, the same 80lb. color paper used for full-color books. It appears that CreateSpace/Amazon produces books more rapidly, but I’m not sure whether overall fulfillment time is better.

Oh, by the way, if you want to do a straight photo book, there are quite a few options—and Lulu offers an even easier way to publish through their service, at the same $4.53 plus $0.15 per page price. You don’t need to design a book or convert anything to PDF; you can do the same “upload one picture at a time” process as with other services and choose a range of templates to produce the book. I don’t know how the prices compare to services that are primarily photo-oriented; I do know Lulu does what it says it will do and produces high-quality books.

Success or Failure?

That’s not a question of what company I used. It’s a question of response within the library field and the current answer is the same as in April: “Too soon to say.”

Here are my targets for Balanced Libraries:

     If it sold fewer than 100 copies in the first six months, I’d consider it a failure.

     If it sold more than 300 copies in the first year, I’d consider it a modest success.

     If it sold more than 500 copies in the first two years, I’d consider it a general success.

The book passed the “failure” milestone in early July. At the rate it’s currently selling, it may not reach the second milestone—but that could change.

I believe Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples should directly benefit libraries. I would hope for better numbers than those above. But for now, I’m not going to set “failure” and “success” numbers.

Obviously, the process works well enough that I decided to do a second (and probably third) book. Also obviously, this is no way to make a living—nor was it intended to be.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 11, Whole Issue 95, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC (through September 30, 2007).

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to Comments specifically intended for publication should go to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2007 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.