Bibs & Blather
Projects and Rejects
Those of you who read this self-indulgent five-part post on Walt at random might not choose to read it again, although it’s somewhat cleaned up and shortened. On the other hand, I’ve added a couple of notes in the second section—but it’s stuff you don’t need to know yet.
Back in late spring—just before ALA Annual—I found myself a little down: Short of energy for writing and, more important, inspiration to do anything major. At the time, I wrote a post saying “I’m hoping ALA Annual 2008 will mark a turning point, that I’ll emerge with more inspiration and recovered energy.”
It did. I did. Since that post, I’ve turned out the August 2008 Cites & Insights–a good solid issue if I do say so myself–and gotten off to a good start on the project I plan to pursue.
So I thought I should expand on matters a little.
Yes, Anaheim helped—not the city, but ALA Annual itself. I listened and talked to enough people to gain back some inspiration and energy.
One particular conversation helped a lot—and, unfortunately, I don’t remember who the conversation was with. It might have been Fred Gertler before ALA. It might have been Tom Wilson during ALA. It might have been someone else entirely… and, come to think of it, it could very well have been Joan Frye Williams.
After a brief discussion of the situation–several possible projects, very little inspiration, and really discouraging sales and lack of feedback on the library blog books–this old friend made a key comment, which I’ll paraphrase as
What do you really care about? Do that.
Good advice–along with the counterpart:
What are you still doing that you no longer care about? Stop doing that.
I’d been trying to do a somewhat impersonal calculus which could be summarized as:
Where do I provide added value, in areas that librarians should care about, and where there’s a reasonable chance what I do will be read (and, if in book form, paid for)?
That turns out to be too complicated. The simpler formulation–which a good Left Coaster like me might translate as “Follow your bliss”–makes more sense.
I’m using two informal analyses based on this proposition, one for projects too big for Cites & Insights, one for Cites & Insights itself.
• Am I interested enough in the results of a project to make it more worthwhile than, say, working on music or reading, even if book sales might never amount to minimum-wage compensation for the time spent?
• Should I still be writing about a topic–even if I’ve written about it in the past?
In the first case, the answer turns out to be Yes for one project, which I’ll tentatively describe shortly, and No for another project unless something changes fairly drastically in the next few months–and I’ll discuss that issue in “The one that probably won’t happen.”
In the second case, I should look at each area I’ve been covering—and say, for each one,
Do I still care enough–and add enough value–to bother with this?
For Cites & Insights as a whole, the answer is clearly Yes–particularly if I slough off the areas for which the answer is now No.
That discussion is the basis for the final section. In the meantime, I’ll admit that I’m probably dropping one area entirely (where I’d slowed down anyway). Last weekend, I reviewed the contents of the Censorware folder…and, after thinking about it, recycled all the paper, stripped the folder label, and returned the folder to my stock of blank folders.
Why? I could provide several reasons, but it boils down to not caring enough about the value I can add.
Wrapping up this post, it may boil down to conserving energy to retain inspiration. By reducing the overall set of possibilities, I believe I can do a better job on the ones that remain—and avoid bogging down in overall disenchantment and the resulting ennui.
As will be obvious to some of you), I’ve been tinkering with this one for quite some time…
I started keeping notes on the project. Here are some of those notes with some small-text annotations.
• All blogs in 2005 “top 60″ study as first baseline; all blogs that meet currency criteria included in 2008.
• All blogs in 2006 “great middle” study as second baseline; all blogs that meet currency criteria included in 2008.
• All other blogs found in IWTBF “Favorite blogs” study, or LISWiki, or LISZen source list, or “tag cloud” source list, or my own discoveries, as of 3/1/08, that match all criteria below.
“IWTBF”: Information Wants to be Free.
• In English
• Not clearly defined as an official library blog.
• Somehow related to library people.
• Established: At least one post before January 1, 2008
• Not defunct: At least one post after August 31, 2007 (as of March 1, 2008)
• Visible: Sum of Bloglines subscriptions and Technorati “Authority” at least 9 (thus, rounds to 1.0 on Visibility scale) when tested in first two weeks of March 2008
Those criteria are for additional blogs, those not in one of the early surveys–and I’m still pondering “not defunct.” The “Established” and “Visible” criteria are firm, so that there’s some kind of starting point and so that truly “under the radar” blogs–the ones designed for a small circle of friends–can stay that way.
Some blogs appear in more than one source. Favorites came first. “Others” came last. I believe LISZen came second and don’t remember the order of the others.
• Favorites: 48 added.
• LISZen: 81 added
• LISWiki: 37 added
• Cloud: 9 added
• Others (wcc’s picks): 29 added.
Total added: 204
• Not added because too new: Five.
• Not added because invisible: 92.
• Not added because available but defunct: 97.
• Not added because not reachable: 57.
Adding clearly defunct and not reachable yields more than 150 defunct of about 450 candidates–about a 33% mortality rate.
At some point, the numbers don’t add up. That shouldn’t be surprising…
There were 542 blogs in the spreadsheet at this point—all in my Bloglines list.
For two weeks, I tracked how many new posts appeared in twice-a-day checks.
Completion of experiment on 542 blogs: Over two weeks there were, on average, 221 posts per day, or 0.41 posts per blog. By comparison, the 213 blogs in the 2006 survey had an average of 104 posts per day or 0.49 posts per blog—not a convincing difference. (By comparison, the 60 blogs in the 2005 survey had an average of 55 posts per day or 0.92 posts per blog, but that was a handpicked set of blogs.)
First assumption—that, on average, libloggers are posting less often: Not proved, and the evidence is weak at best.
Doing March-May 2007 scans for some portion of the 2005/2006 blogs, both as background for TxLA…and to get a sense of whether I want to continue this.
Issues include: Should I be tracking illustrations? Should I be tracking # of posts in which links appear? To what extent do blogs allow easy tracking of length, etc? For now: Yes on illustrations. No on links. If blogs hide posts, I’m not tracking length.
I’ve since been able to track length for most WordPress blogs that “hide posts”—because you can page back indefinitely rather than going to the archives. If that works, I’ve done it for 2007 and 2008 both.
• Society for librarians who say m…. Reason: Just not going to do that one.
• dulemba.com: Reason: No indication of any library focus or interest.
• Five weeks to a social library. Reason: Hidden posts in archive, and this was a “termed” blog, mostly for course participants.
Process: Looked at blogrolls for blogs already in list, based on:
• Front-page blogrolls (no blogrolls from links)
• Plausible length of blogroll
• Some evidence of library focus for blogroll
Roughly 100 blogrolls checked in early May 2008. Results:
• Added: 46 blogs (new total: 585)
• Invisible: 21+
• Defunct (no posts in 2008, or no posts in March-April 2008): 42+
• Official library (not obvious from name): 4+
• Too new (no 2007 posts): 4
• Not library-related at all: 15+
For now, I’m leaving in blogs with no posts in March-May 2008 if they had posts in March-May 2007 or were in one of the two earlier surveys.
I’m deleting blogs that had no posts in March-May 2007 and no posts in March-May 2008 and weren’t in one of the two surveys unless they’ve (a) been around for a long time or (b) have posts in June 2008 or later. I may need to rethink that decision.
That’s the end of the notes–for now, at least. Here’s what I believe is happening at this point:
I’m currently going through blogs, noting:
• Brief information for each one: name, tagline if any, who it’s by if that’s clear or if it’s a group, when it began, the visibility measure, up to three of the most popular categories or tags or labels if easy to determine, the software used if obvious, whether it’s sans or serif and noting if it’s fully justified text and if it’s an odd text/background combination, and the URL
• Number of posts during March-May 2008
• Total length of posts
• Number of comments and number of figures
• The same information for March-May 2007 if I didn’t pick it up before
• General affiliation of the blogger if evident
• In some cases, a sentence about the nature of the blog
• In a very few cases, a fragment of a post that I found particularly intriguing.
The raw numbers go into a spreadsheet. The text goes into Word chapters, alphabetically by sortable blog name—as the first pass of a multipass process.
This is not a fast process, although a two-display system makes it faster. How fast is “not fast”? It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to go through five blogs, and I try to do five or ten at a time. There’s a two-minute (or so) setup process, but I find that doing more than ten at a time makes me nuts. Some days I do five, some ten, some (rarely) fifteen…and some none at all, because I’m focused on other things such as columns or C&I.
As of August 15, 2008, I’ve done 405 of 583 (there was a duplicate in that “584″ count)–but that turns out to be 397 of 574, because I deleted eight blogs along the way, typically because they disappeared entirely and weren’t in an earlier study or because they’re defunct and were alive for too short a period to be included (e.g., your typical “create a blog for class” blog).
I’m two-thirds of the way through. My current target–-taking into account Cites & Insights, columns, mental health, maybe a short vacation–-is 50 blogs a week, which should get me through the whole list right around the time I turn 63…
At that point, depending on various factors (phase of the moon, feedback, offers of support, health, what have you), I could do another “additions” pass–picking up more English-language liblogs that fit the general criteria, working from blogrolls again. If that happens there’s the metrics process for each new blog…and, since 2007 metrics would also be needed, I figure one to two hours for each fivesome.
I might also do a “subtractions” pass. Maybe the non-English blogs in the 2006 survey should be deleted. Maybe there are other categories that should be deleted… But at some point I’ll have a “complete” spreadsheet matched with a set of chapters.
After all the metrics gathering is done, comes the analysis. Lots of analysis. How much and what kind of analysis? I’m not quite sure.
I am sure I’ll look at averages, medians, standard deviations, outliers and quintiles for each significant metric—and that “significant metrics” will include changes from 2007 to 2008 for those blogs with posts in both March-May periods. I suspect I’ll define quintiles differently for comments and figures, looking at quintiles of blogs with some comments or figures and overall percentages that have none at all.
I suspect I’ll do some correlations. I’m sure I won’t do the “toss everything into SPSS and see what significant correlations emerge” style of correlation.
Then I’ll write the manuscript—several chapters of analysis (how many I don’t yet know), followed by the alphabetic chapters, each of which will require a rewrite (for example, filling in pieces that emerge from overall analysis).
Then I’ll produce it, probably as a book, possibly with a few overall comments on the blog or in C&I.
When? I have no idea. If I get it out before ALA Midwinter Meeting 2009, I’ll be fairly happy.
If someone comes forward with some form of adequate sponsorship, I’d be delighted to make a PDF version free or run major amounts of the analysis in Cites & Insights. Otherwise, that’s unlikely.
I’m looking at sheer length and what makes sense in a book. I suspect that, once I’m done, I’ll summarize blog program usage and use of sans or serif and drop it from individual blogs. I also suspect I’ll drop the blog’s URL: better to get that from the spreadsheet or I’ll provide, and they change and can usually be searched readily. I might drop blogger’s names, I might drop affiliation or simplify it—and I suspect most brief comments about what’s in a blog will disappear, particularly if the blog’s name or tagline is reasonably indicative. Quotes from blogs? Very few (if any) will remain.
By now, I’ll assume most of you are aware of my twin 2007 projects: Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples and Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples.
For all the talk about why libraries (every library, most libraries, or whatever) should be doing blogs and what wonderful benefits they’ll derive, I believe these are the first objective looks at what’s actually out there, other than a few handpicked examples.
I believe they were landmark projects, at least deserving discussion and criticism.
They were wholly ignored by the gurus of library blogging. Wholly.
Reacting charitably, I’ll assume none of those gurus are aware of Cites & Insights or Walt at Random, and so were and are wholly unaware of the books.
There are less charitable reactions, to be sure. Kate Davis, one of that remarkable group of Australian libloggers, raised one possibility in a March 14, 2008 post at virtually a librarian.
A July 12, 2008 post at Marcus’ World seems to argue that social software and other initiatives should not be evaluated–or at least not yet. I’m trying to avoid the phrase “faith-based librarianship,” but when I’m told that we shouldn’t be asking whether new services are effective, I have to wonder. To my mind, a perfectly legitimate objection would be “You’re not measuring the right things”—which then raises the issue of what those right things would be. To say that we shouldn’t be asking such questions at all—that seems a bit odd.
I’m entirely willing to agree that the books might (should?) have been done differently, with a lot more discussion of analytics and a lot less text from each blog. I thought examples would be useful. Maybe they are, but they made it easy to dismiss the book as “just stuff taken from the blogs.” That’s wildly unfair, I believe, but I’m biased.
The public library portion of the project was (is) somewhat interesting on its own merits, but was a lot of work for very little apparent result.
The academic library portion of the project, frankly, got less interesting as time went on. And was even more work for even less apparent result.
So there’s very little in me wanting to take the next step, which would involve longitudinal studies (looking at changes in blogs over time) and a lot more up-front discussion.
If there was external sponsorship, or if things suddenly picked up this Fall, that could change–in which case, I’d look at the possibility of doing a two-year comparison (2007 & 2009). Most likely, though, I’ll write this one off as a reject.
Dorothea Salo added an extremely useful comment. What she says (skipping the first paragraph):
The printed book was simply the wrong information-delivery vehicle for this project.
Consider: I find a blog that looks interesting. I have to open up my browser and type in its URL, or Google for it; either process is error-prone. I want to compare it to another blog found on a different page. This involves the cognitive load of deciding whether to flip back and forth in the book, or open both blogs in my browser (with the attendant typing of yet another URL).
If I find a blog I like and want to save, the printed book does not help me remember it where remembrance is most useful: namely, my browser or my del.icio.us or my FriendFeed. Likewise, if I’ve been reading it for a while and want to refresh my memory on what you said about it, I have to go dig up a print book… when I’m sitting at my computer!
This project makes worlds more sense as a Web project, where to investigate a blog I need only click a link. The trouble there, of course, is finding someone to pay for your work… but you’ve had that trouble already with the print books, no? Perhaps sponsorship might have been more readily available had the end-product been of more immediate utility.
Balanced Libraries was a book, it makes sense as a book, it works fine as a book. The blog books needed not to be books, even ebooks. (What good would they have been on a Kindle? Not much.)
A very good point—and one that, Salo agreed, probably doesn’t apply to The Liblog Landscape. Salo’s comment is helping me decide what stays in the manuscript and what goes.
The fourth post in the series of five offered details on actual sales for the two library blog books.
Remember when Cites & Insights was all about personal computing?
That’s a trick question. C&I was never “all about personal computing.” The informal definition in the first issue was “Libraries, Media, Technology & Stuff.” I’d estimate that the first issue was roughly half PC-related, half otherwise.
PC-related material dwindled over the years, partly because the field got less interesting, more because there were other topics I was more interested in.
Looking at the “current list” of recurring sections (on C&I’s About page),there’s only one that’s on the “maybe not” list:
Copyright. Sigh. I just don’t know. I did something in the August issue and three issues earlier, and I’m not sure my heart was in either one. I won’t say copyright coverage is going to disappear—but it might seem that way, except for special cases.
What about new areas? They emerge, slowly–and sometimes only as a series of Perspectives.
As for C&I itself, 2008 may be the first year that it’s “only” a monthly, but most issues are a bit on the long side. I wouldn’t attach much significance to either of those facts.
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