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


Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 13: Mid-Fall 2005


Perspective

Life Trumps Blogging

In no particular order, a sampling of many similar comments, all within the last few months, noting that I applaud all these statements, at least partly:

Ř    Cindi at Chronicles of Bean: “I haven't been posting much, and honestly, I probably will continue that trend, as posting photos to flickr requires much less brain power. I don't have that much brain power to spare wordsmithing at this point!” Cindi’s primary reason: She gave birth in late September.

Ř    Lois at Professional-lurker: “I wanted to warn you that I will be posting less frequently for the next several weeks… This is all part of my master plan to focus on a finite set of things that must be accomplished by the middle of November.” That set is impressive—and leads Lois to conclude: “To accomplish all of these things without killing myself in the process, I am paring away anything that seems to be excess at the moment…sadly that means I need to minimize the time I spend on the blog.”

Ř    At ::schwagbag:: “And speaking of blogging, ::schwagbag:: postings have been pretty sparse of late because there’s just so much going on at the moment.” Including moving, starting a new job, redesigning a website, moving again, weddings, a conference…

Ř    Anna at eclectic librarian: “It’s been a quiet month here at eclectic librarian dot net… Actually, my non-digital life has been eventful and not at all quiet or boring. However, very little of it has been relevant to the focus of this blog, so I haven’t written much about it. Also, I’ve been saving my creative literary juices for an essay I am contributing to a book about electronic resource librarians.”

Ř    Christine at Nexgen Librarian: “It’s time to revive this blog from the dead…” Followed by an excellent commentary on real life, including “Don’t try and do more than you can do” and “F@#! living at the speed of today’s technology.” Quoting from that discussion (you might want to read the whole essay—August 13 in the archives at www.nexgenlibrarian. net): “I’ve discovered that acting as if technology has sped up the pace of life is ridiculous. It isn’t my world, I don’t choose to participate in that world, and in fact, I reject that world. Thus, I’ve found that I can’t blog every day (or, it seems, even every month!), I can’t return email in a lightning flash…”

Ř    Adri at Library stories: “Posts may be a little sparse the next few weeks. As some of you know the stork visited my house on 10/19 and left a avid reader at our door!”

Ř    Meredith at Information wants to be free, in a post that inspired the second part of this essay: “I used to blog a lot more than I do. I was unemployed and had a lot of free time. Now that I have a job and a house and other commitments, I had to ask myself why should I continue blogging? Is it worth the time it takes?” Her answer is, emphatically, yes, for reasons offered in an interesting commentary (October 2, 2005 at meredith.wolfwater.com/ wordpress/) but the relevant sentence for this discussion is the first one: “I used to blog a lot more than I do.”

Ř    Jenny at The shifted librarian: “So things will be even quieter than normal here for the next month or so. Between traveling, vacation, and life, there will be few to no posts for a while.” And, later, noting medical reasons to focus on offline life: “Right now, life is easily beating out blogging, so I’ll see you back here when things even out a little more.”

Ř    Steven at Library stuff: “Blogging may be light for the next 4 or 5 days or so as I deal with a family issue. Nothing huge. I just don't know how much time I'll have in front of a computer and family comes first. Way first.”

I could quote quite a few more—in addition to a mini-wave of blog shutdowns, library bloggers who’d been doing it for a few months or a few years and formally gave up the ghost. Others just disappear, temporarily or permanently.

Rory Litwin shut down Library juice after eight years. It wasn’t a blog but it was an interesting example of net media. Among the comments on Steven Cohen’s blog post about the shut down, I noted that I’d seen a wave of blog shutdowns and partial shutdowns—and that was a while back.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Horst at The aardvark speaks offers this comment in October 28, 2005 post (homepage.univie.ac.ac/horst.prillinger /blog/):

I noticed one interesting phenomenon with most of the bloggers that I read more or less regularly…and that seem to be more like human beings writing about their lives…: most of them are currently going through a period of not posting anything.

Horst was largely absent during October, which he notes “seems to be a bad month for most bloggers”—and his reasons are similar to others noted here.

No need to apologize

Some bloggers are apologetic about cutting back or temporarily shutting down. Others, as with those quoted above, know better than to apologize; they note the situation and may choose to explain it. Still others just slow down or stop with no notice.

These aren’t one-day wonders who got signed up for a blog as part of a course or just tried out Blogger for fun, then disappeared after one post or a few weeks of posting. Look at some of the names I quoted: They include two of the three or four most widely read library bloggers, and one of them runs a sponsored blog.

What we have here, and what I expect to see continue, is something else. Something much healthier for those involved and, I believe, for the medium itself. You already know what I believe this boils down to: It’s the title of this perspective.

Life trumps blogging

At least it does for most sane, balanced people.

Family trumps blogging. Health trumps blogging. Work trumps blogging (unless blogging is your life or work, and I don’t think that’s true for anyone in the biblioblogosphere). I’m delighted to see that more and more people recognize that vacations trump blogging—that a vacation works better if the notebook stays at home (or at least stays off the internet as much as possible).

Good for you, all of you.

I’m not putting down blogging. I have a blog, after all, and I seem to be beating my informal target of two posts per week as a long-term average. I think scores of library-related blogs are worth reading; otherwise, I wouldn’t have more than 200 in Bloglines. I love the conversations that take place at Walt at random. I participate in conversations at other blogs. I rely on blogs (including those that don’t support conversation, and I’m sympathetic with their reasoning) for quite a few of the ideas and pointers that result in Cites & Insights pieces.

It’s a tool—and RSS favors quality over quantity

I believe blogging is making the transition from shiny new toy to useful tool. As a tool, blogging isn’t something “everyone” needs to do, and it isn’t something that you need to keep doing even when it no longer meets your needs. It’s a net medium—it’s a tool. What you can do with tools can be pretty exciting, but the tools themselves aren’t usually hot stuff. Very few people feel the need to use a power saw every single day, even when there’s nothing that needs cutting. You use tools when you have a use for them; you don’t go around looking for something to do with them, at least not once they’ve proven their usefulness.

For almost everyone in the biblioblogosphere, blogging is at most a secondary and usually a tertiary interest, or even lower. Increasingly, I believe most of you see it as something you do because you have something to say, not something you feel compelled to do every day, come rain or come shine, in sickness and in health.

Early on, during the shiny new toy phase of blogging, there was a reason to make that effort, to find something to blog about every day: People had to explicitly visit your site to see whether you had something new to say. Fail to update it frequently, and people stop visiting.

Thanks to RSS and aggregators, that’s no longer the case. I have 216 pieces of the biblioblogosphere in my Bloglines list. There’s no way on earth I would visit 216 sites every day or even every week; who has time for that?

I’ll probably trim that list slightly (sometimes life trumps blog-reading as well). When I do, the first ones to go will be high-frequency linkblogs. I’m finding that anything I need will probably be discussed by someone. The bare links that make up some high-frequency logs rarely serve my needs any more.

I’m far less likely to deep-six bloggers who write once or twice a week (or once or twice a month), but who have something interesting, special, provocative to say when they do blog.

I believe aggregation favors quality over quantity. I’m using “quality” in a broad sense—not just polished gems of mini-essays (or not-so-mini essays), but rough-hewn chunks of consciousness that reveal something worth thinking about.

Michael McGrorty of Library dust wrote a typically long and thoughtfully written essay on blogging and writing, “This pleasant slavery” (posted on October 8, 2005 at librarydust.typepad.com/library_dust/). Long for a blog post, that is, at just over 1,600 words (this essay is around 2,800 words). He talks about future net media replacing blogs but also the “Exercise Machine syndrome”—that most blogs wind up being used about as much as most exercise machines. He also, unfortunately, characterizes “the weblog” as “essentially a diary”—which can be true, but frequently isn’t. If you accept his characterization, then his conclusion follows: “The fate of most diaries is to record a few impressions of life and to cease when the writer has passed beyond the phase of doing such things.” It’s true that most blogs die, whether because they’re conceived as diaries (and most people stop writing in diaries) or for other reasons. He continues:

Weblogs that last, (whether their content has significance or no) will doubtless be those whose authors are possessed by that need which makes otherwise normal people sit down and write with the regularity that other folks eat dinner. In other words, writers will continue to be writers, out of a need which we need not consider altogether laudable; those who never create blogs, or who make them up only to abandon them will only be expressing the tendency for normal people to pursue amusing new outlets until the toy becomes boring or something else comes along.

The title of McGrorty’s post refers to writing itself, and those who need to write. McGrorty counts himself among that number. It’s hard for me to discount a quarter million words a year, so I guess I’ll have to fess up as being another, as do some of those discussed below (“Why Blog?”).

But many worthwhile single-writer blogs aren’t diaries and aren’t written by people who need to write. Many, including a growing number of those with rare but worthwhile posts, are written by people who don’t need to write, who would never enforce “an hour a day” or any other writing rule—but who sometimes have something they want to say. When you can update blogs once in a while, when you have something to say, they fall into a different realm. I find that realm the most interesting part of blogging.

You knew bullets were coming again

A few suggestions from my own perspective

Ř    Don’t apologize for cutting back on blogging. There’s no need.

Ř    You might let us know if you’re formally terminating a blog, but there’s no need to point out you’re disappearing for a week or a month—unless you’d like to mention why. (Congratulations to Cindi and Adri!)

Ř    Maybe it’s time for some of us to abandon target frequencies for blog posting. Maybe the target should be to say something worthwhile or amusing in each post.

Ř    You define what’s worthwhile. People will pick you up if your definition has some overlap with theirs. (I’m not sure I care much about anime, but I read bloggers who write about that as well as topics that I do care about.)

Ř    There’s nothing wrong with metablogging (writing about blogging). There’s nothing wrong with posts that don’t do much more than link. There’s nothing wrong with posts that don’t have links at all. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining big blogrolls—and there’s nothing wrong with omitting blogrolls entirely. There’s nothing wrong with going two days, a week, a month between posts—and then writing six posts totaling 5,000 words in one day, if that’s what you need to do. There’s nothing wrong with essay posts.

Ř    If anyone tells you that you’re not really blogging if you do any of the things in the previous bullet, ignore them. Blogging is a tool. It’s not a narrowly-defined medium.

Why Blog?

The seventh bullet at the start of this Perspective quotes Meredith Farkas, who used to blog a lot more than she does now. That’s just the start of a fascinating set of reasons that she blogs; I suggest you read the post, “Why blog?” For Farkas, blogging is “the real thing”—a key part of her writing. She’s gotten a lot out of blogging: Making friends “who have encouraged me to do things I wouldn’t have the confidence to try before,” making connections with “giants in the field” (at least in her opinion), finding that her insights are helpful to others, gotten on “publishing companies’ radar.” There’s more.

For Rochelle at Tinfoil + raccoon, it’s straightforward enough: “I’ve identified myself as a writer since I was in grade school…” (More at “Why I blog,” October 10 at rochellejustrochelle.typepad.com/copilot/).

That’s one reason Laura Crossett offers in an interesting essay (“metablogging 2: the why I blog post”) posted September 30, 2005 at lis.dom (lisdom.blogspot.com): “I have always known that I am pretty good at writing—it’s one of those things that makes up for other things, like being unable to run or throw or catch, being unpopular, being awkward and unsure of your place in the world.” Here’s another: “At the moment, though, the real reason that I blog is that I want to be part of a community…”

Travis Ennis asked why library school students blog; some answers appear at libfoo.blogspot.com/ 2005/10/carnival-why-do-we-blog-mlsmis.html. Ennis’ own comment: “Part of the reason I blog is for this exact kind of collaboration. Blogging gives me an opportunity to meet really great people who are intelligent, thoughtful and expressive.”

In my own case, it’s fair to say that one or two folks (particularly Steven Cohen) were asking me “Why don’t you blog?” for some time before I finally started Walt at random (walt.lishost.org). I must like to write, since I do so much of it. I started the blog because there were things I wanted to write about that didn’t fit elsewhere—and, thanks to RSS, I believed I could make the blog work without posting frequently.

Until I read Laura Crossett’s comment, I hadn’t I hadn’t thought of it this way, but what she says applies pretty well to me. I was never part of the In Crowd in high school (or college, or…): I was terrible at athletics, not particularly social, living on the wrong side of town, and “awkward and unsure of [my] place in the world”—but I could write reasonably well. I don’t know that it’s ever resulted in a job; I do know it’s resulted in speaking invitations. I can’t imagine not writing for an extended period, although I do love the occasional break.

Why do you blog? Farkas’ survey of the biblioblogosphere revealed a number of interesting reasons. I’ll argue that fame and fortune should never be motivations for library blogging. Otherwise, almost any reason will do—except, I believe, “because everybody should have a blog.”

Life trumps blogging. For that matter, life usually trumps writing. But for most of us, most of the time, life has room for secondary pursuits. All the writers noted have continued to blog or have come back to blogging, because they still have something to say.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 13, Whole Issue 69, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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