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


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 11: September 2006


Bibs & Blather

A Few Things I’d Rather Not Write About

These are areas that could fall into the scope of C&I—but that won’t, at least not for now.

I don’t like manifestos. I believe they oversimplify and polarize. They’re great ways to get lots of comments and stir up controversy—but typically at the expense of nuance and balance. I’m going to try to ignore manifestos as much as possible.

I can rarely resist commenting on hype and generalization, but I’m working on it. It’s more interesting to discuss examples than claims. Some controversies seem deliberate, even manufactured. If I can spot a deliberate attempt to manufacture controversy, I might comment—but probably less on the controversy than the artificial nature of it. That’s the desire; watch me fail to live up to it!

Then there are controversies that I feel less than qualified to discuss, such as those currently surrounding the Library of Congress. If I’m halfway through raw material and say, “Why am I writing about this?” I’ll write off the time spent as professional education and recycle the listings.

Gatekeepers and the A List

Here’s one example I did write about, where I think I got it wrong and don’t believe it makes sense to try to get it right. That’s the “gatekeeper/A-list” controversy, which I could personalize as “Why Seth Finkelstein lacks the audience and influence his research should warrant.” Infothought is only one example, but it’s a real one. I wrote about these issues in May and November 2005, doubting that “gatekeepers” (the A-listers) mattered as much as others claimed—and finally became convinced that they did matter, as noted in December 2005.

I had a stack of stuff in my “Net Media” folder related to A-listers, movement within the Technorati Top 100, continued claims by A-listers that everyone is equal, and demonstrations that this claim is not true. It’s interesting stuff—but I wound up recycling it all. Not because I don’t believe there’s an issue, but for two narrower reasons:

     “Influencers” and “A-listers” matter more in some arenas than in others. While there are certainly a few libloggers with much broader reach than most, I don’t believe they control the tenor of most discussions—and liblogging is a small enough arena that people can move into the “top 100” (or whatever) without too much difficulty.

     To the extent that there are influencers in the library field, I’m one of them, and to some extent unqualified to comment on the phenomenon (including the bullet just above). I’m not an A-list liblogger, not even close—but according to Technorati I’m in the top 0.1% of blogs by links (ranking somewhere between 27,000 and 28,000 out of more than 51 million blogs Technorati claims to track). Walt at Random has been averaging more than 1,000 visits per day since March 2006, but it’s really Cites & Insights and a few books, articles and columns that give me a voice.

I’m not sure just who the A-listers are in the broader community. I looked at the Technorati Top 100 on August 21, 2006 (noting that Technorati now rewards current popularity). I don’t regularly read any of the blogs on that top 100, and had never seen 97 of them. Going through the list, I found 17 that I would recognize as “real blogs”—after filtering out corporate media, magazines and gossip columns in blog form, blogs so ad-heavy that content seemed almost extraneous, and “blogs” laid out in such a manner that they no longer look and feel like blogs. How many of that 17 would I read on a regular basis? Not one.

For me, Seth Finkelstein and Dorothea Salo each has more influence than Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searles, Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki and the rest of the Top 100 put together. As far as I can tell, no weblog has inbound links from even one-half of one percent of other weblogs. But the big names do get quoted more in the traditional media, are more likely to be speaking at the conventions and invited to special get-togethers, are probably the only ones making serious money through blogging, and do have a lot more readers than most of us.

Within librarianship, I think that’s OK. But if you’re trying to influence society (or get rich), it’s tough. I have no answers.

Quick Followups on Previous Issues

Elena O’Malley responded to a comment in C&I 6:9 about author labels on library books: Why is it necessary to add an author-name label to a spine that almost universally has the author’s name?

It might not be a necessity, but, as someone who shelved books as a job for four years, it’s a nicety I hope we don’t abandon unless we really need to save the time/money of processing them.

Label text is at roughly the same height on each book, is the same size font for the most part, and is oriented horizontally. It’s faster and easier to read and sort. In bookstores, which don’t use such labels, I often end up with a crick in my neck from unconsciously rotating my head to the side as I read the text on the spines.

In addition, a small side benefit is that those labels help out visually impaired folks because they are high-contrast in an easy-to-read font, unlike the graphic design work on some book spines.

An excellent response. I did a lot of reshelving and sorting back in the day—but the Doe Library (UC Berkeley) didn’t have separate fiction or genre collections, so call number labels were universal. If I’d been reshelving in a public library, I might have known what O’Malley kindly pointed out!

Many bloggers commented on C&I 6:10. I’m grateful for the generally kind comments. One person misinterpreted one of my mid-investigation blog entries: I did not give up summer vacations and other plans in order to do such a broad look at liblogs. The summer vacations and other plans were disrupted by changes in the workplace and family issues; the result was that I had time to do the look. I would not have abandoned vacation plans in order to do it!

Steve Lawson posted a particularly thoughtful comment, “The view from the Great Middle,” on August 14, 2006 at See also… (library.coloradocollege.edu/ steve/). He suggests new bloggers should post at least once or twice a week in order to establish that they’re serious about the blog. I agree There are other notes as well. Lawson would like me to return or move to a more qualitative approach. We’ll see.

Eric Schnell contemplated my metrics in “Blog quality indicators and impact factors,” an August 14, 2006 post at The medium is the message. (ericschnell.blogspot.com). How does one quantify a blog’s impact? I decided it wasn’t feasible to do so this year—and it appears that Yahoo!’s new “site explorer” may make my possibly promising metric (visible number of link: results) useless in the future. As with Lawson, a thoughtful essay worth reading.

I should also note a fledgling effort at “St. Jerry’s Virtual Scriptorium,” one of the forum topics at WebJunction, to come up with answers to the ongoing question, what kind of blogging draws lots of conversation? It’s a start.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 11, Whole Issue 81, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

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

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Comments specifically intended for publication should go to citesandinsights@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2006 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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