Net Media/Making it Work
Blogging about Liblogging
I’m sure there are disciplined bloggers who never engage in metablogging—blogging about blogging. I’m not one of them. A little introspection can be useful. A lot of thinking about what’s happening in the liblog community can be fun, interesting and worthwhile. I thought these posts were worth noting and commenting on.
Remember that question, posed by Meredith Farkas in a September 17, 2007 post at Information wants to be free (meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/)? Farkas responds to an Annoyed Librarian post, the Annoyed One having commented on the “assertion that people who blog anonymously (or pseudonymously) are cowards.” (If that’s too meta for you: A bunch of people seemed to be attacking AL for being “anonymous” and calling that cowardly—and there were even a few such attacks from people who understand the difference between pseudonymous [which AL is/are] and anonymous.)
It’s fair to say Farkas isn’t one of those condemning out of hand. Excerpts:
Considering the number of bloggers who do not identify themselves on their blogs (almost 1/4 of blogging librarians), I am loath to believe that it is all about cowardice. There may be a lot of reasons why people blog anonymously… I’d say people who do not identify themselves on their blog to protect their careers are smart, not cowardly. But that’s just my take.
Who among us has wanted to post something but didn’t because you knew it could be bad for your career? Are we cowards for not posting it? Nah, I think we’re smart… I’ve sometimes thought it would be nice to have an anonymous blog in addition to this, but I really don’t have the time or energy to lead a double life. My first life is enough work. ;)
The Annoyed Librarian has made a lot of people think. The Annoyed Librarian has written a lot of things that have stirred up interesting debates or made people say “that’s exactly how I feel, though I’d never say it.” As the Pragmatic Librarian wrote:
Contrary to what some have stated, I believe that anonymity and pseudonymity do not automatically negate an opinion. Granted, you might not know the background or the biases of whoever expresses such opinions, but the validity of their claims should become clearer through further discourse. If someone has compelling or interesting arguments, the discussion should focus on those, rather than on the “personalities” involved.
In addition, there’s a difference between one who writes offensive things designed only to hurt people anonymously and one who writes criticism anonymously. We often don’t distinguish between the two. You can’t lump what the Annoyed Librarian writes in with the anonymous comments from some of her readers that are downright nasty.
What I find most interesting is how many people are identifying anonymous or pseudonymously written blogs as their favorites in the three favorite blogs survey. Obviously, many of these are touching a chord. That says something…
There will always be topics that people simply can’t write about under their own names because of the nature of the topic or because of the position they are in. It’s very easy to be a journal editor or a tenured professor or a former president of ALA or someone else with very little to lose to make bold statements about the things they believe in. It’s also easy for someone to make bold statements on topics that are less than taboo these days. It is not so easy for someone who relies on other librarians (who may not agree with him or her) for employment to make bold statements about things that are thought of as sacred cows…
What I love most about the library blogosphere is that we’re not judged by our CVs but by the content of our writing. Were that not the case, I’d never have gotten an audience at all. If it didn’t matter to people who I was when I first started blogging, why should it matter who the Annoyed Librarian is? If you don’t like her writing, don’t read it. If you like it, it shouldn’t matter all that much who she is.
In the case of the Annoyed Librarian, one comment is especially cogent: “You can’t lump what the Annoyed Librarian writes in with the anonymous comments from some of her readers that are downright nasty.”
Comments were generally supportive. Dorothea Salo notes flak she’s received during job interviews for her blogging and a “brilliant librarian” who lost a promotion because her prospective boss didn’t like her blog. I noted my own problem with pseudonymity used as a shield: “The ease with which it can retrospectively disappear; I’ve seen that happen several times.” It won’t with AL (I’m confident of that, and I suspect they/he/it/she has/have another, signed, blog), but it’s not that unusual. One commenter finds “that anonymity/pseudonymous writing always takes my opinion of the writing down a notch” but recognizes the role of unsigned writing. A couple of pseudonymous or anonymous bloggers gave their reasons, including justifiable fear of physical attack and a simple desire to limit web exposure of their real name. I’m not sure I entirely understand “identity theft” as a basis for blogging anonymously—and when someone says “if I don’t know you, I don’t want you knowing me,” then I wonder why they’d blog at all. I saw nobody accusing anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers of cowardice or attacking the notion.
Here’s what I find in 607 liblogs I’m looking at:
▪ 401 have clear authors with first and last names readily identifiable—either right on the home page or an “About” page, in the URL itself, or in a ludicrously transparent form (e.g., a link to the blogger’s PowerPoint presentation or announcement of their new book).
▪ 93 are group blogs, most of them with named bloggers.
▪ 56 are what I would consider pseudonymous.
▪ 43 have authors identified only by first name, so could be considered pseudonymous.
▪ 13 are anonymous by my standards.
Adding those up, I come up with 18% of liblogs (in this large sample) that are pseudonymous or anonymous—and, frankly, I’d guess at least 10% to 15% of those are readily identifiable (e.g., cases where the employer and position are named!).
Does that mean fewer libloggers are cowards? Not really. First, it’s not a term I would apply in any case. I can think of no more than two or three blogs where “cowardice” has anything to do with the lack of clear authorship. If I had to judge, I’d guess easily half of the 112 blogs in those three final categories could have full author’s names without any harm to anybody—but that’s the choice these bloggers have made. Second, of course, my sample isn’t the same as Farkas’ sample.
Christina Pikas commented on pseudonymous and anonymous blogging in this February 1, 2008 post at Christina’s LIS rant (christinaslibraryrant.blogspot.com). Portions of this very different take on unsigned blogging:
Many science bloggers, in particular women scientist bloggers, choose to be either anonymous or pseudonymous. Sometimes they give the reason that they want to be able to speak freely or talk truth to the man… Some have everything to lose if they are discovered, and for some it would be a minor inconvenience because co-workers don’t “get it.”
Bloggers who have made the choice to provide their real identity sometimes complain that if they were anonymous they could say whatever they wanted without repercussions…
In practice, though…anonymous bloggers do not really have any more freedom and may even have less freedom for several reasons.
First, because they don’t want to be a jerk. Or, well, they might be a jerk whether or not they reveal their names, but I don’t think it correlates…
Second, the more they say—and everything they say—can be used to try to discover their real identity. If you are the only woman associate professor of physics researching x then talking about your work will out you. What can you say about your work place? Maybe what coast it’s on? That it’s big or small?...
It takes a lot of work to stay anonymous—carefully selecting words and re-reading posts to make sure nothing slips, and if you are discovered, that the repercussions won’t be too bad.
Third, women on the internet are victims of very personal attacks. I don’t think that being anonymous does anything for this (may even attract some), but it may be easier to distance yourself and it’s harder for a stalker to find you…
So, in conclusion there are some darn good reasons to blog anonymously and this unsystematic look indicates that it does not provide more freedom, rather it chains you a life of walking on your toes. For young women scientists, the freedom of using their real identity is a luxury they can’t afford.
Bloggers build trust with their audience over time--isn’t it refreshing to judge someone on what she posts rather than her institution, her h-factor, or her recent paper in a big name journal?
A very few unsigned liblogs are that way specifically so the writers can be jerks, or at least can say jerky things about library users, but I’d say the total is less than one percent of liblogs. I’d like to think the third factor isn’t major in the library field, but I’m not sure it’s nonexistent.
This December 15, 2007 Library Journal article by Meredith Farkas (www.libraryjournal.com/article/ CA6510669.html?q=the+bloggers+among+us) covers 839 bloggers based on her 2007 survey. (You’ll find survey posts in Farkas’ October 2007 archives, including a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet of survey results.)
As with Farkas’ posts about the survey results, this article is fascinating and probably valid. There isn’t much reason for people to lie, particularly since neither names nor blog names are attached to results.
A few notes:
▪ More than one-third of bloggers responding are over 40, with more than 20 respondents over 60.
▪ More than half of bloggers responding have been published elsewhere, including 20% with peer-reviewed publications.
▪ Nearly 70% of respondents had their current blogs for two years or less. (I might wonder how many of those new blogs are “mandated blogs” that disappear once the library school course or 23-things project is complete—but maybe those ephemeral bloggers wouldn’t respond to the survey. I do note that 13% of respondents were in library school. My own study biases against newer blogs to the extent that it won’t include any blog less than six months old by June 2008.)
▪ Surprisingly (OK, it surprised me!), two-thirds of respondents contributed to more than one blog. (But then, I now run three of them, so why am I surprised? Blogs are like Tribbles…)
▪ Roughly one-third of respondents were in academic libraries, another third in public libraries. Technically, that means academic librarians were over-represented.
▪ Most bloggers (69%) blog to share ideas with others. A lot (40%) believe that blogging helps them keep up with trends—and more than a quarter use blogging as a way to process their own ideas. (Frankly, I’m surprised that final number isn’t higher.)
▪ Nearly three-quarters of respondents read blogs through web-based aggregators such as Bloglines and Google Reader. Farkas finds this unusual; she believes most of “the general population” get their feeds through personalized start pages like MyYahoo!
Farkas mentions a few blogs by name as examples of certain types. She discusses community-building, the future of blogging and emerging challenges. It’s all goodm and I particularly liked this comment:
Blogging can be a great leveler… People are judged more by their ideas than their résumés, so anyone can make a name for him/herself. Also, blogging can build a bridge for those geographically isolated from other (or like-minded) librarians.
That arcane title, on a Brett Bonfield post dated January 10, 2008 at ACRLog (acrlblog.org), stands for “too short, didn’t bother”—Bonfield’s rejoinder to “tl;dr” (too long, didn’t read), which Anil Dash calls “one of the great, definitive abbreviations for the social web.” (Not that Dash fully supports this—he says the abbreviation “epitomizes the short-attention-span crowd, the willfully idiotic segment of the online population that 1. we all sometimes belong to and that 2. makes for the shittiest experiences on the web.”)
Bonfield’s commenting on resolutions by several of his favorite writers, who have “resolved to post more frequently in 2008.”
Dear favorite writers: at the risk of sounding ungrateful, would you be terribly offended if I begged you not to follow through on this resolution? The odds are, I like your writing because:
▪ You publish relatively infrequently. I think you’re great, which is why I read your writing, but I don’t want to know everything that’s on your mind. Generally, somewhere between once a week to once a month is fine by me.
▪ Your pieces tend to take me at least five minutes to read, though ideally you’ll allow me the privilege of spending 15-50 minutes on ideas that have taken you several hours to put into words.
▪ You publish almost nothing that’s off-topic, in particular almost nothing that’s both off-topic and solely about you. Once or twice a year, at most, going off-topic or writing about yourself is actually endearing. And it can be useful in our post-postmodern world if you acknowledge personal reasons for your opinions. But I’m reading your writing in order to learn about the topic of your blog. Abandon that topic too often and I’ll mostly likely unsubscribe from your feed.
As a blogger, I’m probably not one of Bonfield’s favorite writers: I publish much too frequently by his standards, I rarely take “several hours” to write a post (I save that for articles) and Walt at random is, almost by definition, frequently off-topic. (Actually, it’s never off-topic—because there is no set topic.)
Bonfield offers an example, a (non-library) blogger who regularly writes true essays and gets complaints about it. The blogger knows he writes essays—and thinks that blogs may be the best medium today for essays. (The post Bonfield links to is over 3,000 words—four times the length of a typical newspaper or magazine column, and roughly equivalent to four pages of Cites & Insights. Bonfield’s own post is 1,412 words long. Apparently, 3,000 words is on the short side for this particular blogger.). Bonfield brings in a discussion of blogging and its relationship to article publishing for professional librarians and a number of semi-related notions. His key points:
Here’s the first point I’m trying to make: good, thoughtful prose is valuable no matter where or how it’s published. Grigor Perelman posted his groundbreaking work on the Poincaré Conjecture on the free, web-based arXiv.org in November 2002, March 2003, and July 2003, a repository that at the time was considerably easier to post to than ACRLog is now. Even though it has since introduced an endorsement system, arXiv.org remains close to barrier free—and full of indisputably valuable work… Peer review plays an important role in numerous situations, but there are times it is neither necessary, as with Perelman, nor sufficient, as with Sokal’s “Transgressing the Boundaries.” At the same time, you may be cheating yourself and your readers if you reserve your best work for peer-reviewed, subscription-only journals. Eventually, people will be rewarded for publishing good work online, and not just with popularity badges.
Here’s the second point I’m trying to make: good, thoughtful prose generally takes more than a few minutes a day to write and more than a couple of hundred words to express. I don’t think it’s a bad thing when people dismiss longer pieces with tl;dr (too long, didn’t read). Certainly, when we’re writing for undergraduates or Pierre Bayard, we need to take that wholly defensible sensibility into account. But if you’re writing for me, and for many other academic librarians, please understand that we’re likely to dismiss light, quick, frequent posts with ts;db: “Too short, didn’t bother.”
There are basically two comments and one response. Steve Lawson kicks things off saying, in part:
… I have un-subscribed to several popular library blogs simply because they are too noisy.
On the other hand, as I think I may have said in these comments before, let’s not get too prescriptive. There is not–despite what Sammy Hagar may have told you–only one way to rock.
The blogs I adore often freely mix the personal and professional with a high degree of the author’s voice apparent. I, for one, am happy to hear about Dorothea’s cats and Walt’s favorite restaurants because their writing has made me care about them as people. So don’t save your best stuff for the Journal of Humorless Tenured Librarians, but don’t feel like every blog post has to be one peer-review shy of publication either.
An hour later—but about ten minutes after I finished reading the post—I commented:
Well, damn: There goes Steve again, saying what I was going to say, but better and faster.
I certainly track a few laser-focused-on-topic blogs–but, frankly, I get more out of the many liblogs that are a little bit personal, a little bit professional. With post frequencies and lengths that vary all over the place. (Sez I, who writes posts as short as 100 words, if rarely, and essays as long as 32,000 words–fortunately, also rarely. Not to mention the occasional book…)
I may regard Always-On-Topic X as an expert, but I’m more likely to think of Mixed-Message Y as both an interesting writer and a person I wouldn’t mind knowing–which is, at least for me, a better deal.
Bonfield responded, in part:
…I guess it didn’t occur to me that anyone would take my posts as prescriptive. Or that anyone would assume I found my favorite writers uninteresting as people. But that’s sure how it reads, isn’t it?
Here’s a point I should have included: one of the many things I admire about Jessamyn West is that she maintains librarian.net for her library observations and jessamyn.com for everything else. Taking that idea a step further, the greatly missed Leslie Harpold seemed to be constantly registering additional domains and creating additional websites, each one dedicated to a different project/audience.
This may seem like a lot of extra work, but if you can maintain one website it’s really not much harder to maintain two or more…
I think we agreed to disagree, if only because there were no more direct comments. From my perspective, it is a lot of extra work—and I would find Walt at random less satisfying to write (and See also…, Caveat lector, Information wants to be free, Blue skunk blog and a few dozen more of my favorite liblogs less satisfying to read) if the bloggers “stayed on topic” and made sure they didn’t mix the personal and the professional. Even journals have editorials, and I frequently find letter columns and more-personal columnists to be the best parts of “serious” media.
Steve Lawson thought about it and posted “Sensibility” on January 21, 2008 at See also… (stevelawson.name/seealso/). Some of Lawson’s comments:
I agree that posting more just for the sake of posting more can easily lead to a noisy blog. If those “additional” posts are just the proverbial cat photos, or brief comments on things I have already seen linked elsewhere, it’s going to get very noisy very fast. If it is all your del.icio.us links or your twitter feed, chances are I have already unsubscribed…
[Lawson notes bloggers with “voice” he finds interesting—even when they mostly publish links.]
It’s not just voice that makes me stick with a blog. It has something to do with signal-to-noise ratio, and something to do with the flâneur’s ability to make the act of just wandering around noticing things into a work of art…
This quality that keeps me reading a blog–I’m going to call it “sensibility” instead of “voice.” If you have a better word for it, let me know.
If someone has a sensibility that I find fascinating or sympathetic or usefully irritating, I’d love for them to blog more, assuming that they can keep that sensibility honed. The occasional cat photo or link to something on BoingBoing is fine, but if I’m subscribed to your blog, I’m mostly interested in you and the kind of thing that only you would write, or that no one else I follow would point out on the web. As long as you stay attuned to that sensibility, you can’t go off topic.
(Yes, I finally looked it up: “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.” I know—if I was sufficiently cultured, I wouldn’t need to look it up.)
What to say about all this? Some of it I’ve already said: Don’t blog when you don’t have something to say (although that “something” can be silly—I’ve posted cat pictures too), and don’t blog out of a sense of obligation. Length only matters at the extreme: Too-short posts can be frustrating, and very long posts need to be well-written and, preferably, organized with subheadings, or you’ll lose some of your readers.
As for frequency, I believe it’s now fairly clear that the easiest way to lose readers is to post too often—and that, with aggregators, relatively infrequent but interesting posts can be compelling and lead to ever-larger readership. What’s relatively infrequent? That depends on who you are and how you write.
Just to throw in real-world numbers, consider 115 liblogs I’d consider widely-read. In a three-month period, more than half had at least two posts a week—but 20 had less than one post a week. As for average post length? Of the 95 I could measure, 24 had relatively brief posts (200 words or less, with five under 100 words per post), and most had medium-length posts (200 to 500 words)—but there were eight widely read blogs with posts averaging more than 600 words, including three exceeding 950 words per post. Conclusion? Content matters. Length and frequency, not so much.
It isn’t that Meredith Farkas writes about bloggers so much (well, she does, but…), it’s that what she says is frequently worth repeating. Take this February 10, 2008 post at Information wants to be free. She notes the power of word-of-blog marketing and that many groups reach out to bloggers to market their products.
Only most of them do it terribly.
I get bombarded with marketing requests on an almost daily basis. I sometimes even get sent books and other items. There’s no way I could possibly read or examine all of the products I’m being asked to look at. And for the most part, I don’t look at any of them because their marketing pitches are so bad…
She shows excerpts of one typical pitch, one that clearly represents no awareness of what Farkas’ blog is about (the message says she’s “focused on children’s education”). The message also included the URL of the blog in an email to the blogger—and, as Farkas says, “It was so obvious that this was a lame form letter to get bloggers to link to their product… It’s insulting to the intelligence of bloggers. No one likes to be manipulated like this, and I can’t imagine that most people who received this email actually wrote about the product.” Worse, as she notes, is when marketers try to push products via blog comments—in other words, spam.
But Farkas isn’t just grousing; that’s probably what I’d do (and have probably done), but fortunately I’m a D-list blogger and don’t get that many pitches. (Also, I’m very fast with the Delete click.) She offers “tips for marketing to bloggers.” Leaving out the details (this is a 1,651-word post: Nothing wrong with a long post that has something to say!), here are her six tips (in bold, with my paraphrased brief notes):
▪ Do your homework. Read the blog posts; make a list of bloggers who are likely to relate to your product based on what they write.
▪ Do make it personal. Which, among other things, means not sending out a letter “signed” by a CEO and clearly emailed by a flunky…and, oh yes, not putting the URL of the blog in the post as a form of “personalization.”
▪ Don’t ask them to link to you, write a review about you, or spread the word about you. Leave it to the blogger to be excited enough to write about it.
▪ Do ask their opinion of the product. “People want to feel like they’re wanted for their insights, not for their blog.”
▪ If you do make a “fan” of a blogger, don’t ask too much of them or make them feel they’re being taken advantage of. She gives a detailed example—and, speaking as one sometimes on “the other side,” this is awfully easy to do.
▪ Do make this sort of marketing just one part of a conversation with your community of users (and potential users). There’s a lot more to social media than press releases.
Interesting stuff. I don’t have a lot of commentary to add, although, wearing my PLN hat, I do wonder about the boundaries and may sometimes step over them—but I think it’s only the third bullet that I may have problems with.
Wayne Bivens-Tatum had some fun with one of those “X things you should do” lists in this April 7, 2008 post at Academic librarian (blogs.princeton.edu/librarian/), in this case “10 questions every blogger should ask themselves before posting.” Before noting some of the questions and portions of Bivens-Tatum’s responses, I have to quote a couple of sentences from the authoritative post—on a blog about “copywriting tips for online marketing success,” suggesting that it’s professionally written with great care (the blogger says we should spend much more time editing than writing):
To help you in these crucial editing stages, we thought we would lay down some important questions bloggers can ask themselves so they can make an honest, constructive and critical appraisal of their work before posting it up for the world to see. Asking these simple questions could mean the difference between a hastily written blog article that remains obscure and a well-written, influential and accessible blog that courts a loyal audience with ease.
I wouldn’t comment on the sheer clunkiness of those sentences if this was an ordinary blog post, where I’d assume they were written on the fly. But given the source and insistence on importance of editing, the lack of agreement in the second sentence (is it an article or a blog?) is problematic—and “lay down some important questions” and “posting it up for the world to see” nearly inexcusable. Copywriting is apparently writing to sell—and at this point, I’m completely unsold.
Anyway, some of the questions—which are supposed to be for “every blogger,” not just “every blogger whose primary concern is getting a big audience and Making Big Bucks from Blogging”—with portions of B-T’s responses (he responds to all ten):
“2. Does my blog offer something novel or unexpected?”
That’s a tough one. I guess it depends on what you expect. If you expect something concise and topical like Library Stuff, then no… This is just stuff I think about.
“4. Why should my readers trust me?”
I guess “because I say so” doesn’t work well as an answer. Because I can write coherent paragraphs? Because I work in a library? Do I care if you trust me? After all, I’m not trying to sell you insurance or anything.
“5. Does my content speak to people on a human level?”
Something tells me the answer to this question is “no,” especially since the writer interprets “human” as “emotional.”..
“7. Does my content cover what needs to be discussed or answered?”
Probably not, because hardly anything I write about really needs to be discussed or answered.
“10. Am I reaching out for support?”
Not really, but I’ve always been something of a loner. The exposition continues, “Writing content with their interests in mind, as well as the interests of your readers, can help boost your blogging authority if said experts find your articles useful.” I doubt I have much of a blogging authority, though I suppose I’m sort of an authority about something library-related, but probably not any more so than most of my readers, who are, after all, librarians.
“You should always have an active interest in the social networking community and be willing to express it in your posts—either by explicitly mentioning other blogging/bookmarking talents or by editing your content so that it is more bookmark friendly.” I don’t do much of that, either, do I, and I’m not sure I could because I cringe when “talent” is used as a noun to describe a person…
B-T notes that he got to the post via my blog (and American Libraries Direct). I commented that I didn’t link to the original post because I didn’t think much of it (but wanted to note Rochelle Mazar’s comments on it). I also noted, “If you plan to be a professional blogger, you’re probably doing it all wrong, but it’s pretty clear you’re no more planning that than I am.” We both talked about “bookmark friendly,” and I’ll admit that I did change the WordPress settings for Walt at random so post URLs now include post titles instead of page numbers. Mark Lindner also noted that some bloggers “do this because we want to and not for any of the reasons assumed” by Jakob Nielsen or in articles like this.
My own post, “Why do you blog?” appeared on March 30, 2008. I linked to Rochelle Mazar’s post on the ten questions, which pretty much settles the issue in the first paragraph: “I’d say the first question any blogger should ask is whether he or she wants to take advice from an online marketing blog, but that’s not on the list of questions.” Mazar has much more to say… My reaction had been “Geez, another list posited on the basis that all blogs are essentially marketing blogs.” I dismissed the ten questions almost immediately, and focused on one of Mazar’s own suggestions (regarding pseudonymity and anonymity)—and, as she clarified, we were disagreeing because we were talking about different fields.
That’s the title of Laura “Rikhei” Harris’ April 25, 2008 post at Llyfrgellydd (llyfrgellydd.info), but the post covers more territory. The initial setup deals with a monthly meeting of research and instruction librarians at her place of work:
A colleague had come across a recent blog post about my presentation at this year’s Computers in Libraries, and wanted to discuss whether this kind of feedback is something we should include when considering contract renewal and promotions... The discussion also encompassed whether or not to include blogging in general.
My conclusion, and I think (hope) the conclusion of the larger group, was that blogging as authorship should not be evaluated unless the person being evaluated asks it to be considered, and that comments made by other bloggers (or even respondents to a particular entry) not be considered in general. [Emphasis added.]
Harris discusses the need for context in evaluating a blog—and that, to her knowledge, other academic discussions of whether to include blogs in promotion reviews have generally concluded that “blogging…is not of the same caliber as peer-reviewed publications.”
When I’m not in a slightly cynical mood (the one that says peer review doesn’t determine whether an article will be published, only where it gets published), I agree—but “not of the same caliber” doesn’t mean “not worthy of consideration,” or at least shouldn’t. Nor does Harris. More of what she says:
I don’t think this means blogging is entirely irrelevant to workload… I liaise with the statistics department at my place of work, and I have a blog to let them know the titles of statistics titles I’ve purchased, and about other relevant resources I come across. Honestly, it doesn’t seem that successful as a blog…but a few faculty members in the department have expressed pleasure at its existence, including the chair of the department. This is something I feel I’d like to share at my own review—not to say, “Look, this is comparable to publication!” but to say, “Hey, look at this way that I reached out to my faculty members.”
I also think blogging could be construed as service, like participation on a committee. For example, the Free Government Information blog occasionally asks for guest bloggers. I read this blog to keep up to date on information relevant to (one of) my subfields, and thus, I would say that the people who blog there provide me, and other members of the government documents community, with a service.
I have also been thinking about reading blogs… Nowadays, I probably have more science and government documents blogs than librarian blogs in my feed reader, because I’m using blogs as one tool to familiarize myself with my subject areas. In looking at my workload, I’m more likely to think about blog-reading as “liaison work” than I am to think about it as “technology” (keeping up with, that is)…
Blogging is still a novel means of communication for some people, but I think we need to stop thinking about whether or not it’s an effective means of scholarly communication and focus on the fact that it is an effective way of communicating several kinds of information that remain relevant to our workload as academics (or at least as librarians).
T. Scott Plutchak wrote a comment generally agreeing. Among other notes, he says: “I wouldn’t support a promotion from Assistant to Associate if someone had nothing to show except their blogs, but as part of a well-rounded portfolio I think they can play an important role.”
In a very different vein, we have Ryan Deschamps’ July 26, 2008 post at The other librarian (otherlibrarian. wordpress.com), or rather the first of the three “briefs” (things that Deschamps didn’t feel required a full post to describe). The other two are worth reading, but fall into different categories, ones I’m not likely to discuss.
The first, though, is “Are you ready for your blog?” and in it Deschamps says some things people need to hear—things that aren’t said often. Here’s nearly all of that section:
One of the things that is overstated about web-based promotion is ROI—the idea that you put little work into a website and return pretty good results nonetheless. With blogs, this idea has become even more apparent since with typical WYSIWYG editors, you literally just have to type into a box to make a web post happen.
[On[ the institutional side of things, it’s not so easy… When you open a blog for yourself, there is little to no brand associated. You can pretty much use any template and away you go. Institutions need to manage brands, reputation, target markets and quality assurance. If you want your business or institution to be successful, it cannot look like every other blog... Even though web presence has little to do with product/service development, people will associate poor writing on a website with the quality of a product or service. Libraries cannot afford to have their services downgraded because of poor web content. In short, you need to add a whole lot of editing, design and marketing time to the denominator of your ROI.
If you are an institution, you need content before you establish your web presence. A blog that has been doing nothing for a month will look bad. Take a look at what happened to Google when they left their Google Librarian blog to sit for a while. This does not work the same for individual blogs. Go away for a month as an individual and people will just think you are on vacation or something. Those same users will have higher expectations for your library, however. If you want to start a blog, you need to commit 52 pieces of 800 words or better per year. Then you need to manage spam, comments etc. In short, add the costs of content creation and management to the denominator of your ROI equation as well.
In the end, the ROI is still going to look good—just not as good as most people assume. If you do not put some time and money into the denominator of the ROI equation, the numerator will be zero—or worse, it will do damage to your library/company.
In other words, when it comes to official library blogs, “Just do it!” is bad advice. You need to think through the template and its relationship to your institution; you need to be sure the writing is worthy of your library…and you need followthrough.
In comments, Deschamps noted that “800 words” wasn’t a strict guidelines (500 words would do as well). He’s really saying you need to be prepared to write a fairly steady stream of substantive posts for a library blog to be regarded as worthwhile.
I did a little checking against a spreadsheet representing 232 academic library blogs during March-May 2007 (noting that many of those blogs aren’t really designed to be read as standalone blogs). Since I covered one quarter, I looked for blogs with at least 13 posts during the quarter: 133 of the 231. Then I looked at those among this group whose posts averaged 800 words or more. Zero. Dropping to 500 words or more, I found three.
Using a more generous measure, I looked for blogs that had at least 13 posts and totaled enough words to constitute 13 800-word posts (since a blog could reasonably mix essays and brief items). I found eight plausible candidates.
Bottom line? Very few visible academic library blogs meet Deschamps’ criteria for followthrough. That may be OK, but one does wonder how many library blogs really have been started on a “just do it” basis—and whether that’s good or bad for the library. I nibble at this a little more in the essay “Blogs and libraries” on the PALINET Leadership Network (pln.palinet.org). Here’s a bit of my take on the issue, after a brief discussion of just how easy it really is to “just do it”—particularly since you don’t even have to write your posts in the blog software’s editing box (for most popular blogging software, you can post directly from Word2007, for example):
For a personal blog, it may be that simple. Start it, and if you find you really didn’t have much to say, you can always delete it or stop posting. If you haven’t publicized it, chances are nobody will notice that you’ve stopped.
For a library blog, though, a little more consideration may make sense:
▪ If you publicize a blog and it goes for long periods with no new items, it makes the library look sloppy or moribund.
▪ If you don’t publicize a blog, nobody will be aware of it and it won’t do anybody any good.
That doesn’t mean you need an extended multimonth planning process or a blogging task force. It does mean that you should think through a couple of things before you start a blog that’s officially part of your library and its web presence:
▪ Purpose: There’s nothing wrong with a multipurpose library blog--particularly in a smaller library--but you should define the general purpose of a blog before you start it. That may help guide your choice of name and even look.
▪ Followthrough: You should have clear commitments to prepare entries for the blog, frequently enough to make sense for your community, for long enough to give the blog a fair trial. I’d suggest a commitment for at least six months of posts. Frequency depends on the size of your library and nature of the post, but the blog should be active enough to make your library look as vibrant as it actually is. On the other hand, except for functional blogs such as new materials lists or mirrors of newspaper columns, you probably shouldn’t aim for a fixed frequency; posts should appear when they’re appropriate, not only when it’s time.
▪ Publicity: You do need to let people know about the blog, unless it’s an invisible blog (e.g., an events blog that automatically shows up on your home page). While blogging can increase your web presence in unexpected ways, as web search engines tend to index blog posts, you won’t gain a community audience without letting them know the blog’s there.
▪ Starting small: Don’t overthink library blogs. That can lead to establishing half a dozen different blogs (or many more!) before you’ve determined that blogs work well within your community. It’s not a given...but it is pretty much a given that one lively blog will serve your library better than half a dozen rarely-updated blogs.
It’s easy to add more blogs. It’s a little more difficult to shut down blogs that don’t work, unless a dying blog ends with a link to a new and better blog--or with a post that explains why the blog has ceased and what other service takes its place.
You should shut down a blog that isn’t working, with an appropriate ending message and, if possible, link. Shutting down a minor blog and adding the content to a more widely-read blog? That’s easy: A final post can say what’s happening and link users to the retained blog. Ending your blogging experiment entirely? That’s a little more difficult...and maybe you should see why the blog isn’t working before you give up.
There’s more to that post—and a first-rate related article (even if I did write it!), “Blog or wiki—which tool to use?” Go read them, and join PLN if you’re not already a member.
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