Monday, April 18, 2005

Should our librarians get a blog? Some thoughts

Before I came to work in Houston, I worked at other academic libraries. At one of the libraries I used to work at, they had a reference desk log. It was accessible online, and it was made on the libraries' servers, namely, not a commercial product like this one. For the librarians and me, the usual ritual when starting the desk shift was to check the log for any ocurrences, ongoing assignments, etc. It was basically a tool to be aware of what is going on at the desk. When I came to work here in Houston, I found my library did not have such a log, and while the topic has been bounced a few times, I get the impression it is not on the high end of the priorities list.

I should say that we are a small group of librarians here. We are eleven librarians, so very often we just tell each other when there is something going on. But this form of informing each other does not always make it up the chain. I can tell someone in the morning about a particular class assignment, or a particular issue, but if the rest of the librarians do not remember to keep passing it on, the note likely gets lost. We have a binder to put in copies of assignments. Usually we get the assignment copies from students who allow us to photocopy their sheet when they come in. I usually do this, ask students if they will let me copy their assignment if it looks like I will get a lot of questions from the same group of students. The copy is then placed in the notebook, where I make a note of due date and date I collected the copy. Some librarians may also put copies of assignments they may get through BI sessions they do. The challenge of the notebook is keeping it up to date and tidy. If not me, the Distance Ed. librarian usually takes out the old assignments after a reasonable length of time (whatever that may mean, which opens another question). As instruction librarian, I tend to collect assignments and syllabi as sample artifacts because I find them helpful so I can know what is going on with students and their classes. It seems we keep it informal since we are a small group, but for me at least, life would be a bit easier if assignments were kept more consistently. This is one of my little projects: building a small file of sample assignments for other librarians to use as reference.

Keeping track of assignments is easy compared to keeping track of other Information Desk issues. Since the flow is pretty much word of mouth, or internal e-mail on Outlook when a librarian remembers, it is not consistent. The Outlook option is usually used to report incidents such as problem patrons. We have no way to report on questions that keep coming back, if there are campus events we should be aware of, if I taught a class and need to tell the others about it (I could e-mail them, but e-mails have this way of getting lost once people read them. If they don't file them, they likely delete them).

Concerns about making some kind of blog or desk journal have been logistics and access. One, how to make one? I can understand that. Making a webpage for one would not be a simple task, and I am sure I do not want to impose on the Web Content Librarian who has more than enough on his plate. As for access, placing it on the web could make it open to others, and this is something for our use only. What has not been suggested is using something like Blogger here. I have been doing a bit of browsing to see how other libraries handle this, and I have seen at least one library that keeps a reference blog through here. They set up a group for access, and then they post what they need to post. I think for us a concern might be if we have to name a problem patron for instance. In that case, I think sticking to e-mail for documentation works better (with all the caveats documenting such situations entail). But for basic reference issues, events, problems with a printer, etc. could work. Anyhow, at this point, it is just an idea for me prompted by the fact I just started using a blog myself. So, should we give it a try? At this point, I am not sure. I do know it works for me.

On an update note: I spent part of my morning doing some online searching on librarians and weblogs. In part, because I was interested in seeing what other librarians are doing out there with blogs, and in part to see if I found more information on how libraries use them. I found many interesting results doing a basic search on Google by typing in "library blogs" as my search terms. I found a nice listing of various library weblogs at this website, This page is part of LibDex, which according to its website, describes itself as "a worldwide directory of
  • library homepages,
  • web-based OPACs,
  • Friends of the Library pages, and
  • library e-commerce affiliate links.
The directory does not include links to terminal-based OPACs.

To be fair, I only looked at the weblogs list. I did seek for an about page, where I found the note I posted above. I always try whenever possible to see the About page of any website I visit. Overall, the list looks useful. I did find a few blogs of interest, which I bookmarked for later reading.

I also found an interesting article on how and why to use blogs to market library services. This was published by Information Today, and for now at least, it is at this website: I also found a nice piece on ethics for bloggers that was geared to librarians. The main point of the article seems to be that since librarians represent the profession through their online presence, they should be ethical and act like the professionals they are. So this means being accurate, being factual, not plagiarizing, and writing well. The author writes it much better than I do, but I am giving you the gist of it. You can find the article here: I do agree with most of it, especially the part about admitting to your biases and being accurate. It is something I try to achieve in my own blog. As for the part about not revealing one's name, I think that should be left to the blogger, especially if it is just a personal blog, and the blog is clearly labeled as such. For a more professional blog, knowing the blogger is nice, but in some situations, I might not be as bothered if their name is not there. For instance, if they say they are a librarian in a public library in Midwest Indiana, that is good enough for me pretty much (I am sure some librarians may not want their bosses to know they are blogging if they are doing it to vent over a bad situation. That whole pesky repercusions thing. Then again, this may fall under the personal blogging versus the standard bearing blog the author mentions). But I can see the author's view on it. Maybe it boils down to this. If you want to practice librarianship through blogging, then behave like a librarian. You want to simply post about your dog, the trip you took to the Adirondacks, and your beef with some political pundit, then go right ahead as well. Does this put higher standards on librarians? Sure does, but if we want to be treated as the professionals we are, we should act the part. Overall, there is plenty of information out there that I found useful.

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