Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Booknote: Weblogs and Libraries

Title: Weblogs and Libraries
Author: Laurel A. Clyde
Publication Information: Rollingsford, NH: Chandos Publishing, 2004
ISBN: 1-84334-096-8
181 pages
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, Internet, Weblogs and blogging, libraries

On a side note, I am listening to Pandora as I am typing this. Eurythmics came up, followed by Erasure. Now, on to the booknote.

On initial reading, this book is already showing its age. Though published in 2004, a significant portion of the information it provides and the details it describes are already dated. This is not the author's fault, but it is simply a reflection of the fact that the blogosphere has grown and changed dramatically since the book's publication. I think this is pretty much a risk for books about the Internet and cyberspace.

Having said this, the book does have some useful elements. First, readers can get a sense of history, where things come from. Second, it does provide some useful tips for beginners. The book looks at almost every aspect of blogging from rationales to tools to management. It then applies this to the library world. For libraries, and librarians, considering whether to have a blog or not, this book provides some guidance.

What I found most useful was in "Chapter 7: Managing the Library Weblog." The rest of the book I read quickly, scanning most of the way. A lot of the stuff I knew already, and it is probably material any experienced biblioblogger knows. However, chapter 7 made me pause and think.

I paused because the chapter provides questions to keep in mind when setting up and then maintaining a library blog. We are talking here about an official library blog, not the one a librarian like me would keep for personal reasons or professional development. However, I did find myself thinking about my own blogs, revisiting the question of purpose and thinking about maintanance, keeping the blogs interesting and up-to-date. I have learned that it is easy to set up a blog, but it takes work and commitment to keep a blog active.

I also paused because I thought about my library's blog (the main one is here. This one we use for news and announcments. Do note we have three other blogs, which you can find linked at the main blog). My library said yes to the question of whether it should have a blog or not. The book chapter suggests some things to consider about planning and implementing a blog. One suggestion is to identify potential users. For my own blogs, I have a somewhat reasonable idea of who reads them. It is not a perfect idea since now and then I may run the Technorati search (or other tool) and find a rare link that seems odd (ok, not odd, more like, hmm, how did that person find me?). However, for the library's blogs I wonder. They are linked on our website, so any user can get to them, but do they really? Also, in classes where I may mention casually that I have a blog, I get a good number of students asking what is a blog. Some of them probably don't know, but I think a good number of them have seen blogs. They are just not aware that what they saw is a blog. I am thinking, as one example, many of the users of MySpace. I use this example because I had a student ask me in relation to the blog reference, "is that like MySpace?" I replied that it was. Yes, we could get technical, but why would we in that case? At any rate I wonder how can my library's blogs reach the students if many do not know what a blog is. Education and marketing seem good answers, but they are only a start.

What about the faculty? I know many use our databases remotely, so they visit our website. Do they look at the blogs while they visit? Now this I would like to know. What I could do for starters is to ask the faculty in my subject area.

Then, there are decisions about content. When my library decided to implement blogs, certain content decisions were made based on what the blog was for, say news versus business subject area items. Clyde gives a list of possible content sources, which include:
  • "content created within the library, for example news items related to library activities, functions to be held in the library, news items in the library, new items in the library collection, media releases generated by the library, book reviews written by library staff. . ."
  • "content and links selected from among the material available on the Internet. . ."
  • "content provided by readers of the weblog, for example through comments on posts. Other content provided by readers might include book reviews, local news items, information about Internet resources or other information relevant to the topic or theme or readership of the weblog" (151).
Some of these we do already, yet there is so much more that could be done, in my estimation. Just one idea: I was recently talking to a colleague who mentioned how bad it is to get campus events information from the university's website. By the way, this is common knowledge in my library and much of the campus, so I am not saying anything disparaging. However, that is another story. Now, I mentioned that we could announce some of those campus events, like those for Women's Month, on our news blog. It would provide information in a place that is easy to find, serve as a public service announcement, and give us a bit more visibility. I think it may also help build some goodwill. We'll see.

In regards to ongoing maintenance and management of a library blog, Clyde gives some things to consider including:
  • "ongoing evaluation of the extent to which the weblog meets user needs. . ."
  • "regular updating of content. . ."
  • "training of library staff and users. . ."
  • "ongoing publicity and promotion of the weblog" (158-159).
In terms of budgeting, Clyde points out the usual considerations for money, equipment, and technology. However, there is also:
  • "staff time necessary for monitoring the weblog and responding to comments, e-mail messages and other queries. . ."
  • "staff time necessary for creating weblog content. . "
  • "staff time necessary for supporting any interactivity. . ."
  • "costs of continuing professional development activities for library staff (if necessary). . ." (160).
What do you mean "if necessary"? Continuing professional development is a necessity. Anyhow, I wanted to point out the time element, which I think many of those who jump into a blog, personal or institutional, may underestimate.

Clyde additionally gives ideas for promoting a library's weblog. She mentions that listing in directories and search engines is a good step (161). As someone who took the time to do some of this, I have mixed feelings. I don't think it makes that much of a difference since directories vary greatly in quality; search engines for blogs may be getting better, but even Technorati leaves a lot to be desired. However, it can't hurt to register in some appropriate places. Other ideas on promotion from Clyde's book:
  • "Ensure that all stationery used by the library or information agency, all business cards and all e-mail electronic signatures carry the URL of the library weblog" (161).
Which reminds me, maybe I need to put my blog and IM information on my next set of business cards.
  • "Create print materials that will advertise or promote the weblog--for example, small brochures, bookmarks, stickers, postcards" (162).
Which now reminds me that we ran out of that nice library bookmark I designed that we used to give out. This may be a good time to redesign it so as to add the library blog's URL. It also reminds me it may be a good time to design one of those librarian trading cards. With a good design, I could have all my contact information on a nice card for my students. It would certainly be cooler than the company issue business card I have now.

At the end of chapter 7, Clyde addresses evaluation of the weblog project. She says that for weblogs the evaluation will be mostly formative (ongoing, at stages). Two of the questions to ask when evaluating your weblog:
  • "Is the weblog fulfilling the aims that were established for it? Are those aims still appropriate?"
  • "Who is actually using the weblog and why? Are they the people for whom the weblog was originally designed?" (164).
Overall, my first impulse for advice to libraries considering a blog is to go online. Go find some examples of library blogs. Read some of the work that expert librarians in the blogosphere have written in this regard. Doing this will likely assure that more current information is found. However, if these are not viable options, this book can provide some initial guidance.

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