Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Presentation Notes: On blogs at a small academic library

Again, I am doing some catching up. I got Pandora running last Saturday and took some time to look over a couple of presentations from the HigherEdBlogCon. The better half was working, so I had some time to be productive. I read over the "Blogging at a Small Academic Library" presentation by Natalie Forshaw, Karen Jensen, and Ilana Kingsley. I also read over Chad Boeninger's "Blogs, Wikis, and IM: Communication Tools for Subject Specialists," but I will post on that one later. The Forshaw presentation was interesting to me for what I could learn to use in my own academic setting, where we have a set of library blogs.

The presentation is done on a blog, which makes it very easy to read through, plus it illustrates use of a blog. The presentation authors consider three types of blogs: a training tool for circulation workers, a blog for liaison work in the English area, and one for the reference librarians. Personally, I am more interested in the latter two given they are things I could use, but I learned a bit from their discussion of the training blog. I was already thinking a little about this after looking over Johnson's presentation on "Subject Librarian 2.0." I may need to go back and review that.

In regards to the circulation blog, the authors point out the blog's use as a record of communication. This would be something I would appreciate in a reference blog. For us, this could be a place to note frequent reference questions, assignments, policies, and some incidents in one central location that could be searched as well. An issue for us would be privacy, as this would be for the librarians. Maybe password protection and secure posts? Just speculating at this point. Another issue would be getting the librarians to use it without making them feel that one is adding "yet another thing to look at." I do think this could have an advantage over the various e-mails one has to remember to keep in a folder, which is done haphazardly. All I have to do is ask around to find varying degrees of keeping such types of information. A blog might be a way to centralize this. Yes, I said it, centralize. When it comes to policies, everyone should be on the same page. We should not be saying, "oh yea, it was in that e-mail from last semester." You know, it's the one e-mail no one can find now. That's just one example.

When discussing the reference/service blog, the authors remark that only six of the reference staff had posted (as of the posting's writing). This is an issue for us: getting more librarians to post. Our Engineering Technology Librarian has an Engineering Technology subject blog, and she does a pretty good job of posting to it. However, we have other blogs that sit without regular updates other than the latest technology downtime news. I should note that as of this writing, there have been some postings (maybe some psychic confluence?), which is good. This includes the bright note that the Director, who is one of the our two business liaisons, rediscovered the Business blog and began posting again. She e-mailed some of her faculty announcing the new content, and she got some good feedback. Now, it is necessary to keep it up. I do have to claim some fault with this for I don't post as much as I could when it comes to our institutional blogs. I have access to the News blog, the one we use mostly for library announcements, and to the Books blog, the one we use for highlighting new books and some book-related news like awards. For me, a feeling of formality is a problem. Intentional or otherwise, I feel that I have to ask permission. So many things I might post on a whim I just post to my professional or personal blogs.

Overall, I can attest that blogging does require some sense of commitment, but I have some leeway in a personal blog. In something more official, if you build the expectation, you have to keep at it. Overall, while my initial impulst would be to get all the librarians blogging, I know this won't happen for various reasons. So, realistically, we should nurture and encourage those with the inclination, talent, and eye for blogging. I think for the Business Cornerstone classes, a core class that is one of our big instruction clients, the business blog can be a good resource if cultivated and marketed well, but it needs content to market. On the feedback the Director received, one of her readers told her that he would be adding the blog to his syllabus. Now that is a good start we can build upon. In the future, I would envision using wikis for guides in those classes, maybe using the current print guide as a starting point. This may or not require additional staff training. Personally, I have a sense of who is savvy enough or not, but since a lot of things are compartmentalized, it is just that, a sense. Maybe we also need to look at issues of focus when it comes to our blogs. By the way, I am not averse to letting something stagnant die a quiet death, preferably swift as well, but for this I just think we have a case of underutilization combined with a feeling of "yet another thing to do." Just my guess from the trenches.

The author's subject blog is dedicated to English studies. This caught my eye since freshman composition classes make up the bulk of our instructional services. Like the example, we could use such a blog to provide research hints and links to resources for those classes. I jumped over to our website as I was looking over this presentation, and I think we could use a general research guide for freshman composition. Maybe it's time for me to talk to someone at the Writing Center for some collaborative possibilities. Therein lies the rub for me. I keep coming up with all these seemingly neat ideas. Heck, if I do a search of my blog, I probably have a trail of ideas with a notation to revisit or look over later. Coming up with the ideas is easy. Adding them to my perpetual list of things to do is not so easy. I suppose I need to remind myself that I am a guerrilla kind of librarian: small objectives, one at a time, hit and run, live for the next day. But I am disgressing.

In the example, the authors mention that the English blog is used more as a webpage, but it also serves as a communication tool between the liaison and the department. Maybe there's applicability to my Arts and Humanities subject area. I love their long term ideas for the English blog, particularly the one for a creative writing section where students could post their own work. I would be curious as the the authors are if such a section would attract users to the blog. It does sound like a good community building idea.

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