Monday, December 17, 2007

Article Note: On blogs for community building and networking

Citation for the article (as provided by author):

Wiebrands, Constance (2006) Creating community: The blog as a networking device, in ALIA 2006 Biennial Conference, Perth, 19-22 September 2006.

I read it online.

This is one of the best explanations of why librarians should be blogging that I have seen in a while. In simple and plain language, Constance Wiebrands, who blogs over in Ruminations as CW, gives us a good summary of reasons why blogging is more than just an online journal. It is a tool for conversations and reflection. It is a way for us to engage each other in the librarian community. It is also a way for libraries to engage with their communities. That certainly was a reason why we started a blog here at my workplace. We are striving to build a conversation with our academic community.

As I always do, I will make some notes for myself. However, I do recommend for others to go and read this paper. In fact, printing it out and handing it to administrators may be a good idea too.

  • "The central argument of this paper is that librarians should seriously consider blogging as a useful and viable way of interacting and conversing with each other, and with the communities we serve." This is pretty straightforward, and I think over time it has been proven. All we need to do is take a look at the librarian sector of the blogosphere.
  • CW draws on the work of J. Bechtel for the idea of conversations. She uses it to make her call to librarians: "Continuing with Bechtel's conversation paradigm, librarians need to participate fully in the conversations within each individual library, between the library and the library's users, and within the wider community." This goes along with CW's idea on building trust, where she looks at how the business world has been using blogging to humanize itself. Blogging can also serve as a way to lead by example. That one I have to think about a bit more myself. I certainly don't see myself leading anyone anywhere in these meandering notes. However, CW cites Jonathan Schwartz CEO of Sun Microsystems who "suggests that by blogging he creates a culture of openness and transparency that can 'build loyalty and be a recruitment tool to boot' (J. Schwartz, 2005, p.30)." Now this I can definitely see. For me, blogging has been a way to be a bit more transparent and open, and it is open I often keep somewhere in my mind as I blog: how much open and how transparent should I be. For libraries, this is definitely important as it can be a way to dispel mysteries and make our libraries more familiar.
  • I find it interesting to note that ALIA sanctions blogging as a form of professional development. Would it not be nice if our professional organizations and workplaces did the same? And I don't mean just under the radar as some workplaces do. I mean actually taking a stand and saying that yes, this is proper and valid for professional development, and we believe in promoting it.
  • "Another vital use of blogging is the sharing of information and ideas and the facilitation of discussion." Blogs can be great tools for information and knowledge management.
  • "Similar to the book review (also well represented on blogs), the review of research and professional literature is a growing area with more and more librarian bloggers posting reviews of journal articles and books on topics in librarianship. This can be very useful way for librarians to discuss research and its application in our libraries." Indeed, a good number of librarians out there post their book reviews. A lot of them happen to be YA librarians, at least from what I have seen. As for reviewing the professional literature, many do provide good guidance on what to read and what to avoid, so there is a sort of digest function.
  • "For the individual librarian, maintaining a blog and writing posts for it can function as writing practice." This is one reason why I blog.
  • CW gives a reassuring note as well: "One does not need to actually maintain a blog to participate in the conversation. Active reading and commenting on others' blogs can be as stimulating and interesting as actually maintaining one's own blog." I think this is important to say because some out there may feel pressed to create a blog. Blogging is not for everyone, and that is perfectly cool. If you think it may work for you, give it a try. Nowadays it is very easy to try it out given the many free tools out there (assuming Internet access is available). But if it is not for you, that is fine too. However, you should still be reading the blogs. A lot of the best thinking in our profession is happening on blogs right now. You should be reading it and responding. Commenting is certainly a valid and welcome way to engage in the various conversations.
  • CW also mentions that a blog can serve as a content management system. This is something I have been giving some thought here in terms of an internal blog for reference and knowledge management. One idea that occurs to me, in the web edition of Wordpress, using those extra pages you can develop for certain topics or guides. Something I should explore further. CW is citing a British librarian on the role of the academic librarians:
    • "'One role which academic librarians can provide is to manage that content and take an active role in discovering and disclosing information relevant to academics, students, and the university community in general. ...[the blog can be] used not just for transmission of information, but for critical commentary and for the creation and authoring on new ideas.'"
    • I think the above pretty much says it all. Clearly, it will take some work, but I have faith we can get there.
So, this paper gives a good amount of food for thought for potential bloggers as well as for library managers and administrators.

P.S. In the interest of disclosure, I am one of the bloggers who was surveyed for the paper. However, it was Connie Crosby's observation, quoted on the paper, on blogging as good publicity that I think provides a little more to think about. Like me, she does not identify her firm (she works for a law library), yet her blogging has given her employer good publicity. I try to keep the references to my workplace to a minimum, but when I do refer to it, I try to reflect on it positively. Anyways, for me, I have come to realize that blogging helps to build my professional reputation. OK, I know; it's not that great of a reputation, but I know that when I was in the market this time around that people did look at my blog. So there must be something to that.

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