November 09, 2003

The "New Breed" of Library Weblogs

My next column in Public Libraries Magazine is about weblogs written by librarians. I received permission from ALA to print the article in its entirety here. Thank you everyone who agreed to be interviewed.

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When Walt Crawford published his article on librarians who maintain weblogs in his column The Crawford Files in the October 2001 issue of American Libraries, there was only a handful to mention. I was one of the librarians that Crawford interviewed for the column and was proud to be mentioned in such company as LISnews, and Librarian.net, to name a few. Crawford’s column delved into an introduction of weblogs, the making of a weblog, and the reasons behind writing a weblog for the library community, all of which were fine for a piece on weblogs written two years ago. But, there have been changes in the library weblog world. Countless numbers of weblogs have been launched by information professionals, new technology has been utilized to post to and maintain a weblog for our profession, and the types of weblogs that have been started are, in effect, different than those that had been around before Crawford’s column was published.

I spoke at a national conference with Blake Carver in March 2002 on this topic which was entitled, “Weblogs: Their Impact on Delivering Information”. In the beginning of the presentation, I asked the audience, which consisted of at least 300 people, to raise their hand if they knew and understood weblog technology. Only 30 out of the 300 attendees replied that they did. The rest wanted, and received, an explanation, which made the presentation a successful one. The next year, I was doing a presentation entitled, “Keeping Current in 40 Minutes or Less” at the same conference, and I asked the same question to a crowd of the same number, and only 10 or so people didn’t raise their hand.

The fact is, more and more librarians are writing down their ideas in weblog format. The differences that I have seen over the past few years with the new library weblog writers are worthy of discussion in this column, since this “New Breed” will bring much to the fray that is the library weblog world, that its successor generation will sure to forage from as well. Thus, our little “Blogosphere” will continue to expand and grow to limitless possibilities. While it is impossible to discuss all of the New Breeders, I did pick out 7 that I have been fond of throughout the past year that brings different ideas to the library weblog table. Thus, this column will not only display the new library weblog writers that have burst onto the scene, but the reasons why so many have done so.

There are many reasons more librarians have started focusing on weblog technology. Many started to work on the webmaster skills; while other wanted an outlet for their writing and felt that publishing to the Web via weblog technology was the easiest way to do it. Some do it for the fun of it, while others are trying to create a niche for themselves. (For more on these niches, see Marylaine Block’s article, entitled, “Creating Your Niche on the Net”). Jonathan, the writer behind Liberry Blooze laments, “When I started this blog in October of last year, I didn't see much in the way of library blogs that interested me. As with all types of blogs, my awareness of interesting library bloggers (and my own publicity) grew through linking. Word is getting around, more people are doing it, and I think blogging is a great, casual way to stay informed and sane.” Stephanie Wright of Technobiblio had a similar experience as she was “listening to librarians talk about how hard it is to keep track of what's going on with technology and how nice it would be to have info that was specific to what they were interested in.”

One is the differences between the “New Breed” and the “Old School” is that most of the new writers have experience as weblog readers. Anna, writer for Tangognat, relayed, “I'd been reading blogs for around a year before I decided to blog myself.” Some new weblog writers got their ideas via other professional development avenues. Michael Stephens, author of Tame the Web, “I started the Tame the Web Blog after returning from Computers in Libraries 2003 and hearing numerous speakers praise the usefulness of blogging, reading blogs and keeping current”. Those information professionals that started more than 3 years ago to write for the Web in weblog format were able to learn from others types of professionals who were already striving in the field (i.e IT people). The “New Breed” can utilize their own colleagues for this same purpose. Librarians learning from and helping other librarians. What a neat concept!!

Another issue that has come into play with new library weblog writers is that there is only a certain number of topics in librarianship that can be discussed. This has driven librarians to write about the issues that they are faced with on the job each day. Cathy Fahey of the Library Girl weblog mentions, “I started my blog because there didn't seem to be anything like it on the Web (blogs dealing with high school libraries and teen reading from an adult/educator perspective). Despite my efforts to actually write about teen reading, it's ended up being a place where I write about answers to reference questions, and linking to articles that I pass on to faculty and staff.” Nat, who writes the hilarious I Contemplate weblog relayed, “One thing I noticed was all of them (or so it seems) were by librarians, or at least individuals with MLS degrees. None of them were by the "ordinary" paraprofessionals, the library assistants or clerks. You know, the guys on the front line of public service who tells patrons how much they have in overdue fines.”

I have always been of the notion that the more library workers (including para-professionals that make our libraries run smoothly) that write about their experiences in their building, the more that workers similar to theirs can learn from them. While the number of weblogs continues to grow, and the time it takes to read them increases, it would be useful to become more focused in our writing as well as in our reading. Subject specific weblogs in the library community are growing at a quick and exponential pace. With Greg Schwartz, I have started LIS Blogsource , a weblog about library weblogs which includes posts of newly created weblogs that are written by librarians. In a span of 2 months, we have had 60 new entries. Some of them are informational (dealing with the librarianship as a theme or sub-theme), and some are personal online journals that wouldn’t normally be noticed by the library community and occasionally dab into librarianship in the writing. They just happen to be written by librarians or library workers. Michael Simanoff mentions, “I've never been able to clearly delineate its focus, but it represents my varied interests, with posts on books, comics, music, librarianship, the Internet, and life in New York City.”

Greg Schwartz of Open Stacks mentions that his weblog “began largely as an academic experiment in daily web publishing, an opportunity to contribute my voice to the growing chorus of Internet faithful. In a few short months, it developed from a quiet home for my myriad interests into an ongoing journal of my training and development as a practicing professional.” It is common for the themes of library weblogs to change over the course of time, as the writer tries to settle into their new space, and sometimes, new found fame. It is common for the themes of library weblogs to change over the course of time, as the writer tries to settle into their new space, and sometimes, new found fame. Fredrich Emrich of Information Commons Weblog mentions, “As things have progressed, I have come to interpret this mission relatively broadly. Sometimes the posts on commons-blog deal with theoretical issues related to the information commons, other times they are driven by news events.”

Many of the newer library weblog writers find solace in the small but determined library weblog community, which did not exist 3 years ago. Greg Schwartz: “Through blogging, I’ve had the opportunity (and developed the confidence) to discuss issues and exchange ideas with a diverse and active group of LIS professionals. The community that has taken an interest in my writing inspires me to publish in other venues and has produced opportunities that would not have manifested otherwise.” With this sense of community comes a feeling of camaraderie that penetrates the barriers that exist within our physical buildings. Like Usenet and electronic discussion lists, weblogs have become an outlet for the average librarian to connect with others around the world, exchange ideas, and belong to a group. Fredrich Emrich explains, “I am also very pleased with the feeling of community that develops among webloggers. It isn't so much that I get warm and fuzzy feelings about online community when I blog. But because blogs make it very easy to link and refer to other information online, and because of the blog etiquette of telling where you saw something when you write about it in your blog, there is certainly a feeling of developing networks of information.” In addition, Anna writes, “I've met many new (virtual) colleagues, been inspired to learn about new technology, and I feel much more connected to librarianship as a blogger than I ever have before.”

Another aspect of the newer library weblog writers is the tendency towards anonymity. Sure, the weblog in its pure form allows that outlet of writing exactly how we feel about certain aspects of our jobs and personal lives and many do not want their identity revealed. Jonathan, the library worker behind Liberry Blooze decided to shut down his weblog in early September due to the breach of his identity. Luckily for me, an avid Liberry Blooze reader, he brought back his witty and intelligent site back online a few weeks later. Tangognat, who gave me the name Anna to use in this article, also does not tell her readers her full name, nor reveal where she works as a librarian.

On a last note, one aspect that any weblog writer (whether a “new breed” or not) should concentrate more on is the potential to use the weblog as a marketing tool for their professional career. Sure, many are only using it as a personal diary, but for those that, more often than not, discuss library issues, the potential for growth is enormous. For example, I wouldn’t be writing this column or speaking at national library conferences, if I hadn’t started writing professionally in my weblog 3 years ago. I have been lucky enough to have become well known in the library weblog world due to my constant work in updating my weblog on a daily basis, discussing major issue relevant in our profession, as well as continuously reinventing myself as writer. The newer weblog writers have the opportunity to expand themselves personally and, more importantly professionally by continuing their efforts as library weblog pioneers. Also, for those that haven’t started a weblog, but were pondering doing so, should get started right away. Step right up to the plate. Also, I am always available for any questions regarding any aspect of weblogs.

Posted by Steven at November 9, 2003 10:29 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Very nice article, Steven. Thanks for the mention.

Posted by: Frederick Emrich on November 11, 2003 01:11 PM

Great article, and thanks for the mention :)

Posted by: Cathy on November 12, 2003 01:52 PM

Nice article -- I must chime in and say having a professional weblog that made me look like I was on top of the profession and keeping track of what was happening probably helped me get a real library job after only being a freelance writer and blogger for so long. Good advice Steven.

Posted by: jessamyn on November 12, 2003 09:43 PM

Great article! From a current ordinary para-professional. :)

Posted by: Mel on November 14, 2003 09:02 AM

Excellent article...I myself visit library web logs more than LJ or AL. They have revolutionized
how I use the web. I would wish that every beginning library employee be given a basic intro
to library weblogs - both official and otherwise. I did a workshop for our state library
conference two years ago, discussing these library weblogs. One person who attended
did a similar workshop with me a year latter on providing alternative info to his patrons.
That library director recently won one of the three IMLS awards for "best public library"-
the Pocahontas County Free Libraries. Both of us agree that library weblogs - most importantly
LisNews, have changed how we feel about the profession.

Posted by: Steve Fesenmaier on November 14, 2003 02:02 PM

Let me be the first to say thanks for the mention.

Oh, wait. Let me be the second to...um, third to thank you for the mention.

Posted by: nat on November 15, 2003 04:24 PM

Rock On Steven...just revisited this article. Thanks for the mention and for turning me on to even more Library bloggers....

Posted by: Michael Stephens on December 9, 2003 06:26 AM
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