Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 2

February 5, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Welcome back. I’m terribly sorry I missed a week and left you hanging between Part 1 and Part 2 like that. If you’d like to review the basics of a blog, here’s an outstanding short video from the folks at the Common Craft Show: Blogs in Plain English.

MEANING FOR LIBRARIES

Individuals start blogs for many reasons. A family member coping with a medical condition or treatment might post progress reports with far less time and trouble than daily emails to individual family and friends. The same is true for people striving for a goal (running marathons, climbing mountains, losing weight, opening a business) or keeping a travel diary.

Libraries can help these individual bloggers by providing access, start-up assistance, and reasonable ongoing support. Your library might consider offering a blogging class for the public. If kept simple, even a novice can create an attractive blog and understand the basics within a single hour workshop.

Within the library world, Librarians use blogs to share ideas and experiences, prepare for conferences, and report news and issues from those conferences. Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian, is one of the masters of live blogging — describing a presentation while it’s still underway.

Libraries can dive into blogging as institutions, too.

  • An active teen group might consider keeping a blog to talk about upcoming events or rehash the last one.
  • Staff interested in reader’s or viewer’s advisory can review new books, movies, or music available at the library and solicit patron feedback. Reviews should be honest, though. Proudly book talk, sure, but be willing to rag on something that deserves it, too.
  • Reference staff might contribute some chatter about new databases, tools, and invaluable resources.
  • Directors can become more connected to their communities by writing about current library issues (rearranging floor space, offering new services or programs, funding issues) in a conversational style. Tell the newspaper about it. The growing archive of transparent library operations could become an invaluable addition to their reputation.
  • My favorite idea for a blog: An employee of any rank with a talent for entertaining prose and a healthy awareness of the library’s need for decorum and patron privacy could amuse readers on any subject he/she cares to approach. (“Funny thing happened as we were packing up from storytime today…”)

These blogs need not reach a wide audience to be successful, but they will likely find a niche once they’re advertised and talked up at programs.

My personal belief is that blogs shouldn’t be viewed as tools unto themselves but as part of an overall interactive strategy; an extension of personal service in the library; informal communication with chance of feedback.

Of course, any blogs on the Internet might also attract readers outside your traditional service area. That’s okay. But local publicity and a steady focus on your target audience should maintain a healthy balance.

Want to browse more varieties? Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian recently listed 18 Different Kinds of Blog Posts.

LEARN MORE BY PARTICIPATING

Think about a blog you’d like to create.

  • Consider a topic. This could be a fun topic you use as practice, or a serious topic you plan to develop fully. Some ideas: hobbies, crafts, pets, experiences, traveling, reading interests, music, faith, politics, issue advocacy, etc. Just make sure it’s something you feel comfortable discussing in public!
  • Consider your audience. Who would you like to read your blog? (Examples: family, friends, coworkers, library patrons, fellow hobbyists, anyone?)
  • Consider a voice. How formal/informal do you want to be? You should write with your audience in mind.

Now create it!

  • Set up an account. There are many free platforms out there, but Blogger and WordPress are popular and have easy set-up processes. Blogging software can also be installed on a server of your choosing, too. Your library might have blog capabilities. Ask.
  • Paint the walls. Give it a name, choose a template (layout, colors, tools), and write a profile. Get comfortable with it.
  • Write a brief “Hello World” introductory post. Mention your objective. Be honest.
  • Post at least two other blogs over the course of the week. Practice your conversational voice and pacing. There’s no need to say everything at once. There’s always next time…
  • Solicit some feedback. Send your address to a few friends or coworkers and solicit their feedback.
  • Continue the blog indefinitely if you enjoy this exercise. Growing it may take some skill and marketing, but that’s another topic…

[Caution: Use your discretion how much personal information you are willing to divulge online. More on that in a future post.]

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Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 1

January 22, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Like the social networking topic we discussed a few weeks ago, blogging is simply too big to take in all at once. So much has been written about blogs that I’m a tad hesitant to add my text to the pile. For the sake of inclusion within this series, however, here goes. We’ll start today and continue with Part 2 next week.

People have been keeping private journals for centuries. A diarist might have carried on an ongoing conversation with himself and used it as a record of his thoughts and feelings as those thoughts and feelings developed. Authors, meanwhile, have written public works in books and periodicals for mass-consumption. The cost of production (i.e., materials and distribution) limited publishing access to writers with exceptional knowledge, skill, or monetary resources.

The Internet and easy-to-use software have removed the barriers to publication and the cultural shift that followed the advent of the social web has changed the nature of the journal-writing. Both effects may now be seen in blogs. A blog, by simple definition, is a journal maintained on the Internet. It was originally called a web log, then later shortened to weblog and finally, blog.

Setting up a blog and publishing to the world is free. It also requires no competency tests or admissions process. That’s bad in the sense that there’s a lot gunk out there that would have been filtered out by learned editors in the past. But it’s good because there are many gems that those editors would have rejected, too. Knowledge and skill play significant roles in whether the blog is widely read, but the audience can decide that. Assuming a writer has something to say and knows how to say it well, a blog can be an effective vehicle with which to express a point of view to the world. This can be done immediately at virtually no cost.

Some blog writers (a.k.a. bloggers) are online journalists, tracking traditional news in a nontraditional medium, or specializing in subjects that had no previous forums. Many bloggers are online diarists, making public what past generations would have kept private. And some bloggers post only for themselves, their friends, or family. They don’t seek vast audiences; they merely share with each other. Most bloggers allow readers to comment. They encourage it, in fact. It fosters discussion about the topic and lets everyone swap ideas and opinions.

The result of all this is a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal, and reaching audiences from millions worldwide to perhaps no one. The blogosphere (i.e., the collection of all blogs) is online self-publishing writ large. Anyone can participate as long as they’re interested.

PARTS OF A BLOG

  • Posts. The basic building blocks of a blog are the individual articles. They can very long — as long as the chapter of a book — or extremely brief. Some include links to other websites, photos, or video clips. Whatever their individual style, however, blog posts are usually displayed in reverse chronological order so that the newest posts appear at the top. Older entries get pushed down the page.
  • Comments. Blogs almost always allow readers to add or view comments. This invites everyone to get involved in the topic.
  • Tools. Often a blog has a collection of sidebar tools to aid the reader. These tools may include an archive of old postings, an author profile, and a “blog roll” of links to other blogs that the writer finds interesting.

Meaning for libraries

“Hmm,” the blogger murmurs while glancing at the length of this blog post and holding his fingers to his chin. “Let’s save this topic until Part 2.”

Learn more by participating

We’ll save the set-up and development of our own blogs for Part 2. Right now, let’s explore a bit. Visit a variety of blogs on two or three separate days this week (15-20 minutes each):

  • Obviously you’re already reading LibraryStream. Now visit a few of the library-related blogs listed in my blogroll in the right-hand margin. Explore, scroll, and click. Get a feel for the content and style of the various blogs.
  • Would you like to see more library blogs? There are many lists out there, including the blogrolls of other blogs. I encourage you to wander! I enjoy browsing Dave Pattern’s biblioblogosphere tag cloud for interesting new topics, too.
  • Want to break free of the library world? Go to Technorati or Google’s blogsearch and search any topic that strikes your fancy. Blogs are written about almost any subject you can imagine. See what’s out there.
  • Remember when I said that the blogosphere is “a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal”? I wasn’t kidding! 🙂

Now think about a blog YOU might create. Get your imagination humming. I’ll see you next week in Part 2.


Sharing the Bad

December 20, 2007

Meredith Farkas’s blog post a few days ago (Sharing the Bad Stuff, Learning from Failures) was a lot to take in. She was absolutely right: we need to share failures in the workplace. The library community needs to hear what doesn’t work in addition to what does. We need to learn from each other, good or bad.

Expressing the bad isn’t always easy, though. She wrote that “failure isn’t sexy. Disclosing problems isn’t good for your brand.” How true! Transparent libraries are still rare. If you speak on behalf of an organization, you have to watch your tongue. Even if you speak independently, you often feel obligated to err on the side of caution.

As a blogger, I share what interests me. It’s an added benefit if I happen to excite other people about things I’ve found or imagined. I usually write positive stuff because that’s what I want to think about. I’d rather discuss what’s possible than dwell on the negative or complain about office politics. But it is a bit misleading, to be sure. Life is never 100% good and 0% bad. Not everything is wonderful.

I’ve recently had difficulty in my workplace, for instance. A lot of difficulty. Should I share everything? Maybe for the good of the library community, I should. It would let others learn from the problems I’ve encountered. But at what price? I’m one of those “bottom-up upstarts who revolutionized the way things were done at their libraries” that Sarah Houghton-Jan mentioned this week (although I’m not so delusional to think she was referring to me). I championed a tremendous amount of positive change in recent years. In the last few months, however, I hit a wall. Oh, who am I kidding? The wall fell on me. Three times. Sharing the specifics on the Internet might only make things worse locally, but I’d be remiss not to admit there are problems, conflicts, and frustrations.

I still want to produce positive change within my organization. Recent events make that much more difficult, but I’m still hopeful. I like Alan Kirk Gray’s suggestion* of a Library Failures Wiki. It could be a valuable tool allowing us to share common problems. More people might contribute and more experiences might be exchanged if anonymity was part of the forum. Our objective wouldn’t be to embarrass our libraries, after all, but to help improve them. Getting publicly specific about failure isn’t always the best course when the culture in which you work is not yet transparent.

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* which I first saw in Meredith’s post


Superman and Clark Kent deny each other

November 9, 2007

Funny stuff this morning. Within minutes of each other, Meredith Farkas and the Annoyed Librarian posted practically identical blogs denying that they were the same person. I suppose we’ll just have to trust her them on this.


Hello world!

September 25, 2007

I’m in draft mode for a couple weeks.  Just light stuff until launch time in early- to mid- October.