The following is the full text of the presentation delivered by Vernon R. Totanes at the 13th General Conference of the Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians (Manila, Philippines; 29 March 2006)
What exactly is a blog? And how can it help libraries and librarians serve their customers better? This paper will present a brief introduction to blogging. The following will be discussed: definitions of terms, specific examples of library and librarian blogs, reading blogs via RSS, writing for blogs, and issues that need to be considered.
As early as 2002, Andrew Sullivan wrote, “Blogging is changing the media world and could, I think, foment a revolution in how journalism functions in our culture.” Since then, blogging has, in fact, influenced the way news is reported in the West. But it is only now that its presence and influence is being felt in Southeast Asia. Some librarians in our region have also gained recognition in the local blogging community and among foreign librarians through their blogs. Slowly, a few libraries have also begun using blogs to reach out to their users. But what exactly is a blog?
The word “blog” is the more commonly used term for “weblog,” which is actually a kind of website, so it would be redundant to refer to a blog as a “blogsite.” Weblogs were originally “logs of links to websites that people thought were interesting and wanted to share with others” (Cohen 2005). The term “log” implies that a weblog is a repository of entries—maybe a list of items received, a record of visitors, or even a diary. But unlike entries in most logs, the posts in a blog are arranged in reverse chronological order. And that’s why the most recent post is the first one that is read on a blog (Blood 2003).
Other basic features of most blogs are: name, content or posts, links, archives, RSS feed. Each post usually has the following: title, date/time, permalink, categories, comments. If you would like to see how the word “blog” is defined by others, look for “define:blog” on Google. Incidentally, you can also use the same syntax to look for the definition of just about any word.
The word “blog” is now used as a noun—the blog itself—and a verb: if someone says s/he’s going “to blog” about a subject, this means s/he’s going to write about it on a blog. People who own blogs are called “bloggers.” The community of bloggers is called the “blogosphere.” The smaller community of librarians who blog is becoming known as the “biblioblogosphere.” And I refer to members of the biblioblogosphere as “blograrians.”
Not everyone thinks blogs are worth reading. According to Michael Gorman (2005), who is better known as the editor of AACR2 and is currently president of the American Library Association, “A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web.” While it is true that some—or maybe even most—blogs are “unpublishable,” Gorman is obviously comparing blogs unfavorably with published materials like newspapers, journals, books.
Danah Boyd (2005), on the other hand, believes that blogs are more properly compared to paper: “Some people use paper to write insightful articles; the same is true on blogs. Some people use paper to write grocery lists; the same is true on blogs. Paper has been used for journalism, diaries, scribbling, gossip, passing notes, writing letters, bookkeeping, collages, photographs, and all sorts of other practices. The same is true on blogs.”
There are many blogs right now that focus on matters that concern librarians. Many of the blogs listed below are maintained by blograrians who have also published in more conventional formats. And so, if we think of blogs as paper, the following are among the best-known blogs on the publishable end of the spectrum:
- The Shifted Librarian
- Library Stuff
- Laughing Librarian
- Lipstick Librarian
- Confessions of a Mad Librarian
- Conan the Librarian
There are also institutional blogs. Examples of these are the following:
- UN Pulse
- Ann Arbor District Library Michigan (see Levine 2005)
- Subject Blogs, University of Hong Kong Libraries
There are many other blograrians from all over the world. A few of them are in Southeast Asia.
- School Librarian in Action
- Filipina Teacher-Librarian
- What's New at the IRRI Library
- Aklatang Pambata
- ASLP Online
- UPLSAA Online
The biggest question that needs to be answered is “Why?” Some of you might ask, Isn’t it enough that we read the newspaper everyday and look at the latest journals when we have time? What will we get out of adding more to our reading lists? For one thing, reading the more authoritative blogs will alert you to the latest news and/or articles that you should read about. Here, “latest” can mean even before the event is reported on mainstream media or while your copy of the journal is still in the mail. Other blograrians also write more substantial entries about current issues and problems that may be used for professional development (Lavallée-Welch 2005; ppt). It may also be helpful to monitor blogs in your parent institutions’ field or even blogs maintained by members of your community.
But isn’t bloghopping everyday going to be time consuming? Not if you can filter what you read. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) makes it possible to subscribe to blogs and organize them according to how you want to read them. You can, for instance, group blogs on the same subject, but it would probably be best if you put together the ones you think you should read everyday, those you’ll look at if you have time, and those you wish you had time for. Won’t this be difficult to set up? Not as hard as you think. Bloglines is probably the easiest to set up. I won’t have time to walk you through it, but there are online tutorials with step-by-step instructions and screen shots (see Rai 2005). One other thing that’s good about RSS is that they don’t just allow you to subscribe to blogs, you can also subscribe to newspapers, magazines, and even suppliers’ websites.
Blogs have become so common that there are now search engines devoted to blogs. Technorati and the newer Google Blog Search are the better-known ones. You can use them to find blogs that mention your institution, your name or anything that you think you need to know about (Pikas 2005; pdf). You can even subscribe to the search using RSS.
Once you’re comfortable with blogs, you may wish to start participating by leaving comments on posts or joining the projects that are started every now and then (see Flickr's Librarian Trading Cards).
Again, the biggest question is “Why?” If you’re considering setting up a blog, it will have to be very clear why you wish to do so. Otherwise, you’re going to have problems later on. Possible reasons include: experimenting with the technology, preserving your thoughts (public or private), raising your personal or institutional profile and promoting your library’s services (Fichter 2003).
Once it’s clear why you want to blog, you’ll have to address the following:
- If you’re working on a personal blog, will you use your real name or remain anonymous?
(e.g., Feel-good Librarian)
- If you’re going to write about work-related matters, will you identify your institution and/or co-employees, especially if you’re going to write negatively about them?
- If you’d like to set up an institutional blog, can you do it on your own or is there a need to ask for permission?
- What software will you use? (e.g., Blogger, WordPress)
- Who is your intended audience? What will you blog about? How frequently do you intend to blog?
Time: Make sure blogging—whether reading or writing—doesn’t affect your work. If your blog is purely personal, work on it outside the office.
Control: Does your institution have a website? Does your library have a website? If you answered yes to both, are you satisfied with your library’s website? You may wish to consider setting up a blog for your library if you’d like to gain control over content, instead of having to go through a webmaster for every little announcement that you wish to make.
Ethics: If you’re going to set up a blog, you will need to have clear guidelines on what you can blog about, whether personal or professional. Halley Suitt (2003; citation only) has actually written a case about this for Harvard Business Review. You may also wish to consider the points raised by Karen Schneider (2005), who says that “Every blog produced by librarians, no matter how casual, represents librarianship to the world.”
Digital divide: There is a need to consider the state of information technology in Southeast Asia. There are those who have computers and those who don’t. Of those who have computers, there are those who use them and those who don’t. The digital divide isn’t just about hardware or software. It's also about the fear factor. If you don’t use computers much, blogging might help you familiarize yourself with the many things you can do. If you’re already a blogger, think about your readers and whether you’re reaching them, especially in a region where majority of the population do not use or have access to computers.
I have not mentioned one blog in particular—Filipino Librarian—because I wanted to use it to talk about the benefits of blogging. I started blogging last February 2005 and since then I have improved my writing skills, gained enough knowledge of HTML to customize my blog, added to the list of online resources I consult or recommend to others, expanded my network of local and foreign contacts, learned more about what it is that librarians can and must do, and answered a few reference questions along the way. I suppose I could have done all these without blogging, but I don't think I could have done all of it in one year if I did not set up the blog.
Why read blogs? Why write blogs? Why blog at all? Because responsible blogging will be good for you and good for the profession.
Blood, Rebecca. 2003. Weblogs and Journalism in an Age of Participatory Media. Rebecca's Pocket (posted 7 January 2005).
Boyd, Danah. 2005. Blogging Outloud: Shifts in Public Voice. Paper read at LITA Conference, October 1, in San Jose, California.
Cohen, Dan. 2005. Creating a Blog from Scratch, Part 1: What is a Blog, Anyway? (posted December 16).
Crawford, Walt. 2005. Investigating the Biblioblogosphere. Cites & Insights 5:10 (September).
Fichter, Darlene. 2003. Why and How to Use Blogs to Promote Your Library’s Services. Marketing Library Services 17:6 (November/December).
Gorman, Michael. 2005. Revenge of the Blog People! Library Journal (February 15).
Herzog, Susan. 2005. Select Librarian/Library Blogs. BlogBib.
Lavallée-Welch, Catherine. 2005. Blogs and Professional Development (ppt). Paper read at SLA Annual Conference, June 6, in Toronto, Canada.
Levine, Jenny. 2005. The Perfect Library Blog Example. The Shifted Librarian (posted July 14).
Lorenzen, Michael. 2005. Library Blogs and Google PageRank. The Information Literacy Land of Confusion (posted August 23).
Pikas, Christina. 2005. Blog Searching for Competitive Intelligence, Brand Image, and Reputation Management (pdf). Online (July/August).
Rai, Preetam. 2005. Using Bloglines (or How to keep up with dozens of blogs everyday). Betterdays (posted April 25).
Schneider, Karen. 2005. The Ethical Blogger. netConnect (April 15).
Stephens, Michael. 2005. Who are "the Blog People?" A Survey of Librarians and their Motivations for Blogging. Tame the Web (posted November 1).
Suitt, Halley. 2003. A Blogger in Their Midst (citation only). Harvard Business Review (September): 30-40.
Sullivan, Andrew. 2002. The Blogging Revolution. Wired 10:5 (May).
West, Jessamyn. 2005. Staying Current Using Blogs and RSS: A Program for Everyone. Paper read at NHLA, May 13, in Manchester, NH.
Categories: Consal XIII, Blogging, About Vonjobi