Blogging Down With OED!

A CNN report last night said that the word “blog” is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. The same report also cited that 62 percent of all Americans have never heard of a blog and wouldn’t know what one was if they saw it. I wonder what percentage of that 62 percent read the OED. While it’s probably not an ideal marketing tool, it is very cool that the definintion is there. If you have access to the OED, check out the etymology of the word. It’s pretty cool.

Balancing Work and Pleasure

With all the business that we conduct via email, the web, blogs, and other online mechanisms, it is often very difficult to unplug. Even at home, the computer can call out for you inviting you to check email, read a blog, fire up your aggregator. Before you know it, that casual glance at the computer turns into full-blown work. And your’re working when you told yourself, your boss, and your spouse you wouldn’t. It’s easy to get sucked into this constant drive to keep going. And before you know it, you are either totally consumed or burned out. Michael atTame The Web provides some good advice in balancing work and fun:

Please library folk… don’t live and breathe all the stuff I write about here. UNPLUG. Last fall I was working intensly on SLIS 6700 for UNT, blogging, working, writing and getting ready for two conferences: one in the UK and IL out in Monterey. By late November I was having an MRI because of neck pain… guess what? I had herniated a disc in my neck. NOT FUN. The cause: too much LAPTOP.

Now, I unplug. I take breaks. And I’m doing workouts 4 days a week — plugging in only to my iPod.

I also think we need to be carerful to pick and choose our interests. I have realized I can’t do everything I want to do in libraryland… Choose a handful of your favorite feeds/blogs/news sources… and RELAX!

Some good food for thought. While I have to work the reference desk both days this weekend, you can bet I’ll be picking a tune on my guitar, playing with my son, or sharing good conversation with my wife when I’m at home. I hope everyone has a wonderful, relaxing, unplugged weekend.

Blogging and Internal Communications

Steven Cohen and Meredith Farkas have recently posted about using blogs for internal communications. At my library, we use a blog to disseminate library news, and I have a blog that I use to complement my library instruction, reference, and liaison activities. Both blogs are primarily used to communicate information to the library’s public users.

We also have a blog that our reference department uses for internal communication. Like many libraries, we used to have tough assignments, access issues, community information, etc., crammed into this big white binder on the desk. The binder was on this nice book pedestal that even rotated when needed. It was organized by subject and had colorful tabs to keep things organized. It was quite a masterpiece. Unfortunately, no one ever really looked at it, and it was very difficult to find needed information quickly. Also, due to our innate desire as librarians to save and catalog everything, much of the information in the book was outdated and obsolete. This in turn, increased the difficulty of finding information.

Last summer I created a blog for our reference department to experiment with a different mechanism to communicate departmental information. The primary purpose in setting up the blog was to replace the big white binder. We also wanted a mechanism that could be organized by date and by category or subject, and could be searchable as well. For this purposes, a blog seemed like the perfect thing to try.

After creating the blog, we had two reference librarians weed the white binder. After weeding, they transferred the most up-to-date, relevant information in the binder to the Reference Blog. All the old, obsolete stuff was discarded. All information that was put in the blog was assigned a category based upon the scope of the information. Categories for our Reference Blog include: Access Issues, Assignments, Campus Info, Community Info, Databases, General, Library Info, Print Resources, Stumpers, and Technology. The blog is primarily used as a mechanism for reporting database access problems, hints for tough assignments, and changes in library equipment, policies, or procedures. We also include hints on dealing with some of the technology that we have in our reference area. Currently we have about 15 people who are contributing to the blog.

Reference staff and student assistants are able to receive notifications of blog updates via RSS and email. Unfortunately, I have yet to get many of my colleagues hooked on RSS, but I am working on it. Most staff currently subscribe to our blog via email, as we have implemented an email notification plug-in for WordPress. The way the plug-in works is that an email is sent to all subscribers as soon as a story is published. Unfortunately, the email is often sent before the author has had a chance to proofread his or her post. This can result in some fairly interesting emails.

Today one of my colleagues just added to 169th post to the Reference Blog. One of the obvious issues that we will have to face is when and how to weed the blog. Because we use the blog as a knowledgebase, having too many out-of-date posts may interfere with the future efficiency of the blog. We currently weed on an ongoing, case-by-case basis. As soon as a post is out of date or an issue is resolved, someone usually updates or deletes the post. However, I imagine that a time will come when we will have to establish more stringent weeding criteria.

Overall, the Reference Blog has been a huge success. Searchable, organized information can be found easily in our blog. Reference staff are freely contributing to the blog, so it truly is a resource of collective knowledge. Our student assistants receive the email notifications, and their being in the loop helps them to serve our patrons better. Our blog serves as a knowledgebase for our department and is used as such. Countless times I have heard a colleague say, “Oh, yeah, I remember reading about that in the blog.” The colleague can quickly find the information and answer the question quickly. Or others often say, “I really think this should be in the blog.” Five minutes later, there is a post about that particular issue. Being able to create, disseminate, and find information quickly is a beautiful thing.

Stop Following Me

The big three, Google, Yahoo!, and MSN (I bet you thought I was talking about cars) have implemented rules for NOFOLLOW. A good explanation can be found in this article from ResearchBuzz!. The article gives a pretty nice explanation of how comment spam works, as well as this current method to address the problem. Links to plugins for some common blogging programs are also included, as well as links to NOFOLLOW announcements from the big three.

Unfortunately, the article does not paint a pretty picture for the future. This method of controlling comment spam may work for now, but we may be beginning an “arms race” against those spammers. The blogging community may implement a new measure, and then the spammers may strike back. I imagine this will be a never-ending battle as two opposing forces square off. One positive may come from this battle, though. At least the programmers (on both sides of the war) will have job security.

Listserv activity dwindling, but overload continues

There is an interesting thread going on over at Web4Lib. Bernine Sloan initiated the conversation by stating that the message volume for the list has decreased. The numbers:

> YEAR TOTALS
> 2004 2919
> 2003 3324
> 2002 3892
> 2001 4591
> 2000 4645
> 1999 4521
> 1998 4566
> 1997 6521
> 1996 3648
> 1995 2627 (total is for nine motnhs)

I try to stay on top of the discussion as there is often a great deal of useful information. I have been a subscriber for about a year, although I am by no means a frequent poster (I can count on one hand my contributions). Unfortunately, I often get way behind, so I might read the discussions a week later. Many times the threads lose their impact if they are not read on a timely manner. I find that reading old listserv threads are just about reading what someone else wrote. However, following listserv threads as they happen can make one feel like part of the ongoing conversation.

So why the decline in the number of messages over the years? Some believe that it is a result of quality over quantity. Gone are the “me too” responses of yesteryear. Others mention that the searchable archives of this particular list make it easier for folks to find the answers to their questions in previous posts. So have all the good questions been answered?

Others in the discussion mention the fact that there are numerous other places on the web to find similar information. Blogs, discussion forums, and wikis are all different places to find or post information about a topic. In other words, there is more than one place to look for the information. There is no Wal-Mart for the would-be web librarian. And with all of these other places to get good information, it gets harder and harder to keep up with the ongoing conversations.

Unfortunately, with all these different places to look, how does one know that he is getting the best information? How does one know that he’s not going to be left out of the loop if he doesn’t read a particular blog or subscribe to a particular list? How does one know when he has read enough blogs about librarianship or when he has read too much? How does one know that he has subscribed to all the cool feeds?

These are some of the questions that I struggle with as I read and write. There is no end-all be-all place to find good information. The nature of the web, blogs, lists, and forums is that something you read can take you to an entirely different place. Before you know it, you’re subscribing to another list or another feed. It’s easy to get buried with all of the information available, even while technologies like RSS are supposed to help combat the overload. How does one cope? Answers (maybe) will be posted at a later time. In the meantime, 25 more messages are in my inbox, and I just downloaded 50 more library feeds……………